The Parable of the Sower

Matthew 13.24-30, 36-43

“Listen!” says Jesus, “a sower went out to sow”.

It’s such a familiar parable, isn’t it?

How many sermons have we heard about the different sorts of ground that the seeds land on and what happens to them.

And maybe some of us wonder what sort of ground we are and whether we’re up to scratch when it comes to producing a good harvest.

But this isn’t the parable of the seeds or the parable of the soils.

Rather, Jesus calls it the parable of the sower, and that suggests this is where our focus needs to be.

So, what can we learn about the sower?

Well, first of all, he’s not a good farmer.

No self-respecting farmer would just fling seeds about all over the place with no preparation or thought for where they might end up.

Good farmers prepare the ground first and carefully sow their seeds in the best possible way and in the best possible places to ensure a good harvest with minimal waste and cost.

They wouldn’t dream of chucking seeds about in unlikely places on the off-chance that something might grow.

Such incompetence and wastefulness on the part of the sower probably made the farmers in Jesus’s audience laugh.

This is obviously not a story about farming methods, though.

Instead, like all parables, it’s trying to tell us something about God and his kingdom by giving us a new perspective.

It’s not meant to be a human view of things, but a God view of things.

And it’s not always easy to understand the God view of things.

When Jesus tells us “Let anyone with ears listen” he’s recognising this, telling us that what he’s saying is something we’re going to have to think about because its meaning isn’t obvious.

What I see in this parable is someone who is recklessly extravagant.

The sower doesn’t care if what he’s doing is efficient or likely to lead to good results.

He just wants to get as much seed out there as possible.

God’s concern is not with cutting costs, being efficient, or concentrating resources in the places that will give the best returns.

Rather, he’s interested in offering the possibility of hope and new life to all, regardless of cost or the likelihood of a good response.

So, he showers his grace and love in the most unlikely of places in the hope of seeing some growth.

God’s generous nature is on show in this parable, and while it might seem reckless, inefficient, or wasteful to us, it seems to be how he works.

Take the wedding at Cana, for example.

The guests had run out of wine.

This was indeed a social disaster for the bride and groom, but really everyone was too drunk to care what they consumed at that point.

But, instead of calculating how much people had already drunk, and assessing whether they really needed good quality alcohol, Jesus provided gallons of the best wine out of sheer generosity.

And the feeding of the 5,000.

Jesus didn’t carefully ration out the food so that everyone had their daily recommended amount of bread and fish.

Rather, he provided so much that many baskets could be filled with the leftovers.

Throughout Jesus’s ministry we see him offering the words of God to everyone, not just those who are best prepared and ready to receive it.

We see him loving, healing, and teaching to all, even helping ten lepers when only one would come back to thank him.

Jesus doesn’t make people sit tests or prove themselves ready to receive what he has to offer.
He doesn’t ask them to recite creeds or prove they know the ten commandments.

Instead, he throws out his gifts of grace, forgiveness, and acceptance recklessly in the hope that some will accept them.

We can turn to nature for more examples of God’s character, as well.

Plants produce millions more seeds than they need, so that the world can be filled with colour and life.

Birds and animals exist in an amazing array of types, colours, and sizes, from the tiniest insects to the huge blue whale.

The universe contains billions upon billions of stars and planets.

And every human being is unique and special.

Is all this necessary or efficient?

Probably not, but it makes life richer and more fulfilling.

Of course, there are different ways to respond to God’s offer of grace and new life.

Some just sneer and turn away.

Some are enthusiastic at first but quickly find it all too hard and give up.

Others are sincere and dedicated but then other things get in the way, and they are lost in a maze of worries and other concerns.

And then there are those who receive faith, deepen it, and do good things for God and neighbour.

I don’t say this to be judgemental.

If truth be told we’re probably all different sorts of ground at different stages in our faith journey.

There may be times when the claims and demands of faith seem ridiculous to us.

There may be times when seeds of a deepening faith are snatched away from us when we’re not paying attention to them.

Or when a mountain top experience like a particularly uplifting service or reflective quiet day is followed by a return to earth with a thump – to our ordinary everyday lives with their stresses and strains and challenges to our faith.

Or when we get caught up in what Jesus calls the cares of this world which can choke, stifle, or drain the life energy from our hearts and souls.

But then there are the times when we do gain new insights, learn more about our faith and ourselves.

And there are times when we do continue to change and grow so that we are always coming closer to being the people God means us to be.

I also believe that our loving and merciful God knows and understands the difference between seeds that can’t grow because of the conditions they find themselves in and seeds that refuse to grow, and that he responds with grace, mercy, and justice.

So, if we follow a ridiculously generous God who wants as many people as possible to come to him, and will go anywhere to try to draw others in, what does this mean for us?

Well, for one thing it means that we are, in the words of Mother Theresa, called to be faithful, not successful.

Just as the sower threw his seeds all over the place without knowing the outcome, and while understanding that some wouldn’t grow, we too are called to offer our gifts generously to the world regardless of the results.

Such an approach challenges us to live without judging others, without wondering whether someone deserves our help, without knowing whether our efforts are likely to work, and without knowing what the fruits of our labours will be.

And it challenges us also to go out and find those who need that sort of love and acceptance from us and offer it freely and without conditions.

This isn’t an easy path at times, but we can rely on God’s help and strengthening along the way.

And we can take heart from the fact that with every effort we make and every seed we plant we are taking part in the glorious and joyful generosity and love of our God, who gives without counting the cost and rejoices over every sprouting seed.


Wedding at Cana

John 2.1-11

This is a sermon preached 6 years ago when I was first starting out as a Licensed Lay Minister/Reader.

There’s an old Jewish saying that goes, “Without wine there is no joy”, and I’m sure many people would say ”hear, hear” to that!

In today’s Gospel reading we heard the familiar story of the wedding at Cana – an occasion at which there was a lot of both joy and wine.

But part-way through, disaster strikes: the wine’s run out!

OK, this isn’t a disaster on the scale of earthquakes, famines and floods, but for a young couple just starting out on a new life, and wanting to gain standing in the community, it would be a major social embarrassment and humiliation.

So what to do now?

There’s a tradition in the Eastern church that Mary was related to the family, so perhaps it’s natural that she tries to sort things out.

And it seems even more natural that she should turn to Jesus.

But then Jesus speaks to her in a way that to our modern English ears seems terse and off-putting.

 Mary comes to tell him that the wedding’s run out of wine, and Jesus replies, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me?”.

Is Jesus being rude to his mother? 

Probably not.

It was unusual for a son to call his mother “woman”, but it was a respectful way to address a lady in first-century Israel.

By calling her woman and asking his question maybe Jesus was gently pointing out that he was more than just her son.

He had a wider mission to fulfil and an agenda set by his Heavenly Father.

We could also translate his question as something closer to “Don’t worry, leave things to me, I’ll sort things out”.

Perhaps the clearest sign that Jesus wasn’t being harsh, though, can be seen in Mary’s reaction.

She’s undeterred by his answer, doesn’t tell him off for being rude to his mother, and goes off in confidence that Jesus will sort it out.

And Mary’s confidence is rewarded – Jesus produces somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of fine wine.

If wine brings joy there must’ve been a lot of ecstatic people in Cana!

I think this tells us a lot about the nature of God and I want to concentrate on 2 things in particular.

Firstly, Jesus is no killjoy.

He was invited to the wedding, he went and he joined in.

There’s no indication that he looked down on anyone for enjoying worldly pleasures, stood off by himself disapprovingly, or attempted to show anyone the error of their ways.

Instead, he helped them enjoy themselves even more.

It’s only what you’d expect – that the God who took such delight in creating the world and all its people would delight to be with them on a day of celebration.

That the God whose whole being is wrapped up totally in love would want to share the wonder of a young couple’s love by joining in their wedding party. 

So I wonder why we who are Christians aren’t spreading more joy in the world.

In an episode of the Simpsons, Homer Simpson asks his fundamentalist neighbour Ned where he and his family have been on holiday.

They reply, ‘We were at Bible Camp- we were learning how to be more judgemental!’

Unfortunately, this is the image many people have of Christians: judgemental killjoys following a harsh God.

And even more unfortunately, there are some Christians who live up to this image.

I think of Ian Paisley, passionate but blinkered and bigoted.

Of Oliver Cromwell, who had Christmas and merriment banished,

Of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, picketing funerals in order to preach hatred.

What good do people like this achieve?

I’m not advocating an anything goes approach to life, but I wonder what kind of Christian will lead more people into the kingdom?

One who reflects God’s delight in his world and everyday human pleasures, or one who wears a scowl and beats people over the head with their shortcomings?

Do we really want to be known as people who can’t enjoy themselves and are suspicious of having a good time in case it leads to sin?

Or would we rather show the world that we believe everything good comes from God, whether it be a heavenly-sounding church anthem or the fun of building a snowman?

As the saying goes: ‘There are more flies caught with honey than vinegar’.

So firstly, God is no killjoy.

Secondly, there’s a wonderful extravagance in the heart of God.

Jesus doesn’t grudgingly work out exactly how much he thinks the guests need to finish the wedding.

Instead, he gives them more than they could hope to drink in an act of scandalous generosity.

Which is precisely what Jesus intended it to be.

Because, after all, isn’t the whole business of God coming to earth scandalously generous? 

Our God overflows with love.

He gives us inexhaustible riches and inexplicable graciousness.

His generosity is wide and his welcome all-encompassing.

Jesus is showing us a sign of God’s grace in this miracle.

He’s showing us love and generosity without any sense of counting the cost or working out what people deserve.

There is enough. No, there is more than enough, for everyone.

The miracle here is not just that water was changed into wine.

The real miracle is that, regardless of what happens to us today or tomorrow,

regardless of what losses we suffer,

despite the hills we have to climb,

even with the hurts we have to just endure,

and even our failures –

the grace of God greets us and is inexhaustible.

A God this joyful and gracious is a God worth knowing.

He’s also a God worth following.

Just as at Cana Jesus’ act of generosity depended on the servants doing what he asked, his continuing work in the world depends on us doing what he asks.

It’s our turn to notice other people’s needs, bring them to God, and believe that he’ll help.

It’s our turn to do what God calls us to do to help others, even if it seems as mundane as pouring out water, and as unlikely to change the world.

We have the chance to give God what we’ve got, and who and what we are, and let him change them into something far better, richer and more life-giving than we could possibly imagine, for us and for everyone around us.

For we are children of a generous and loving God who comes with joy and offers far more than we can ask or imagine.

Let us pray:

Loving God, help us not be afraid to delight in life.

Help us give what we can with joyful and generous hearts.

Turn the water of our offerings into your glorious wine and use it for the good of the world.


Harvest, Wealth and Generosity

Joel 2.21-27 / 1 Timothy 6.6-10 / Matthew 6.25-33


Harvest is an important time of year, even though many of us don’t have much to do with farming these days and live mostly unaware of its rhythms and seasons.

Harvest is important because it encourages us to be thankful for the basic necessities of life: our food and drink.

It reminds us that we depend on the seasons and the weather, on soil and small insects, all designed to work in balance by our Creator God.

It reminds us that we depend on the hard work of farmers, packers, transporters and shop workers to receive the food we pick up so casually in the supermarket.

It encourages us to stop for a moment to remember and give thanks for both God’s provision and the networks of people who make it possible for us to have what we need, both of which we can easily forget as we dash into the shop on the way home.

It’s also a time of joy as we see once again how provides for not only us but all creatures and plants on the earth, and how we’re cared for and loved.


But today’s readings also take us beyond this to think about our relationship with wealth and possessions.

Both our second reading from 1 Timothy and the gospel reading tell us to be content with the basics of food and clothing.

So, we might ask, does this mean that we can’t enjoy the good things in life?

Must we feel bad if we have comfort, money and nice things?

Is God a killjoy?

Well, no, not really.

The trouble here is that both readings are presented to us without their contexts.

The way passages are set for reading in church does this sometimes and it can cause some problems.


The verse before our reading from 1 Timothy criticises people who have followed false teachings and think that religion is ‘a means of gain’.

They are people who are focused on gaining ever more wealth and possessions, and think of religion as a means of doing this.

I guess the closest we have to this in modern terms are those TV evangelists who promise that if only you send them some money and do what they say God will make you rich beyond your wildest dreams.

We, though, are to be people who hold wealth and possessions lightly.

Our focus is to be on God, not on anxiously striving to make ourselves ever richer.

We are to free ourselves from the relentless desire to have ever more, to be rid of the love of money that is described as ‘a root of all kinds of evil’, and instead to direct our love towards God.

For although money and possessions are not wrong in themselves, they come with the danger that we might become too caught up in them.

We might not remember that they are gifts from God and instead think that we have a right to everything we want.

We might lose our sense of gratitude and joy.

And in our desire to hold on tight to wealth we might forget to focus on what really matters: loving God and our neighbours with generosity and openness.


In a similar way Jesus’s words in the Gospel about God giving us what we need come just after he’s pointed out that we can’t serve both God and wealth.

Here he’s contrasting being possessed by God with being possessed by our possessions.

If we focus on what we have and want and think we should get, then our lives will be ordered to reflect those priorities.

We risk spending all our energies on aiming for a better car, a better house, designer clothes, the latest gadgets – because we think these are the most important things in life.

If we focus on always having more and better we may forget about our responsibility to care for the earth, to feed and clothe those in need, to ensure justice for the powerless, to protect the weak and vulnerable.

We might become blind to the effects of greed on the environment in terms of pollution and waste.

We might close our eyes to the people who live in poverty and work in harsh conditions to provide us with what we want.

And we may find ourselves consumed by worry about whether we have enough or if it might suddenly be taken away from us through some unseen disaster.


But, if we can reorder our priorities and focus on God, then wealth and possessions fall into their proper place.

They become good gifts from God that we can be thankful for and enjoy without desperately holding on to them.

And they became opportunities for us to use what we have to do good, knowing that as God gives to us he calls us to give to those around us.

For there are many people in need, many people in this country who must rely on food banks and charity to feed and clothe their families.

There are people in other countries, also, for whom war, disease and poverty mean a bad harvest and starvation.

If our focus is on God and his kingdom then our desire will be to follow his example of generosity, to share wealth rather than clinging on to it, to spread God’s goodness wherever and whenever we can.

In short, to strive first for God’s kingdom.

And if we trust in God rather than in wealth then we can relax, knowing that the God who cares for the smallest birds and flowers will understand our needs and care for us even more.

So yes, we can have good things, but Harvest reminds us to give thanks to the source of all good things, to remember our God and to be generous as he is generous.

Then we can be glad and rejoice, knowing that we have a loving and generous God, and we are his people.




Article written for October parish magazine


I write this on a very warm day. It’s warm enough to be summer really but despite that it still feels like autumn. Berries are ripening, apple trees are loaded down with fruit, leaves are turning gold and yellow, and the house martins that nest above my bedroom window have left for Africa. It’s lovely to live in a place where we can see the seasons change and notice the rhythms of the natural world.

One important part of the natural world’s rhythm at this time of year is of course gathering in the harvest. Living in this part of the world and driving around the countryside seeing the fields with machines going up and down, spraying, fertilising, ploughing, sowing and harvesting, really shows how much work goes in to producing our food. And farmers have had a difficult time of it this year, with the hot summer and lack of rain. Animals have had to be fed on food meant for the winter and there’s been extra work involved in keeping crops watered and healthy.

Yet, despite all the difficulties that our British climate can throw at us, we can and do have a harvest we can rely on, year after year. We can still be sure that our shops will be full of food even with difficult weather conditions, and we know that when we turn a tap there’ll be water for us to drink. Not everyone around the world can say the same – there are many countries where a poor harvest means starvation and where the nearest water is miles away.

This means that it’s important for us to be thankful for what we have. It’s an amazing privilege really to be able to go to a supermarket and choose from shelves piled high with food. It’s easy to forget all the work that goes in to growing, packaging and transporting our food to us. We can all take it for granted that we can choose to eat food from many different parts of the world. But we live in a world where we depend on other people for the things we eat and drink, and it’s good to remember and celebrate them.

It’s also good to remember and celebrate the God who makes all of this possible. The world was created good and fruitful, full of things for us to eat, enjoy and discover. And it’s still a place full of beauty and abundance. Each season of the year plays its role in giving us good things. The winter, although it seems a dead time, is a chance for the earth to rest and prepare for the spring, which gives us joy and hope with new life springing up everywhere. The summer brings longer, lazier days with insects, animals and flowers all around us. Then the autumn gives us fruits, vegetables, wheat and many other good things to eat.

There are good gifts for all – if we remember to share and be generous towards people who have less than us. These are not only in faraway countries but also here in our country, where many people depend on food banks to feed themselves and their families. God is generous to us and the Bible tells us that we’re meant to care for the earth and share his generosity with others.

So, as we give thanks for the harvest perhaps there are also ways in which we might be able to share our good gifts with someone else who has less than us?

And may God bless us all with gladness and generosity.

The Unfairness of Grace

Matthew 20.1-16


A short sermon given at this week’s Wednesday service of Holy Communion


The parable of the workers in the vineyard is completely unfair.


It tells us that God gives the same rewards to people who work all their lives for him, to lifelong followers and faithful believers who take on all the heavy work and plod on for years, as he does to people who just turn up and decide to follow him at the last minute.


I imagine that there’d be a great outcry if a business did things this way.


If, say, a supermarket paid the same amount to its Saturday workers and its full-time employees.


But this parable is about how things work in God’s kingdom, where everything is ultimately about grace.


Luckily for us, grace isn’t about human ideas of justice, fairness or getting what we deserve.


I say “luckily” because, as Paul says in Romans, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.


If God was being fair and just the kingdom would be pretty empty.


Grace says, “Look, you can’t buy a place in God’s kingdom. It’s worth more than you could possibly imagine. You can’t work your way in either because everything in God’s kingdom has to be perfect and, let’s be honest, you get things wrong all the time. You have no right to be here but come in anyway because God loves you”.


Put another way, the value of getting in to God’s kingdom is so much higher than the value of any work we can do that we can only be given entry as a gift.


And if it’s a gift, we aren’t being cheated of anything if others get good things.


It’s not that God doesn’t give his followers good things or value faithful service but what he gives and will give us so far outweighs what we can earn or deserve that they can’t be considered our rightful wages.


I guess the real problem here is the implications of this generosity.


We can all fall into the trap of thinking we will get a better class of eternal life because of our faithful service.


But people who’ve been Christians from the cradle and people who convert on their deathbeds are equally loved and blessed.


Churchwardens, flower arrangers, organists, clergy and lay ministers have to rub shoulders with people who run a mile when they see a rota coming.


Lifelong criminals who turn to Jesus will get the same rewards as those who’ve kept every law in the book.


We don’t know who grace will let in and who we’ll share eternity with.


We must be open to the possibility that the undesirable and the least deserving may get the same reward as us.


We need to become so much like Jesus that we can rejoice in what God gives us without trying to decide who else he should or shouldn’t be generous to, or how much we should get compared to other people.


This is the grace that saves the world long before it’s condemned.


It’s breathtakingly generous, beautiful, loving and joyful, but also outrageous, disturbing, shocking and uncontrollable.


And if we’re not uncomfortable with it then maybe we haven’t fully understood it.