Sowing in a time of uncertainty
A service from South Wales Baptist College led by Rev Dr Craig Gardiner, with a reflection on the parable of the sower from College co-principal Rev Dr Rosa Hunt.
The parable of the sower is one of Jesus' best known stories - and one which speaks especially clearly to a time of uncertainty. Seeds are sown into an unknown future, and the conditions in which they will grow are something we can't always predict. As the end of a most unusual term approaches this year students, pupils and teachers across the UK will be wondering just what kind of fruit may lie ahead.
Rev Dr Rosa Hunt, co-principal of the South Wales Baptist College reflects on the message Jesus parable offers today in a service led by Rev Dr Craig Gardiner and including contributions from staff and students at the College.
The music used in the service was recorded prior to lockdown or is commercially available and is as follows:
Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer (Cardiff Polyphonic Choir, BBC recording)
Unless A Grain of Wheat (Bernadette Farrell, OCP 10827 Tr 11)
Beneath The Tree Of Life (Marty Haugen, Gia CD 463 Tr 1)
Brother Sister Let Me Serve You (Welsh Chamber Singers, BBC recording)
Now The Green Blade Riseth (Liverpool Cathedral Choir, Priory PRCD1180 Tr 15)
It Is Well With My Soul (National Youth Choir of Wales, BBC recording)
Producer: Dominic Jewel.
South Wales Baptist College can be found here: http://www.swbc.org.uk/
Hello, and welcome. I’m Rosa Hunt, I’m the minister of a bilingual Welsh-English Baptist chapel in South Wales, and also co-principal of this College. We have just come to the end of another year of preparing women and men for mission and ministry – in other words, preparing them to tell the ancient story of God bringing healing to our broken world through Jesus Christ, and to tell it in ways and through deeds which ring true today. And this generation’s particular task is to sow seeds of hope in very uncertain times.
And yet, of course, the calling to bring healing, love and hope to our communities is not one restricted to ministers of religion! God calls each one of us to use the gifts that we have been given to bless the places where we live and work. And so today we will be exploring what it means for each one of us, whatever our situation, to be called to sow seeds of blessing in our communities, whatever lies ahead. And as we do so, Craig Gardiner, our Tutor in Christian Doctrine, will lead us in prayer.
Opening Prayer (Craig)
God of welcome,
God of love,
God of faith and hope:
We gather in your name
And to worship you this day
We come to find our place
In the stories Jesus told
We come like him
to die to all that is false
and to grow into all that is true
We come together
In the fellowship of the Spirit
only to be scattered again
as seeds of hope in the world
Great redeemer, guide us
In this time and in this land. Amen.
MUSIC 1: Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer
Cardiff Polyphonic Choir
Ed Kaneen is co-principal of our College, and reads from Matthew chapter 13.
Reading 1: Matthew 13 (Ed)
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 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.”
THIS TRACK FADES UP AND IN AND OUT OF FOLLOWING TEXT
MUSIC 2: Unless A Grain Of Wheat
CD: Restless is the Heart
Emyr Williams is one of our students leaving us for ministry in West Wales. He’s been considering the seeds he’ll be sowing into the future.
Student 1: West Wales (Emyr)
Until a few months ago I had always read and studied the parable of the sower through the eyes of the believer, and possibly even feeling pity for the unfortunate that see the seed eaten by the birds, no depth of soil and overtaken by weeds, and at the same time feeling joy for the seed that produces a good harvest.
How things have changed in the past few months when congregations have been housebound, with limited access to group devotions, worship and a chance to be a community within the church. We ourselves, it feels, have been deprived of the ability to produce a harvest, deprived of the soil we usually grow and flourish within.
I now view the parable in a different way. The Sower is also the farmer or gardener that cultivates the soil, preparing for the seed to be sown.
We have been lucky in Carmarthenshire that we have not seen the harshest effects of Covid, but in the future the soil still will need gentle cultivation.
We need to cultivate and sow the seeds of hope, trust, stability, and rekindle community spirit to grow and support each other spiritually.
All this as with all gardening projects will take time, prayer, patience, and understanding.
Reflection 1 (Rosa)
The parable of the sower is a very well-known one. Jesus, the sower of the word of life and hope and healing, asks his listeners: - are you the path or the rocky ground, the thorns or the good soil? But, as Emyr says, there’s much to be gained from hearing this story from a different perspective. Jesus is no longer on earth, and he has entrusted the task of sowing this word of life to those who call themselves his followers.
Listen! A sower went out to sow. She didn’t stick to the old fields where seed had been carefully planted for centuries. Instead, she danced wild and free through the countryside, scattering her seeds of life as she went. Then she waited, patiently, returning every day to the paths she had walked to see whether her work had borne any fruit. She knew that sowing seeds was a risky business, and she had no idea how successful she’d been!
THIS TRACK FADES UP AND IN AND OUT OF FOLLOWING TEXT
MUSIC 3: Beneath The Tree Of Life
CD: Beneath the Tree of Life
Some seeds had fallen in places where years of exploitation and grinding despair snatched away the tiny grain of hope before it had a chance to grow. Here the sower saw nothing at all, and she felt sad. Some seeds had fallen in places where the message of life was desperately needed, and the little seeds of hope were received with joy, but soon the toughness of life with its attendant sorrows were too much for the seeds, and disappointment, suspicion and doubt shrivelled them up.
Some seeds had fallen in places where people were busy, so busy, working hard to make ends meet. Here, the sower soon lost sight of what she had planted as the tiny seeds of hope were crowded out by the thick weeds of worry and strife.
But some seeds fell on good soil. Here the tiny grains of hope germinated and grew, first silently underground, then gradually pushing their heads through into the sunlight, and then growing in strength and beauty until they bore so much fruit, fruit to nourish and sustain people for a lifetime and beyond. The sower was overjoyed. She had taken a risk and it had paid off – and now she had more seeds to sow next year!
I’m very new to gardening myself, and so I tend to buy packets of seeds which inform me that they are very easy to grow and have a high germination rate! I see sowing seeds as an act of faith – not only do I need to trust that somehow, against the odds, this tiny seed will survive and make it into a beautiful plant – but I am also making the simple statement of faith that there will be a future worth living, one when the flowers bloom or the vegetables are harvested. In fact, we’re making a similar act of faith here in college. We have no garden here, but some of us are planning to set up a raised bed in the carpark. In this time of uncertainty, we’re going to be planting in faith, looking forward to seeing flowers and vegetables growing in the middle of the tarmac!
Packets of seeds might carry germination guarantees, but Jesus had no such guarantee for his message of hope, and nor do we. He promises us abundant, eternal life but he also says that the way to that life is through surrender and sacrifice: if anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me. If that message came in a packet, it might carry a warning: sow these seeds liberally, because the chance of them taking root successfully is low. But watch out – those seeds which do take root successfully will bring forth much fruit, thirty or sixty or even a hundred times what you might expect!
Of course, not everybody feels able or willing to talk about their faith, and there are some circumstances where it would be completely inappropriate to do so. But there is more than one type of hope, and more than one way to share it. During lockdown, we have come to appreciate some different sowers of hope – the NHS staff and the carers, the shop workers and delivery drivers, the refuse collectors and funeral directors. They have all sown seeds of hope in our communities, and we have shown this by responding to them by drawing rainbows, the universal symbol of hope. All of us are called to bless our communities by sharing whatever life and hope we may have with them. This was true during lockdown, and it remains equally true as we move into an uncertain future. We are all called to be the sower who sows seeds of hope.
Prayers and Lord’s Prayer (Craig)
Lord of creation
As the rich earth welcomes the seed to the ground
We welcome your presence here:
Your Word in our midst,
Your Spirit in our lives,
Growing within us
Even in days that feel dark
In nights that fall silent
Seeking the light
Bearing good fruit
We are sorry for the times
When the ground of our living
Has been hard in our habits and resistant to your best for us
When our superficial busyness
Leaves us too shallow for growth
When our fears and our prejudice
Entangle around us and choke out your love
Forgive us Lord, we pray
We confess too
That while others have generously
sown seeds of faith in us
and your Spirit has planted
seeds of hope in our lives
We have often failed to scatter your blessings
To the world around us
Forgive us, O Lord,
Forgive us and renew us
And renew your world, good God,
with green shoots of virtue
and a harvest of peace
Where the pandemic of Covid-19 co continues to reap
A grim harvest of sickness, death and fear
Bring healing, bring life
Where violence and hatred
Choke promise and potential
Bring justice and freedom
Where greed and corruption
Scorch compassion and seeking after truth
Bring generosity of word and deed
Where our waste and our want-not
Smother the earth
Bring the fresh breath of your Spirt
Over the waters of creation
In all these things
And in so many more
May we see signs of hope
May we be seeds of hope
As we join together in the words the Sower taught us
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us in the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Music 5: Brother Sister Let Me Serve You
Welsh Chamber Singers
Sarah Elson is a student going into her final year at college, and she’s reading from John chapter 12.
Reading 2: John 12 (Sarah)
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, 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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.
Reflection 2: Rosa
Perhaps one of the most striking features of the pandemic was the way that the daily death toll became such a central part of the news bulletins and the media reports. During these last few months I have walked with many bereaved families for whom the loss of their loved one has been exacerbated by other losses: the loss of the right to be there at the bedside, the impossibility of holding a proper funeral and the loss of the physical comfort of the hug. And there have been other losses for our society too: the loss of regular face to face contact, the missing out on schooling and seeing grandparents, the inability to meet to eat or play or worship together, the loss of income and work. As we emerge from lockdown, some of these losses will be restored, but some, and some of the most important ones, never can. It is quite right and natural for us to ask as we look back on the last few months and embark on a new way of life: what have we lost?
In this second reading, Jesus is talking about life. I think that he’s talking about a special quality of life which is indestructible, a life which is rooted in God through the power of the Spirit of Jesus, a life which is sometimes described in the Bible as ‘streams of living water’ and at other times like a banquet, and yet others like having refuge in a strong fortress or like being adopted by a loving father, or like being rescued from a swamp and having one’s feet planted on solid ground, or even like being set free from slavery. It’s a life which is both full and eternal, one which is stronger than death itself. It’s a very attractive picture. And yet, here’s the paradox. Jesus says that the only way to gain this life is to be like a grain of wheat which is sown into the earth. In order for that grain to bear much fruit as a wheat plant, its life as a grain must come to an end. It needs to renounce its individual grain-ness, and surrender itself to the process of being formed into a wheat plant, different in size and shape and colour to everything it was before, but capable of bearing hundreds of new grains which can repeat the process.
Here, of course, we have a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death. Just as there can be no resurrection without the crucifixion, no Easter Sunday without the Good Friday, so it seems that we cannot partake in the abundant and indestructible life which Jesus offers without allowing some parts of our lives to die. And, as Jesus reminds us, this is not just a spiritual law. When we look at the world of nature, we see time and again that growth and change often involve loss.
Music 7: Now The Green Blade Riseth part 1
Liverpool Cathedral Choir
CD: Great Hymns from Liverpool
Deb Stammers is another of our leaving students:
Student 2: Anglesea (Deb)
In a few weeks’ time I’ll be moving, along with my husband and two children, to Holyhead in Anglesey, North West Wales. For the past three years I’ve been studying at the South Wales Baptist College, training to be a minister. But now comes that moment of putting it all into practice.
Often when God calls you into a new phase of life, parts of the old life have to die, and that’s painful. I am already thinking about all the things I’m going to miss. We’ve lived here in Bethesda, Gwynedd, for 14 years, and we love it – we’ve got amazing friends, we feel happy and settled here, and the children have flourished in their schools. During the Covid-19 lockdown, we’ve been grateful more than ever for the beauty and community spirit of this place. It will be very hard to say goodbye.
But we’re hoping that from these endings that we’ll see new life springing up. In my experience, God always surprises you, so who knows what the fruit will be? But we’re looking forward to the joy of sharing our lives with the people of Anglesey, and we’re excited to see how God might be at work in the middle of it all.
Music 7: Now The Green Blade Riseth part 2
Liverpool Cathedral Choir
CD: Great Hymns from Liverpool
For many of us, the pandemic has loosened our grip on our well-ordered lives. All the patterns which shaped our daily routines of school, work, socialising and shopping have shifted, and we can’t yet discern what new shapes they are going to settle into. We have surely lost some things, and it’s important to count them and mourn their loss appropriately. But as we reflect on what it means to be fully human in this post-lockdown world, as we search for that full and abundant life which Jesus offers, perhaps it’s worth remembering that unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it cannot bear much fruit.
In this time of so much uncertainty, one thing is certain. Our new world will need those sowers of seeds of hope, perhaps even more than the old one did. We will need doctors and nurses and teachers and care workers and cleaners and council workers and shop workers and artists and poets and yes, religious leaders – people to speak order and healing and hope into our communities. For some of us, fulfilling these callings may be a costly thing – perhaps in a literal, financial sense, as people retrain for new jobs after losing old ones. But perhaps also in a deeper sense of giving up part of who we thought we were and how we wanted our world to be, and having the faith to embrace change and growth for a new future.
May love come again
Upon each and every one:
In our grief and pain,
In our peace and our joy:
May seeds of love and faith and hope
Spring green upon the earth:
Make it well with every body,
Make it well with every mind,
Make it well with every soul,
Music 8: It Is Well With My Soul
National Youth Choir of Wales
- Sun 12 Jul 2020 08:10