What’s the reason for the Christian hope you have?

Mary Copping, 16 July 2017

Romans 8: 1–11; Matthew 13: 1–9, 18–23

I read in the Times that at the Church of England’s General Synod recently, the Archbishop of York proposed a motion asking politicians to fight for the ‘common good’. One synod member asked if a clause could be added declaring Jesus Christ to be ‘king of kings’, but Archbishop John Sentamu resisted. He recalled a fellow Ugandan preacher who landed in the UK on missionary work and chose the ‘Something to Declare’ door at Heathrow. Asked what he had to declare, he told customs officers ‘that Jesus Christ is the Son of God’. Border officials said they were more interested in the contents of his suitcase than of his soul, but he insisted, ‘Jesus Christ was born and rose again’. Dr Sentamu recalled, ‘We had to wait two hours before they let him out’.

In our passage from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells the story of the sower sowing seeds, likening the seed to the Word of God, the word of his kingdom – a familiar story. As I read it I wondered about us being the sowers. What does the symbolism mean of us being the farmer sowing the seed?

For each of us, being a seed sower means different things. To that Ugandan preacher, it obviously meant being clear in what he believed and declaring it wherever he went; but that can often be quite off-putting. For most Christians, it is about taking their faith out into the world and living it. For some, it is the quiet acting out of our faith, wherever we go – putting it into practice working for different causes. It is well known that a majority of charity workers are Christian. As we meet with and relate to others, we can think that we are part of their journey; are we a positive or a negative part? Are we being Christ to them, or making things more difficult?

For most Christians, being a seed sower is about taking their faith out into the world and living it.

A verse from 1 Peter 3: 15: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.’ At a church I used to go to, I attended an evangelism course. We were encouraged to think about, and write down, what we would say to someone if they asked why we were Christian, and what benefit our faith is to our lives.

Those who had become Christians later on in their lives were able to do this more easily, because they could see the difference between their old lives and their new ones. But those who had been Christians all their lives found it more difficult. When you have lived as a Christian all your life, it is harder to define what God in Jesus means and how that affects how you live. How would I be if I didn’t know God, didn’t go to church every week and have the support of my church community?

It is a good exercise to do, for all of us, so that if someone did say, ‘So, why are you a Christian? What difference does it make?’ we would not be fumbling for words but would have thought through what it does mean and could articulate it. It is also a good thing to do anyway, because we can sometimes take our faith for granted and not realise how much God helps and blesses us in all areas of our lives.

As a church, we are definitely sowers of the seed, in all aspects of our church life. Peter Seal and Bill Lucas spoke so clearly and engagingly last week about the need to improve our church and the buildings round it for the good of the community, and beyond, both being clear that ultimately it is a people project not a building project. This is visionary thinking. We could stay as we are: ‘Why change, it’s worked well for so many years?’ Yet, if we are sowers of the seed, spreading the word of God’s kingdom, then we need to be growing, expanding and moving on.

Working in the office has given me a real sense of the thousands of people who use these buildings over the year. Pre-school, ballet, toddler group, parties, concerts – many, many people who are not churchgoers. As sowers of the seed, what impression are we giving of the church, of God? Is he a God who is a bit miserly, a bit shabby, or is he a God of abundant blessings who wants to make people feel welcome in his house, comfortable in it, and ultimately wants more and more people to know him, to love him and be loved by him?

Verse 9 from our reading from Romans chapter 8: ‘But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you’. When Paul talks about the flesh he means those things that are contrary to God’s working – jealousy, anger, hate, etc. In this passage he talks about the Spirit dwelling in us. The Holy Spirit is often represented as dwelling in the hearts of Christians – the Spirit who influences, directs and guides us, producing the fruits of the Spirit: meekness, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness.

If we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, making all this available to us, surely we want to tell others about it, share it with others, so they can know this life with God too? As J John the evangelist is often quoted as saying, ‘Christianity is about one beggar telling another where to get bread – Jesus, the bread of life’.

As J John the evangelist is often quoted as saying, ‘Christianity is about one beggar telling another where to get bread’.

Each Sunday we meet to worship God, to focus on him in the stillness, to show him our love; and as we do so, we are nourished and strengthened by him for the week ahead and all that we might be doing. And, like a stone thrown into a pond, sending ripples across it, so we go out and the love of God ripples out from us to a world that needs his love so much.

As we look back on the influences to our Christian faith we can be thankful for all those who have helped us along the way: teachers, friends, family. Most of them will not realise what an influence they have been. A year after someone had told me that Jesus loves me, which began my Christian faith journey, I went back to her house to tell her the influence she had had, and she was greatly encouraged.

For most of the time, as sowers of seed for the kingdom of God, we cannot and need not know what influence we may have had, or indeed will have, on others. And, as with the farmer, the seed does not sprout immediately, but grows under the soil until it is ready to sprout. So as we speak to people, as we act and pray, let us be sowers of good seed that will benefit others, and let us be Christlike, to further God’s kingdom in the world.

‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.’