When I mentioned this parable of the sower at the end of last week’s sermon I really had no idea it was going to appear the very next week. I’m not that organised – ask any church warden.......
But it bears repeating. Not everyone is going to respond to faith. In fact perhaps only a few will. Jesus in his very memorable way even gives us “types” of people.
Sometimes the words of faith don’t even make it into the minds of some people – the birds come and eat them up before they even get there. It’s like they have a brick wall in front of them.
There are people who are like rocky soil. They’ll respond quickly and with enthusiasm but it is shallow – it has no roots so the faith quickly dies at the first dose of real life.
There are people whose lives are full of thorns (like most of us) – experiencing pain. Loss, anxiety, or consumed with ambition and the lure of wealth. Life itself seems to choke the faith out of us and it gets lost along the way – crowded out by other concerns.
But there are a few people in whom the seed takes root and grows are those are people who hear and understand. They become spiritually alive. It is the difference between being enlightened and unenlightened.
In Paul’s way of speaking which I tried to decipher for people in last week’s email it is the difference between “Living according to the Spirit” and “Living according to the flesh”. It is not about morality. You don’t have to be a Christian or hold any religious beliefs at all to be a perfectly good decent person.
Enlightenment, “Living in the Spirit” as Paul would put it, is a mindset. A way of being and believing that eventually suffuses your entire life. It strengthens you, gives you wisdom, lets you see into the depth of things. It opens up life. It gives a certain inner peace. Contentment.
The content of living in the Spirit for me, would be like converting from Black and White to colour TV. Or more modern still, from 2D to 3D. Startling. A shift from disconnection to connectedmess, from existential loneliness to communion.
The specific content differs from person to person but for me it starts by seeing all life as one – that God is in all things and exceeds all things – that all life is connected as I wrote in this month’s parish magazine..
So the birds, trees, rivers, seas, and the whole of humanity are all intimately connected. For Paul in Romans it meant having a huge burden of guilt removed from him because he now knew that he wasn’t subject to religious laws any more. And that didn’t just mean all the finicky laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus – but the Ten Commandments themselves have no jurisdiction over someone “in the Spirit”. Having this burden removed from his shoulders was a huge relief for him, but we are all different so this is not a template for conversion. Because what was felt so deeply by Paul doesn’t have much resonance with people now.
I think I can speak for a lot of people – OK I speak for me - when I say that I, who never had any religious upbringing at all, well I never felt guilty about anything – never even considered that I might be under any condemnation from God in the first place so having it removed means nothing to people like me. We never knew the possibility of condemnation even existed. So when Paul famously writes “Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, this would have meant a lot to Pharisee Jews in the first century (like Paul) but means next to nothing now – for most people. Times and contexts change.
Going back to the gospel - What Jesus is saying is that there is truth and peace and contentment out there, but for various reasons we are not all going to get it.
But those of us who want it – who feel drawn into it – those who want to know the truth because as John said “When you know the truth – the truth will set you free” we need to “practice the presence of God” in our lives. You “practice the presence of God” in your life by simple techniques like contemplation and prayer, consciously drawing God from your depth to the surface of your life and seeing yourself as working in tandem with God – being “led by the Spirit” as we might say or “going with the flow of the universe” as my Buddhist friend Paul would say. It is the same thing.
That is why our service here on Sundays is important. At its best, it has the potential to draw back the veil covering life and lays everything bare revealing the deeper truth that underlies reality. It should shine a bright light onto life. The light is God, and that light is both within and without..
Our spiritual goal is to cultivate that light so that we shine – we shine with the light of God in our lives.