6th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 10
Morning Prayer with Sacrament Reserved
O ye who thirst, come to the waters; ye who lack coin, come, buy and eat.
I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees.
The Invitatory and Psalter
V. O Lord, open thou our lips,
R. And our mouths shall show forth your praise.
V. Glory be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
R. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Alleluia
Jubilate Psalm 100
1 Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands; *
serve the LORD with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
2 Know this: The LORD himself is God; he himself has made us; we are his *;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; *
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
4. For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; *
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.
The earth is the Lord’s for he made it. Come let us adore him.
1. You are to be praised, O God, in Zion; * to you shall oaths be fulfilled in Jerusalem.
2. To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come, * because of their transgressions.
3. Our sins are stronger than we are, * but you will blot them out.
4. Happy are they whom you choose and draw to your courts to dwell there! *
they will be sated by the beauty of your house, by the holiness of your temple.
5. Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation, *
O Hope of all the ends of the earth and of the seas that are far away.
6. You make fast the mountains by your power; * they are girded with might.
7. You still the roaring of the seas, * the roaring of waves, and the clamor of peoples.
8. Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your marvelous signs; *
you make the dawn and the dusk sing for joy.
9. You visit the earth and water it abundantly; you make it plenteous; *
the river of God is full of water.
10. You prepare the grain, * for so you provide for the earth.
11. You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; *
with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.
12.You crown the year with your goodness, * and your paths overflow with plenty.
13.May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing, * and the hills clothed with joy.
14.May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,
and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; * let them shout for joy and sing.
The earth is the Lord’s for he made it. Come let us adore him.
The First Lesson: Isaiah 55:10-13
10As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
12For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Hymn: New every morning John Keble Hymnal 1982 #10
New every morning is the love
our wakening and uprising prove;
through sleep and darkness safely brought,
restored to life and power and thought.
New mercies, each returning day,
around us hover while we pray;
new perils past, new sins forgiven,
new thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven.
If on our daily course our mind
be set to hallow all we find,
new treasures still, of countless price,
God will provide for sacrifice.
Old friends, old scenes, will lovelier be,
as more of heaven in each we see;
some softening gleam of love and prayer
shall dawn on every cross and care.
The trivial round, the common task,
will furnish all we ought to ask:
room to deny ourselves; a road
to bring us daily nearer God.
Only, O Lord, in thy dear love,
fit us for perfect rest above;
and help us, this and every day,
to live more nearly as we pray.
The Second Lesson: Romans 8:1-11
1There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law — indeed it cannot, 8and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Almighty God, Your Word is Cast John Cawood Hymnal 1982 #588
1 Almighty God, your word is cast like seed upon the ground;
now let the dew of heav’n descend, and righteous fruits abound.
2 Let not our selfishness and hate this holy seed remove
but give it root in ev’ry heart to bring forth fruits of love.
3 Let not the world’s deceitful cares the rising plant destroy,
but let it yield a hundredfold the fruits of peace and joy.
The Gospel Lesson: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”
18Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise be to you, Lord Christ.
Sermon: A Sower Went to Sow
When I was a boy, we used to sing a number-learning song, “One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow,” and it keeps coming to mind as I read the title of this sermon. I remember asking my parents how long it took to mow a meadow, and whether the man had to use a push mower like we had, or one of those cool riding ones I always wanted to try, since it seemed the easier tool to use on our three-part, much-sloping 1/3 of an acre lawn. “A while,” I think my father answered. “It’d take a good while for one man to mow a meadow.”
It was one man and his dog, now that I think about it, who went to mow: “One man and his dog / Went to mow a meadow,” then two men, then three, then four, but always with the first man – and his dog. No women, or cats for that matter, went to mow the meadow in this song, though many a mower of lawns and of meadows has over time been a woman, and any who has ever tried it will know just how hard it is to mow a whole meadow by yourself, and how readily many hands can make light(er) work. You go, fellas, get the mowing done and the field cleared, and keep the dog safe while you’re out there. Avoid large bovines.
I was older than I care to admit before I realized, or before somebody taught me and I listened, that the mowing going on in that song was not quite the same thing as what happens to cut a suburban lawn down to the level on which one could play croquet on it or find a dropped hairpin. It was a harvest song, and the mowing in question that which one does to a hay meadow, where weeds (we would say wildflowers, plants, grasses) grow long and lovely and lush, ideally, free from the grazing of the livestock they will eventually feed. The tool in question with which the mower went to mow was not the 2-stroke Briggs-and-Stratton engine my father alternately cursed, repaired, and admired, but a scythe, which to see in any context brings to mind the Grim Reaper and the final harvest, the day of wrath, the day of mourning. Learning all this changed how I hear that song, leading me to contemplate how hard such labor can be, and how good it must be not to have to do it alone, and what it’s really a metaphor for. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that this children’s counting song actually started as a euphemistic report on what one finds on a battlefield during, or after, the battle.
Did not “mow” rhyme with “sow,” although “sow” when it means a female pig rhymes instead with “cow,” I doubt the parable of the sower and “One Man Went to Mow” would be connected in my mind. But they are, and I cannot but hear in my head as Jesus talks in this gospel, “One man went to sow / went to sow a meadow. / One man and his dog / went to sow a meadow,” which is probably less backbreaking that mowing it once the hay has grown. Knowing how careful farmers tend to be with seed – unlike the proverbial lilies of the field, which neither toil nor spin but than which even Solomon in all his glory is not more finely garbed – the sower in this parable of Jesus seems wasteful, almost reckless. He – and it might not be a he, I realize – sows seed wither he would, letting it fall on good soil and bad, the hard clay of the roads or the damp patches already choked with thistles, hoping that enough will grow for it all to have been worth it. The sower is sowing grain, not hay, and if he is not successful, the people will have nothing to eat, which makes his indifference to where the seed falls all the more difficult to explain. Seed is hard to come by, whatever one is trying to grow, and to cast it on infertile ground would seem the height of irresponsibility.
But giving a good account of how to sow crops so that one may have sufficient to reap in due season is not quite the focus of this parable. The sower is doing it wrong for other reasons, and we all know that Jesus is all about feeding people when they hunger – and would have us be so, too – but he is trying to get people to understand what the kingdom of God is like, and by extension what God is like. God, the sower in the parable, has sown the word all over the place, seeming not to care whether that word, as good seed, falls on good soil or poor, thorn-choked or stony, just so long as it’s thrown and has a chance. It’s like preaching or teaching out loud, whether in person or across the Covid-Zoom miles, where you’re never sure who’s listening but hope that whatever word the Lord gives you is good, and the ears receptive. In Jesus’s parable all the seed, we are given to understand, is good, which is a good thing since it represents “the word of the kingdom,” and how could that be bad?
Therefore, if good seed does not produce a good harvest, yielding thirty, sixty, a hundredfold to what was sown, and it’s not the seed’s fault, there must be something wrong with the soil. The sower simply sowed, so cannot be blamed – perhaps.
The soil would be us, in the parable. We are that ready, receptive land, be it parched, thorny, rocky, or good. If we hear the word and do not listen, or start listening but then stop for some reason, such as persecution or distraction or the pursuit of wealth, it’s our fault – not the sower’s and not the seed’s. The word bore no good fruit in us, never had a chance, because of what we are – thus says the parable. If we are good soil, counted among those in whom the seed, the word produces good fruit, that’s…good? It is, but it hardly seems earned. Those who hear the word and understand it seem more lucky than anything else, much as we used to think when I was young about those who were predestined for salvation and among the elect, in the revanchist evangelical Calvinism of my youth. I remember thinking how nice it must be to be that – saved by God ahead of time, unlike most everyone else – and to know it. Oh, how we prayed for God to remove the thorns and stones and thistles from our lives and to soften us, protect us from the magpies and pigeons of the devil when they come to snatch away the good seed, so that we would be good soil, indeed, and bear in our lives good fruit, an abundant harvest of…souls, good works, sinless decency, or godly success, whatever it was God had in mind for us. That, anyway, was what the parable meant to me in my younger years: long to be good soil, and if God wills it, you will be, always already have been. Don’t worry about the others since, even if you do all you can, there’s ultimately nothing you can do unless God wills it.
The more I think about all this, however, the more it troubles me, not least because I can no longer listen with patience to concepts like “predestination” and, as a noun, “the elect”. Why did the sower not sow the seed only on good soil? Or, better yet, why did s/he not prepare all the various types of soil so that it could all receive the good seed and make, to change the metaphor slightly, a thousand flowers bloom? Why would anybody waste good seed on bad land, particularly if that creature (or creator) had the power to make that land good?
Herein lies the pain and paradox of the parable of the sower: why sow where you have no chance to reap? What else could you have done, ought you have done, to better the good seed’s chances?
One unexamined premise here is, of course, that the sower had that power – and it’s odd that those words don’t rhyme, either. But what would we be saying if we said that God did not have the power to enable people to hear and understand the word? Surely, that would be no God, but the weak remainder of a God from which all power had been drained. However, this makes the point even sharper. If the sower did have the power to make all soil good before sowing the seed, but chose not to use it, why not? And we shall hear no bleating about “free will,” since the metaphors in the parable of the sower do not extend to the concept of choice and decision, but speak of varied but unchangeable conditions and situations. People are so bad, it fairly shouts at us, that many – we used to say, slavish to the metaphor, ¾ of them (us?) – were so unresponsive to the word over time that it was as though they could never have been otherwise. This may reflect reality pretty well, and one can imagine early evangelist after early evangelist coming back to Jerusalem or Antioch whining to the other disciples of Christ that these stiff-necked, obstinate, selfish, and worldly-minded people just don’t get it when we give them the Truth with a capital T and even put a crucified-then-resurrected cherry on top, drat them. What does the Lord want us to do about that? I guess we just gotta keep these lost souls in prayer and leave the rest in the hands of Jesus, I don’t know.
But being frustrated with one’s audience when one’s message isn’t getting through is a dangerous passion to indulge. Indeed, any business or other going concern that starts blaming its customers, or would-be customers, has already begun to circle the drain. If the good seed won’t grow, and the good word isn’t being heard, there may be something we have to do to the soil, something we have to do for the hearers, to make some changes, let the good flow as it should.
Today’s passage from Romans 8 doesn’t help us all that much, since it merely restates the case with more legal, and fewer agricultural, references. (Does Paul ever speak of grain or sheep at all? I’m trying to think of some instances, but I can’t. He must, at least, talk about the lamb of God every now and again, even if “feed my sheep” isn’t quite his idiom.) Those who live according to the flesh, which means living in the only body God have us and which has a tendency to want things it shouldn’t and break down in the end, piece by piece and then all at once, ready to go a progress through the guts of a beggar – those who live according to the flesh, I say, will perish, and those (of us, he says!) who live according to the Spirit will not. They (we?) set our minds in life and peace and the laws of God, fulfilled by God’s coming into weak flesh and paying the debt of sin so that we don’t have to, not in the flesh, not at all. Except not everybody listens to, or understands, even that. Jesus died for everybody’s sins but they (we?) still sin, and why is that? Because flesh is weak. It wants what it wants and will not listen, will not change, is hostile to the maker who made it live this way and under these conditions. Some ground is just rocky or stony or full of thorns, and can’t nothing grow on it except what we don’t want, or what don’t last.
I want to say: if flesh is weak, let’s make it strong, so I will. Our body, our flesh is the only thing we have to house the Spirit in this life and under the sun and moon, so enough with the body-shaming and the flesh-demeaning, Paul. Let’s starting loving and improving what God made good and quit the bellyaching. This meat-suit carrying around our souls and person is not just made of dust, but stardust and the fire of love, and we should honor and cherish it while it is ours, and praise the Maker who created it and in it redeemed us once and for all – redeemed all, once and for all. Maybe deep down that’s what Paul actually means, I don’t know. I do know it’s what Jesus meant, as the gospels tell us. “I have come that they [we!] might have life, and have it to the full.”
Which leaves us with Isaiah – 2nd Isaiah, to be precise, written many years and at least one exile after the 1st part of that book, but in the same tradition, speaking the same language. Here the word goes forth and does not return empty. That’s good. In addition, this time the word is not seed, but the rain and snow that enable the seed to grow. (Jesus didn’t say anything about watering the fields to make them bloom and ripen, which is an odd oversight, particularly for an actual God.) In Isaiah 55 it says you – and Lord, let it mean we – shall go out in joy and return in peace, and good trees will grow on the land soaked by the rains and snows of the Almighty. Not thorns but cypress trees, not briers but myrtle – and not these soppy candy-colored crape myrtles, either, but the myrtle of the ancient world, the good one, rich and thick and green, the symbol since forever of life and fertility, good for its acne-fighting essential oil and for use against some viruses that can cause cancer, it turns out. The word of the Lord in this passage is the rain, not the seed, and no matter what the rain falls on, whatever it is, whatever rock or thorn or soil, it gets wet. Instantly the parched ground is parched no more and the desert is kept at bay. The blossoming, well-watered wood will be a sign of the salvation of the Lord, and even the trees will applaud.
To my mind, and to my ears, that’s one of the most beautiful images of salvation ever written. The rain may, like the sunshine, fall on the wicked as well as the just, but it means that no-one is left out of its promise or its power, and that it leaves no-one behind. Life, born of water and of light, of the dust of the earth and the stars and the flesh of our bodies, of souls made in the image of God and of the Spirit poured out upon them with the fire and strength of the sun – life, redeemed, restored, made good, and for everybody. Let the harvest be plentiful and all the soil good, let the grains grow to bursting and the hay grow tall and strong so that the mower will have much to mow when she/he finally gets out there to the meadows of the Lord. For from the Lord’s mouth the word flows freely and will not return empty, but lead us out in joy and back in peace among the cypress and the myrtle, the rain and the rainbow, the promise and the cycle and the fulfillment of life itself made good, made now, yielding thirty, sixty, a hundredfold from the good soil made ready, made willing by the God whose name is love, now and for all time, and for all people. Amen.
A Statement of Faith, A Song of God’s Love (1 John 4:7-11)
Beloved, let us love one another, *
for love is of God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, *
for God is Love.
In this the love of God was revealed among us, *
that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us *
and sent his Son that sins might be forgiven.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, *
we ought also to love one another.
For if we love one another, God abides in us, *
and God’s love will be perfected in us.
A Collect for 6th Pentecost (Proper 10)
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Collects for Rogation Days and Days of Particular Devotion
I. For Fruitful Seasons
Almighty God, Lord of heaven and earth: We humbly pray that your gracious providence may give and preserve to our use the harvests of the land and of the seas, and may prosper
all who labor to gather them, that we, who are constantly receiving good things from your hand, may always give you thanks; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
II. For Commerce and Industry
Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
III. For stewardship of creation
O merciful Creator, your hand is open wide to satisfy the needs of every living creature: Make us always thankful for your loving providence; and grant that we, remembering the account that we must one day give, may be faithful stewards of your good gifts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
A Prayer after St. Alphonsus
O Jesus, you are present to us in the blessed sacrament. We love you above all things, and desire to receive you into our souls. Since we cannot at this time share your sacrament, let your spirit dwell within our hearts. Let us welcome you as one already with us, making us one body and one spirit, never to be parted from you. Amen.
Hymn: Lord, make us servants Francis of Assisi, tr. James Quinn Hymnal 1982 #593
Lord, make us servants of your peace:
where there is hate, may we sow love;
where there is hurt, may we forgive;
where there is strife, may we make one.
Where all is doubt, may we sow faith;
where all is gloom, may we sow hope;
where all is night, may we sow light;
where all is tears, may we sow joy.
Jesus, our Lord, may we not seek
to be consoled, but to console,
nor look to understanding hearts,
but look for hearts to understand.
May we not look for love’s return,
but seek to love unselfishly,
for in our giving we receive,
and in forgiving are forgiven.
Dying, we live, and are reborn
through death’s dark night to endless day:
Lord, make us servants of your peace,
to wake at last in heaven’s light.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
Hymn: Spirit of the Living God Daniel Iverson, alt.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
About Episcopal Worship and this Service
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost leads us through some of our most beautiful and beloved scriptures, including the Parable of the Sower, Paul’s continued meditations on sin and salvation in the Epistle to the Romans, and the connection made in 3rd Isaiah between the flourishing of the earth and the salvation of God’s people. There is much food for thought and reflection, and we hope that you enjoy our Morning Prayer service, and find it nourishing, engaging, and good.
Christian worship is designed to have the congregation gather for prayer, lessons, the Eucharist, and song. In times of contagion and quarantine, the community may not gather or share the Eucharist. We have adapted this service to the conditions of the time, celebrating Morning Prayer in the Presence of the Reserved Sacrament, honoring God with our daily office prayers, thanksgivings, lessons, canticles, and hymns.
We give thanks this morning for our reader, Alta Cannaday, for our organist and music director, Beresford Coker; and for our video compiler and editor, Gabriel Wilkins.
Image credit: Parable of the Sower (painting) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=148461
Resources (available for free online)
Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org
Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf
Enriching Our Worship 2, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-2/enrichingourworship2.pdf
These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.
The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/
This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online biblical texts.
Hymnal 1982: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/EH1982
Hymnal 1940: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/HPEC1940
The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org
Episcopal News Service: www.episcopalnewsservice.org
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org
St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org
A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion
Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.