12 July 2020
Genesis 25. 19 – end
These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.’
When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.
When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.
Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!’ (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
Romans 8. 1 - 11
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Matthew 13. 1 – 9, 18 - 23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’
‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’
My word shall not return to me empty – A Reflection for Trinity 5
What is this 'word' that God speaks?. When we read in Isaiah 55 about God's word, it is most striking how powerful and how life giving it is. The Prophet likens it to precipitation; rain and snow, which makes everything grow, blossom and fruit. In the Ancient Near East all people would have been acutely aware of the need for rain at the right time and in the right quantities. God's word is as effective and as life giving as that, says the Prophet.
Jesus himself teaches his followers about the word of the Kingdom. It is like a seed, sown into the hearts of people, he says. Not every heart is fertile soil for that word. As Jesus explains, some do not understand it, some receive it joyfully, but then immediately or after a while forget it and lose faith, and some are simply too taken up with the world's pleasures and cares to take it seriously. What about us? What about you and me? Are our hearts fertile soil for God's word to grow in? Will it do more than just moulder away in our deepest recesses?
The picture of a seed is one that Jesus deploys more than once in his preaching. In John's Gospel he talks about himself as a seed: "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24). Jesus is here foretelling his death and resurrection, but he is also explaining an important principle, which does not apply only to himself, but works for us as well. Growth does not happen just by keeping still and out of the way, keeping our own nose clean and our own house in order. We must expose ourselves, let ourselves fall into the world and "die", to make a difference.
If God's word should bear fruit in us and make a difference to how we live our lives, we need to prepare the good, deep soil for it to grow in. This doesn't happen just by accident. That's not what Jesus is saying. He doesn't say, some people, just by a miracle or some fluke of birth or fortune, are the right kind of soil for God's word. It's not that some people are "born good" and others aren't. And that's just as well for us, really. Whatever our background, whatever has befallen us through life, we can still be 'fertile soil' for God's word.
How do we become 'fertile soil'? We need to spend time with Jesus. As simple as that. By reading our Bible, by praying and talking through what's on our minds with him, we will have a reset of our values, our thoughts, our priorities. We will become concerned with what concerns him. This can be disconcerting. Suddenly we become much more aware of other's needs. Much more incensed by injustice. Much more worried about climate change. But this is because God is aware, incensed and worried about all these things, and he doesn't just want us to pray, but to take our prayer out into his world, as action.
That action is the fruit that the seeds will bear, the grain that will be brought forth. Look at how it multiplies - one hundred, sixty or thirty times! This is because one good action creates ripples, spreading like rings on the surface of still water when you drop a pebble in. We are often not aware of the effect of our actions, for good or for ill. People can remember something we said, or did, or didn't do, for years afterwards. Our kindness, or thoughtlessness, can bear unexpected fruit. The good deed can inspire others to be helpful, or kind themselves. Something that seems inconsequential to us, can mean a lot to someone else.
To sow a seed is to set it free and to bring it to life. As I have always said, just keeping your seeds in the seed packet in the cupboard doesn't lead to anything. The same is true for God's word. It needs to get out in the world to make a difference. How is it going to get out there? Through you and me.
You shall go out with joy
Praise is due to you,
O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.
When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
you forgive our transgressions.
Happy are those whom you choose and bring near
to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
your holy temple.
By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains;
you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
the tumult of the peoples.
Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.
You visit the earth and water it,
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide the people with grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.