I heard recently of a survey into food, which produced the rather surprising results that a significant number of people think that bacon comes from cows, and an even larger number of people were quite unaware of how you get raspberries, blackcurrants, gooseberries, and so on. It reminds me of the April 1 episode of Horizon, about forty years ago or so, which was based on the idea that spaghetti grew on trees.
There are a lot of things that we take on trust – and in many cases we really have no choice. Most of us have only the haziest of ideas about how the microwave works, for instance, but we still use them quite regularly; and the same probably goes for flat screen TVs. We know that they will go wrong from time to time – but it still catches us out when they do. I know I felt quite aggrieved when the element on the cooker burned out last year, and would probably have similar feelings if the washing machine broke down (it is 14 years old!).
So just as the farmer in Our Lord’s time would sow the seed and then wait for it to come to harvest, in accordance with the ways of the world which God has made, so also we do many things every day with hardly a thought about how our actions produce their results.
And this, Our Lord tells us, is what the kingdom of God is like. It is something of which we are part, but which follows its own rules – the rules that God has given – regardless of whether we are committed to it or not. If we are committed, all well and good: we can sow the seed of the kingdom (the seed provided by our heavenly Father), we might till the soil, or pull out weeds, or help matters along in whatever ways God has gifted us to be able to do; and when the harvest is ready there will be worked commissioned by God to gather the harvest of the Kingdom of God – eternal life and happiness with God. But if we are not committed, the seed will still be sown, and the work will still be done, and the harvest will still ripen. God calls us all to work for the kingdom of truth, peace, life, love, and if we hear his call then our own work will form a part of the eternal kingdom; but if we refuse, that will not frustrate God’s plans; it merely means that our work will not be part of their fulfilment.
A great deal of hard work has gone into building the kingdom of God in this part of Leicestershire, and we have had a part to play in that building. Those who have gone before us – the people who used to worship at the Old Bakery on Church Lane, those who used to worship in the room over the pub – sowed the seed of faith and worship; those who came after them – who were instrumental in raising money, providing the land, supporting the original Church building, ensuring that the young people were raised in faith and practice – tilled the soil and irrigated it; and in recent years we have continued their good work, with the Parish Hall extension, tending to our communion as the body of Christ, and continuing to show a welcome to others, and to look after our young people and our elderly people, those who are healthy and those who are not – all in continuing preparation for the time of the harvest. We look forward to being part of God’s kingdom, when perhaps we will find that what we thought of as just a mustard seed compared with the work that others have done, was counted by God as important and perhaps has grown into a large tree in God’s garden.
But underpinning it all is still faith. Faith that God has some better thing planned for us even than our experiences of life and love and faith in this world. And part of that faith is the knowledge that all things in this world have their time, and there may be a time when all that we have built in our parish must give way to something different. I’m sure we would feel very aggrieved if it was to happen in our lifetime: just as I felt aggrieved when the new central heating boiler refused to work because it had got too cold and the outlet had frozen!
But I think that we owe it to future generations to put in lasting foundations, just as our forebears worked to erect the foundations of this parish. We may not know what will be built on our foundations, any more than they did; but we trust in the power and the love of God just as they did. So what must we ensure that we put inplace? St. Paul is very clear: the foundation is Christ himself and the apostles; building on anything else will not last. And the way that we build must be in faith in God, and in love of God and of his people. Those are the tools of the trade. And we must use all the talents that God has given to us in this work: our intelligence, our imagination, our sensitivity, our appreciation of God’s gifts.
So as a christian communion we must make sure that we share our faith with others – the younger members of our communion, and those outside who may wish to become members. This means that we must make sure that we have among us those who are willing to hand on our christian faith and who are properly trained to do so. So there is a catechists’ course starting this autumn at St. Patrick’s, for existing catechists and forthose who might wish to become catechists at some time in the future, and there is shortly to be some training in child protection matters in this parish. We must make sure that there are those among us who take care to visit the sick and the lonely and the elderly and the housebound, and keep them within our worshipping communion; and we must make sure that the group of people who have been doing such great work in the past is regularly augmented by new members willing to carry on this good work into the future. We must make sure that we are always alive to the needs of peoples who are not members of our communion, particularly those who are starving, without shelter, or in fear of unjust imprisonment. We must, as a christian communion, consider the ways that we worship God, formally in Church, and informally – and perhaps this means that we should look to new forms of prayer life in the parish to supplement the prayers and the liturgy that we already have. And in all of this we must remain open to the possibility that there may have to be changes to our established routine: we may well be unable to have regular Mass every weekday; we may have to make do with only two Sunday Masses (and perhaps even with only one); we may have to make do without a resident priest; we may even have to consider life as a parish communion based elsewhere than here in our Church. We have to be open to these possibilities, because they are less important than our shared faith, our celebrations of Mass and the sacraments, our prayers individually and together, and the way that we show our love for God and for one another.
So perhaps this week we need to reflect on some more questions for the future: Shall I take part in the course for catechists? Shall I come to the safeguarding training? Shall I form or join a prayer group – whether in Church or at home? Shall I help in some way in Church, to assist in the celebrations of Mass at weekends, for the greater glory of God? Could I visit someone who is ill, elderly, or housebound? Could I join the SVP, or consider becoming a eucharistic minister? Could I work for justice and peace, or for CAFOD, or in some way help those in the world much less fortunate than we are? How would this parish maintain itself as a christian communion without a resident parish priest? if we had to relocate elsewhere? Bishop Malcolm asks us all to reflect on such questions, and to pool our thoughts so that he can discharge his responsibility to make appropriate and wise decisions for the whole diocese.