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Bad endings and dead ends in community work? Let’s look to the reckless sower

October 5 2016


A harvest reflection by Corin Pilling

As each new season arrives, it offers an invitation to stop and pause. What was, is gone, or fading. I find I’m drawn to a reflective space as autumn approaches – the energy that summer generates starts to diminish and each warm day feels like a tangible gift.  By this time, many of us are celebrating harvest in our churches; we’re invited to express gratitude for all that we have and recognise afresh how interconnected we all are. We recognise that systems can be fruitful and work in our favour, giving us abundance and provision, but we can also see where these systems fail us and others, resulting in scarcity.

I was thinking of this when I spent some time with the parable of the sower in the book of Mark, which is such a rich illustration for those of us involved in our communities and Christian ministry generally. If you’ll forgive the hackneyed farming analogy, reading any parable is often stepping into a well-worn furrow. Our familiarity can prevent us from new insight. We know the drill. We’ve been here before!

With the parable of the sower, we can all identify with rocky ground, choking weeds and shallow soil.  One reading of the story is somewhat pragmatic, even fatalistic; ‘Well, you sow the seed and more often than not, reap nothing back.’

Of course, there’s a good deal of realism in scripture, there are bad endings and dead ends. We’re told to prepare for the worst. Yet, I think there’s always a deeper engagement on offer. In this case, the parable becomes more intriguing when we look at the much-neglected figure of the sower.

The sower in the parable is a curious character, with his seemingly inefficient methods.  I don’t know much about farming, having only grown balcony tomatoes with minor success, but if I was farming that land I’d like to see a less wasteful approach with greater efficiency and more pragmatic choices.  This sower appears to scatter the seed without any thought to where it’s going to land. Surely, any decent farmer would pay more attention to planting where it is likely to yield the best crop?

[x_blockquote type=”left”]This is the generosity of God, and the nature of grace.[/x_blockquote]

But this is a picture of God, who pours out his grace with generosity and abandon – not making any choices about where it is most likely to be received and recognised. Just continually available for the good soil and the not so good.  And always there’s that affirmation that where it does take root, it will produce a hundredfold. This is the generosity of God, and the nature of grace.

In times when we are prone to look at the rocky ground, or the thorns, or the shallowness – let’s look to this reckless sower. When we feel worn down and can’t see any sign of a harvest, recognise the invitation stands – once again – to seek his grace and find his abundance.

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