St Peter's Church, Manchester
Compassion — Acceptance — Welcome
Choose love, Choose Joy, Chose a heart strangely warmed.
Choose fear, Chose tears, Choose laughing till you cry.
Choose wonder, Choose shock,
Choose romance that makes you swoon.
Choose heart, choose passion, CHOOSE LIFE.
Some choose not to choose life; some choose to escape from life. True most do not choose drugs as did the characters in the film ‘Trainspotting’. But there are many escapes from life, ways which protect ourselves which even allow us to escape our feelings, overcome our passions, and in the process become as detached from reality as anyone can on narcotics.
We can be cut off from life by focusing only on those things which will not disturb our comfort. Or we can try to focus only on the dryness of detached observation and a distant irrelevant rationality. There is nothing wrong with detached observation or rationality, but when they become a way of avoiding engagement with the realities of life with all its ups and downs, joys and sorrows, feelings and passions, we have a problem.
We can run the risk of becoming passionless, unable to relate our lives to the lives of others unable to relate to others as persons. Faith can wither and die, and we fail to communicate. Life with all its passions is essential to the Christian faith, yet often we are tempted to neglect the essentiality of passion.
I am not talking of a misplaced over emotionalism which ignores the realities of life. I am not talking of some purely sensual faith which seeks the eradication of understanding. Far from it, I want to suggest that faith is a way of experiential learning. The experience of passion is vital and so is reflection upon it. Reflection without passion is futile, and there is still truth in the words that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’.
In the churches we should give thanks for the traditions that draw us to remember in our faith the passion of life, in recent more recent times found in the Pentecostalist and Charismatic traditions. Yet here there has been a problem with these traditions in recent years where they have fallen into the trap of abandoning understanding leading to a distinct anti-intellectualism. Worse still for some the only passions they wish to recognise are those feelings that are pleasant, and when the realities of life break through faith withers. A whole faith must recognise all of the passions, all of the real feelings we have in life; good and ill. It is these passions that are the source of theological reflection.
Whilst the subject matter of the Gospel story appears to be more suitable for a harvest festival, the purpose of the story in the context of Matthew is to show the worth and balance of both the intellect and the passions, to show that they are connected and both needed if the gospel is to truly bare fruit.
It is unfortunate therefore that the compilers of the lectionary have missed out the middle verses 10–17, of the story that Matthew is telling. They wish us to learn about the sower, yet Mathew wants us to hear that message and comprehend the varieties of human understanding and their usefulness in faith.
The parable is explained within the text, and has been the subject of a million sermons. But for us this morning it is the passion with which the story is told that matters.
It is passionate because it speaks to peoples experiences, not only in terms they understood a story of everyday life. But more than this the sowing and reaping is a matter of life and death for many of these people. It is also communal activity the neighbours would gather to help each other sow, as they would to help each other reap. The speed of sowing was important as the method was to scatter the grain and then plough it into the soil, they had to minimise the amount of time it was exposed to the path and the birds. This is the context of their joys and sorrows, this is their life.
More than this the story also appeals to the sense of wonder of the hearers. After its realistic tone there is something to make them gawp, to amaze and stun as they hear that there is a yield of 100-fold, 60-fold, even the 30-fold this is fantastic. The people knew that in a good year they would be lucky to get 7-and-a-half-fold, in the most exceptional years 10-fold. Christ is appealing to the emotions and passions of his hearers.
This causes a problem for the disciples; they are taken aback by the tone, the manner of his teaching. This is the first time in Matthews gospel that there is an extended story parable told to the crowds. The disciples are unprepared for it. They ask, perhaps in an incredulous tone, 'Why do you speak to them in parables?' And it is this question, the hinge of this part of the Gospel, which is denied us by the lectionary. It also denies us the first part of the reply. Jesus tells the disciples that whilst they have learned about the kingdom from him and have come along way, the crowd are in a very different position. They should not be worried that
they are losing out, rather they should know that he uses the parable to appeal to their emotions, their passions, and by reaching them this way to lead the crowd to the kingdom. True Matthew needs to use the Greek translation of Isaiah to make his point, but the point is forcefully made, when the crowd understand with their feelings they will turn to Christ.
In the second part of the reply Jesus explains the parable to the disciples, the very ones who should understand what he is on about. They asked their question because they did not understand. They were too detached from the passions and experiences of the people, from their feelings and stories that they did not find meaning in the parable, only a puzzling lack of analysis and information, they are dumbstruck by the exaggeration of his claim of the fertility of grain, and to them it makes no sense. And so the obvious must be detailed to them in the words they understand, with analysis.
The irony of the story is in the line ‘Let anyone with ears listen’ for different ears hear different things. For the disciples this is part of their learning, they must embrace and communicate using their learning and their passions in order to bear the fruit of the kingdom.
In Romans Paul draws the distinction between the Flesh and the Spirit but this is not a call for a detachment from Passion rather it is a call for the passions to be renewed, revitalised and redirected to bear fruit.
So to sum up the meaning of this sermon,
Be Passionate; Bear Fruit; Be a Passion fruit.
In the name of the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.