Easter 6 – Rogation – Year C – Acts 16:9-15, Mark 6;26-31
In the name of the Living God: Loving Father, Risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit, Amen
When we gathered on the last of these feasts of the agricultural year- Plough Sunday back in January, I talked about planting the seeds for my vegetable growing in the rectory green house. We talked about seeds of new life and growth in our churches and blessed seeds people had brought with them. Remembering I am not remotely green fingered, I have to say my seed growing has not been entirely successful, but I have nurtured a courgette plant into life and planted it out in the green house this week. (This is a first for me!). Thankfully I have also reaped the benefit of other people’s efforts with tomatoes via last weekend’s plant sales and a squash plant too.
This time our feast of the agricultural year is Rogation. Traditionally, blessing the land and praying for the harvest. Rogation falls on the sixth Sunday of Easter is as a the trigger to start 3 days of prayer called for in the lead up to ascension day on Thursday. The word rogation comes from the latin to ask, and was inspired by the collect for this Sunday in the Book of Common Prayer, which includes whatsoever ye shall ask for in my Name – he will give it you. So we follow this tradition of asking for God’s blessing on the land today for a fruitful harvest in all the different forms this can take.
This is an important focus for us – and one we must not lose sight of. It is easy for many of us with our distance from the production of the food we need, to be a bit insulated from the impacts on those who work the land. Rogation – helps us to remember and link things together and be mindful of God’s good earth and his creation of which we are stewards, which is good for us – and helps us to. Especially as it is important to be conscious of the wonder of God’s creation all around us.
I asked one of the local farmers, what is on the minds of the farming community at the moment. He said sorting out the detail of the farming measures and subsidies to support the environment, which are being replaced following our exit from the EU. Detail is yet to be forthcoming – and this is making life difficult for the farming community and needs sorting out. He also talked about how interrelated we are and the bigger picture in relation to food supply for our whole world. This is something that has been concerning me too. How impacts of poor harvests, or harvests impacted by conflict will send shock waves.
Theoretically, as a world we have enough food to feed everyone, but it is not always where it is needed. Some have too much and some have too little, and some of the things going on at the moment, are going to impact the equilibrium of world food supply in the months ahead too. The Arthur Rank Centre which supports rural communities and ministry have stated that there are hidden depths to our global situation. We have now been praying for peace in Ukraine and an end to the conflict there as weeks have turn into months.
This week there has been a call for access to Odessa’s grain stores to release vital supplies to the people of Ukraine. Ukraine is a fertile country and supplied nine per cent of the world’s grain in 2019. The current situation has wider implications. Clearly, that contribution is under serious threat because of the war. As a world we are much more linked than we often realise. Sadly, humans have been destroying the crops of other humans during wars for a very long time, and as markets become global, the impacts become global. We obviously expect to see food prices rise, along with everything else, but in other areas, which import grain from Ukraine, particularly in Africa, we are sadly likely to expect famine..
It makes praying for peace for justice, and for genuine reconciliation work all the more vital. We need to consider how we can help our brothers and sisters, whose lives have been turned upside down by war, where ever that is. As well as the likely down the road costs to those with the least. Making it all the more important we strive for peace today, tomorrow and beyond and we pray for peace too.
From thinking about blessing the land and the complexities of that, let’s think next about how frequently Jesus uses stories from our natural world to make deeper points about how we should live as stewards on God’s beautiful world and in his kingdom now.
Our gospel today was two parables – stories with deeper meaning – the first part – ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
That is a very idealised view of how a crop really grows and there are a lot of things missing. Apart from sleeping and rising, the farmer does not appear to be doing anything between sowing and harvesting. There is no mention of preparing the ground, fertilizing, tilling, fighting pests. Nor do we get any influence of the forces of nature essential for growth like sun or rain, and/or the various destructive forces like wind, hail, weeds, pests and drought that at least threaten the seed’s maturation.
The references to time are pretty hazy too. It sounds like growth is pretty instantaneous after sowing – which often is not the case. It takes some time in my experiences for long dormant seeds to germinate. Also there is no mention of the roots of the crop – which have to be there first before the stalk. So what is this story really about!
The commentary I read said views on that were mixed, depending on whether you started from the seed or the farmer’s perspective, and I am not sure we will ever really know what Jesus’s point for his day was. But for our day we can glean that the kingdom of God is in the every day, here and now. In the activities in the world around us – the crops in the fields around this village/town remind us that the kingdom of God is also not under our control. We can do a lot to help increase the yield of crops, but there is nothing we can do to guarantee a good harvest! Forces of nature interact with our endeavours. There is also a sense in the final part of the parable that one cannot escape the sense of an appointed time of the harvest. This is not about the growth or length of time between seedtime and harvest, but the accent on the harvest does affirm a time when all will be brought to its final end, the ripe grain will be harvested. How we interpret that is open to debate – Certainly a call to readiness, alertness to God in our lives now – our present reality and to look for and at harvest differently.
Thankfully the second parable we heard, is a bit easier:- With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade
Even in the Holy Land the mustard plant is apparently not big enough for the birds to make nests in its branches. So what does that bit mean! In this instance the birds are not what they seem. It is thought that they are a reference to the Old Testament – From Daniel and Ezekiel. Where the birds represented the nations of the world. So this is pointing to the reality that the kingdom of God began with the Jews and the coming of Jesus, but is intended to grow to include all the races and nations of the earth. For me this makes it important we rise to the challenge of being globally minded. Encouraging others to love their neighbours not just those close at hand, but our neighbours in Ukraine and in Africa in the choices we make. Another way of looking at this story is again about the kingdom of God, in us and around us. Our lived reality of God’s presence with us. This can start really small and grow through the most unlikely of places and opportunities and develop and mature in us and around us. This is not about force or conquest, but about organic growth in our hearts and that spreading its influence in our lives. We need to value what is potentially very small but actively growing in our Christian life and development and see opportunities (no matter how unlikely) as ways of growing the kingdom of God in our hearts.
In a way we need to be open to the limitless potential of God’s Spirit to bring life and growth, and open to the signs of God’s kingdom among us and within us. God’s kingdom can’t be counted down on a calendar, nor heralded by grand display. The key to this parable and the previous one is that – God’s kingdom is already among us. And we are living in that Kingdom now. That the place to start is in our hearts and to ask God through the power of his Holy Spirit to guide us and nourish us, to tend and nurture us and to establish in us, his love first and foremost guiding our every thought and action. Bubbling out to encourage others on their walks in God’s kingdom – in our here and now and present reality.
In different ways these 2 parables, tricky as they are, do boil down to our approach to life and starting from the heart, God’s amazing love for us and our loving response to that guiding our hearts.
And I am going to end by reading a reflective heart based prayer – aspects of the natural world thrown in to finish. Sadly I have had this for a while, and I don’t know where I found it.
Let us pray Lord, may my heart be as a spacious barn; a place where the swallows of your peace and gentleness may nest and lay their young; a place where the crops and fruits of your word may be stored, to be brought out and shared in due season; a place where bales of the hay of your comfort and compassion and love are piled high, ready for the winter of loss and discouragement and hardship; a place where prayer soars as an owl and returns blessed by your grace and spirit. a place that is as your kingdom in the midst of us, ever constant, ever changing, ever open, ever inclusive, ever a place of life and love and daring. Amen.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995. Copyright acknowledgement Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000-2020 and from the book of Common Prayer
Source of the prayer at the end unknown.