A reflection distributed among the elders at Crook
“Not all of life’s answers can be found on Google.” That was one of the more amusing notices I discovered on a church notice board – a wayside pulpit – a couple of years ago; the message was contained in the familiar Google search box wall. It seems that witty clergy around the country are now using tongue-in-cheek posters to get the church’s message across to try and lure in amused punters to boost their dwindling congregations. The message on this notice board does, however, make a point. So often we use our smartphones or laptops to find out instant information from the many on-line search engines available including Google. Perhaps the most profound effect of the information revolution that has taken place during the last 20 years is the fact that information is now available at an instant, at a touch of a button, almost anywhere. But alas, not all of life’s questions are answered by information alone or at a touch of a button. Information may be packaged on smartphones and laptops – understanding is not.
One of this year’s Gospel images for the kingdom of God taken from St. Mark is of seed sown (Pentecost 3: 14th June 2015). It is used on a number of occasions, but one instance refers to the seed that a man throws on his land and that then grows: “Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” Tiny seeds, lying hidden, buried in the soil, can develop into a rich harvest. We may sow the seed but cannot control the harvest. Night and day, the seed is sprouting and growing: how, we do not know.
On a recent pastoral visit this week I commended a gardener on his attractive and colourful flower garden. He was surprised to see that many foxgloves and orchids had flowered this year – he recalled he had only planted a couple of cuttings some years ago – the abundance of such beautiful flowers was beyond his expectations – it was a magnificent harvest. We may sow the seed but cannot control the harvest. Night and day, the seed is sprouting and growing: how, we do not know or understand.
At the recent recalled URC General Assembly held in Birmingham last month some representatives from the Scottish synod sitting behind me told me they had been following, on-line, the debate regarding same sex marriage in the church, the press and in the wider society for many years. One representative said that she had waited over 20 years for the decision to be made in Birmingham. During those years of waiting she and her friends had begun to sense and share their understanding of the more complex issues of same sex marriage of which previously she had been unaware. They had the information of these issues facing the church, but understanding the issue had taken many years. We may sow the seed but cannot control the harvest. Night and day, the seed is sprouting and growing: how, we do not know or understand.
This week at a summer BBQ held at my home I was able to thank my Messy Church leaders for their hard work, their care and support of young children during the school year now coming to an end. I referred to seeds sown in children’s lives, not knowing what the harvest might be. A couple of years ago I met a soldier dressed in combat uniform in a Durham bar – he came over to talk to me. I soon realised it was John one of my pilots from the late 90’s. I last saw him last when he was 14 years old (Pilots is a URC Christian organisation which began in 1936 and is open to all children and young people). At the time of our meeting he was serving with the Royal Engineers in Afghanistan, providing military engineering and other technical support to the British Armed Forces. He spoke warmly of his time in Pilots and how over time and reflection his young faith had grown and matured and was a comfort and support to him in often dangerous and difficult situations. We may sow the seed but cannot control the harvest. Night and day, the seed is sprouting and growing: how, we do not know or understand.
The harvest may take us by surprise. The synod moderator recently drew attention to the value of preaching – do we listen to sermons anymore? The story is told of a famous preacher. When he was preaching one day a man who was listening was converted. The preacher was pleased with his results and at the end of the service asked the new convert at which point in the sermon did he feel God speaking to him? “Oh yes,” said the convert, I remember exactly. “It was the moment you said – Now I finish the first part and must move to the second,” and I realised at once that I must be done with the first part of my life and must move to the next.” We may sow the seed but the harvest may take us by surprise. Night and day, the seed is sprouting and growing: how, we do not know or understand.
The implications, of course, reach far beyond the realm of formal preaching. They are relevant in life and for all speaking, secular and well as sacred. How often at conferences or General Assemblies the most valuable work is done not when everyone is gathered to listen to distinguished preachers and speakers, but in the coffee rooms and bars where people chat, or in the car park after an elders meeting. That may be where the most important plans are laid.
Night and day, the seed is sprouting and growing: how we do not know. We may sow the seed but cannot control the harvest.
Minister, St Andrew’s Dawson Street, Crook