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Letters from Tim

What do you do when things go wrong? How do you react?

What if everything seems to go wrong for everyone?

This year we sowed our tomato seeds in the same way as we have done for over 40 years. We can do tomatoes. They began to emerge from the soil, only to stop developing and growing 10 cms high. They then turned yellowish and wilted. We did all we could to boost their growth but they were going nowhere but the rubbish bin.

After an appeal to friends and neighbours for any spare tomato plants we have ended up with more than we usually grow, all are healthy and we hope for a great harvest.

We learned later that a number of commercial composts had been contaminated with weed killer, and so the mystery was solved.

The parable of the sower sowing seeds in a haphazard way on pathways, stony ground, among thistles and weeds and onto the soil, is a familiar tale of Jesus.  It comes with an explanation about how and why some seeds are successful and others fail to thrive.

What has your experience of lockdown been like?

Time after time I have heard commentators on TV saying how we have been using all the extra time and opportunities enforced on us in imaginative and creative ways. There has been a lot of talk about mental wellbeing, keeping fit, getting exercise.  There has been evidence that people outside the church have been exploring and asking big questions of life. What is life all about?  How do we live with uncertainty and fear?  Who is my community? How do we live as human beings together on this planet? How do we care for the most vulnerable?

We are all equal and the virus does not discriminate between the famous and the ordinary people.  We are now seeing that , as usual, the poorest in our world will carry the biggest burden due to the undeveloped economies and the way our global village, is biased toward the rich countries.

Some have been able to handle lockdown as well as can be expected, others have really struggled with the isolation, lack of access to health care support, family and friends. Many are quiet about their struggles and the hidden long-term effects of lockdown will be with us for years.

So back to the story of the sower.

Like our tomato planting, we know that if the soil is not appropriate, if there is not the right amount of light, rain and nutrients about the seeds will not thrive. If we find ourselves in a place where it is hard to thrive, stony ground, exposed to the hungry birds of the air or the invasive weeds, or in our garden, the slugs, then it is harder to be fruitful.

The lessons to be learned from the pandemic will cover every aspect of our society.  How we care for and resource our care homes, our social services and of course our NHS are fundamental questions. We are happy to applaud key workers for a few weeks, but do we really appreciate the weekly day and night sacrifices made in order that we can be looked after when we need it? Are we prepared to pay for it?

We have learned how interconnected we are for our daily living. The provision of food and necessities, are so finely balanced, that they can come close to collapse if we show selfish greed in case we run out of toilet rolls.

There is more than enough if we live more simply that others may simply live. If we learn how to trust that if we take what we need others can have something too. The emphasis on ‘me first others second’, does not encourage fruitfulness and wellbeing. 

We have learned how generosity of heart, of time, of care and of practical love has borne unexpected fruit with varying yields in many places and peoples.

It has been a cause of great rejoicing. Super human efforts have triggered massive out pouring of fruitful generosity. Relationships have been discovered, deepened and celebrated. There have been many examples of coming together in order to come through the fears and the challenges of these days.

Now we wonder if those lessons will grow and develop as we seek the balance between opening society up again, and being alert and careful for each other and with each other.

Do we want to just get back to where we were? Or are there ways in which we can encourage the thirty, sixty or even a hundred-fold harvest? 

In telling this story, Jesus was perhaps preparing his listeners for the time when he had to die like the seed, in order to become more fruitful. His words and actions were received by some with joy and amazement. But others saw him as a threat to the vested interests of the day. So the same seed had different impacts.

There is a risk that we hear this story and try to categorise ourselves and others into it. Which am I? Stony ground, or receptive soil? 

Perhaps Jesus’ intention is to remind us that we are all not only receivers of the seed, but also scatter-ers of seeds ourselves. The invitation of God is for us to be the word to join in with him as we are scattered among neighbours and communities at work, or home.

The fruitfulness of our lockdown relationships is what we can try to develop. How we engage in our society to build fruitfulness in our social care and the support of the most vulnerable are things we can campaign and work for.

God’s fruitfulness is promised in the hearts and lives of those who are open to working with him, believing that he works with us and through us.

The potential fruitfulness of our tomatoes will only be real because of the generosity, neighbourliness and friendship from others. Let’s hope we can share the harvest when it comes.

Amen.


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