Is your heart hardened to the world outside of the people you love or like, or even to God?
Are you rocky, complicated, have you got edges which graze others or upon which you harm yourself?
Or are you shallow, not thinking about anything other than your own needs?
Do others, or do you allow others to hinder your flourishing and wellbeing?
Are you sorted, sane, balanced, clear-thinking and wonderful, the perfect receptacle for the Word of God to be sown?
I hope few if any of us would dare to see ourselves as wonderfully “sorted”. Do we not come out of a tradition of scripture and theological reflection which remembers that at the heart of our belief is a fracture which is painfully repaired in love, which took time. And it is that fracture; the brokenness reflected in our lives which we is painful to repair: but which is the memory of which God uses to temper our hearts, to bring compassion and healing to our communities and to aid his Kingdom.
The parable of where the seed falls is acutely apt for us as a Christian community, for we are not the ideal soil that we once thought we were or long to be, we are soil mixed with rubble, and which has varied depths. There are hard pathways running through each of us and just as we live in a world where the false image of beauty is portrayed as the aspiring norm. So too many of us have portrayed an image of ourselves as “the church” which is not true or authentic – an image which is impossible for others to and ourselves to really achieve.
I am sure we all accept that we create illusions of what we think the world really is. And the image we present of ourselves rarely reveals the thorns, the rocky ground, and the soil which yields nothing. But we are more than our present reality shows us, we are more than our worst understanding of ourselves shows us and however comfy we might be in any of those understandings, it isn’t everything.
The image of the Garden in our Gospel is a complex and mixed one which has to include the rocky terrain, the most broken of people, the most foolish and the most troubled, for they too have brought to the world some of the greatest gifts of God’s kingdom in addition to that which has been drawn from the pickings of the richest soil.
Gardening in the Vicarage is not easy (not that I do too much of it myself). There are some spots which yield much, other parts are just too difficult to dig or overgrown. The patio is nice, but it holds back the liveliness of the earth beneath yet still it allows for a different type of life above when friends gather sharing in food and company.
But just because part of the garden doesn’t yield what I desire for the harvest, I don’t get rid of it or sell it off! It remains as a reminder of what is real in life, but also as a reminder of my hope, which is that next year it might do something, or the year after. (You can tell I am not a gardener).
So as a church community we do not desire perfection, but a working brokenness which allows for the parts of the garden which yield nothing, and the shallow soil, and the rocky ground, to remain an important part of the landscape. On the other end of the spectrum we acknowledge that there are also parts which generate so much fruit that even they can be overwhelming on occasion. I hope you get the picture I am trying to create.
Jesus might not have anticipated this, but in this Parable what he is talking about is the Church of England, he is talking about the Parish system, he’s talking about St John’s Upper Norwood, and I am sure also, All Saints Putney.
Fr Daniel in your time with us in this parish there have been in you times of abundant fruitfulness, there have been interesting times, demanding and sometimes some barren times but I know you know that nothing has been wasted, no experience has been useless to you.
I hope what you have seen in this parish is that even though we are still working out what it means to be Christians in this little part of London, every part of this community; every person in the church and this parish matter. People are welcomed here not simply because they bear much fruit, we gather irrespective of what we bring, all of us vitally important as another to God and I pray to each other.
We all hope and pray that All Saints will be a place of happiness and of the Kingdom and a place where you can deepen your trust in the Church of England to be a place where the Gospel and faith can be expressed and celebrated on God’s terms, and where the failures of the big church do not dominate the landscape of the local.
Four years ago I could not have anticipated the joy or my sense of gratitude for having you as a colleague in this parish. You have for me and for many been a source of inspiration. I have deeply appreciated your preaching, your humour, thoughtfulness, and wisdom. But most importantly you have embraced in this parish often those who the world or even the church nods at as being unimportant. We have started journeys together so that we might reflect better the word of God rather than the word human ambition, and the world of God, rather than the world of “These things don’t really affect me”.
For we are all in the garden together from the beginning of Eden to the foot of the Cross, and from the Foot of the cross, to the streets of South East and South West London.
Whatever the future holds for you, and for us: please do not forget that it is our imperfection, our fallibility and our brokenness, it is in our getting it wrong sometimes that God is revealed as much as in our getting it right.
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.
Nothing and no encounter is wasted by God none of us are a waste to God, and as his ministers and people let us not forget that the Garden is full of opportunity whatever the state of the land for God is the gardener looking on and desiring to see us build his kingdom in love and faithfulness, remember we are the workers.