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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr. David's sermon


10th July 2005

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity VII

Stony Ground. Our Church is built on stony ground, as is the Vicarage. Over the road is an old gravel pit, great for mountain biking, although I've never been brave enough to ride mine down the very steep pit, although I'm pleased to say I can still make it up the steep path at the edge! We have a gravel drive leading up to the church. It looks attractive but needs repairs. Every time there is a storm a bit more washes away into Eastbury Road.

It's hard to garden, in summer the gravely ground is too hard to dig. Any moisture quickly drains away; any plants we have been given either quickly die or fail to thrive. I'm no geologist but apparently we live on the edge of the area once covered by glaciers in the last ice age. The glaciers deposited the gravel as they melted.

At St. Matthew's we are familiar with the stony ground described by Jesus in the parable. (The NRSV calls it 'rocky ground' but the analogy still stands. Sadly 'stony ground' describes the spiritual nature of our parish. Of the 11,000 souls who come under our cure very few seem to be people of deep religious commitment, Christian or otherwise. It's hard for the gospel to take root and flourish. Our experience is typical of most of Western Europe, where the Church is declining. In other parts of the world the opposite is true. Christianity is thriving.

If we allow ourselves to be transported to the beautiful scene in today's Gospel with Jesus teaching a great crowd on the beach from a boat on Lake Galilee we will find the diagnosis of his parable still rings true. We will find that he has something to say to us as Christians and something to say to our wider society.

In the parable a sower went out sowing seeds, broadcasting to use the old fashioned word. We now use that word of radio and TV; programmes are now broadcast instead of seeds. (My grandfather said he could remember seeds being broadcast in the early years of the last century - before mechanisation changed the land forever) Maybe we could do with a little more broadcasting of the word of the kingdom. If the seed is not scattered it won't germinate at all. Our English churches have a tendency to keep the seed stored away. In the parable the seed falls on four types of ground. Jesus describes the ground and then explains the meaning to his hearers.

  1. The Path. The birds quickly ate up the seed that fell on the path. This Jesus compares to those who hear the word of the kingdom without understanding. The devil soon snatches away what is sown in the heart. In recent years we have been reminded of the need for nurture and education in the faith. We need it for ourselves and we need it for others. If we are to take part in the teaching ministry of the church we need to be confident in our own beliefs, in our knowledge of the Bible. We can approach the study of our faith like a staircase when we have reached one step we then climb to the next. We can study the faith at degree level; we can share it with friends in a house group. Whatever the level of complexity we should seek a Christ filled profound simplicity.
  2. Stony ground. Here the seed sprang up quickly but lacked roots. In the scorching sun the plants soon withered. There was no depth of soil. This Jesus compares to the person who receiving the word with joyful enthusiasm, lacks the roots to sustain their faith in times of trouble and persecution. We can sympathise with this as we take the many knocks that life throws at us. It can hard to believe in the face of suffering. For our faith to be deeply rooted we need to grow in prayer to be rooted in the timeless tradition of the Church, in God himself. A prayerful church will be a rooted church and therefore an attractive church. It will be a source of strength to those facing hardship in their lives.
  3. Thorns. Seed that fell among thorns was soon choked. (Another uncomfortable reminder of the state of a vicarage garden that needs some serious jungle clearance!) This Jesus compares to those for whom the cares of the world and the lure of wealth chokes the word that they have heard. They yield nothing. This is the problem I suspect with much of Western society. It's hard to be people of faith in a materialistic affluent society. The haves don't see the need and the have nots are oppressed by the sense of failure that comes from living in age which links self worth to personal wealth. The current concern with Africa and the likely impact of global warming suggests that we are at last beginning to question such assumptions. It is too soon to say whether this will lead to a greater receptiveness to the seeds of faith.
  4. Good soil. When we hear the word with understanding, when we are bible reading, prayerful, Eucharistic people, then says Jesus the word will take root and yield a hundredfold. We can't do anything about the stony ground that lies under our church and much of our parish. By God's grace we can become a people in whose good soil the word of the kingdom takes root. As we seek to grow in our understanding of the faith, as seek to deepen our life of prayer, as we seek to be less materialistic and more concerned for others and our world, so the word of the kingdom will take root and yield in us.

Amen

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