Plough Sunday – 14th January

Isaiah 55:6-11, Matthew 6:25-end

In the name of the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

This first reading for me is really, really familiar. It is one of the passages used as a canticle in Morning Prayer. In ordinary time it is the recommended one on Wednesdays and as one of the options for Lent! It contains 3 different voices, which is not that obvious.

The first voice is the people on earth saying – Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.

This passage was written at a difficult time for the people of God in their story in the Old Testament. They were experiencing the exile, a drift in difficult circumstances in a foreign land far from the land God had given them. An Old Testament understanding was they were far from God at the time – their measure of their relationship (the state of the temple was in ruins! and better times were a long way off).

As a result of the coming, life, sacrifice, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, we now have a different understanding of God’s proximity to us. God is always only a prayer away through the Holy Spirit Jesus left with us. In a way we can understand this as the need to recognise God’s love for us in all things (no matter how good or bad they may seem to us at the time, and to always seek God, and God’s will  for our way ahead).

The second voice is that of the heavens – encouraging the people of God to follow God’s call on their lives (and not to give into the temptation of thinking their own way is best). The heavens say: Let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

Some of this discontent at the time amongst the people of God was about their current circumstances (thoroughly adrift in a foreign land), but also because some did not like the means of God’s plan at that time for them, and had turned to things of their own design and desire! A particular group had gone in completely the wrong direction, and their way of life and their convictions were getting in the way. The heavens are imploring them to change their ways, repentance will bring pardon and forgiveness (to those who resist God’s call, and insist on going their own way).

We need to be honest about God’s plan for us, sometimes it can be really clear, other times it can be very hazy, and yet other times it can be far from how we would like things to work out for us! God has a way of working everything for our ultimate good, but we cannot always see that. Going our own way can be very tempting in this kind of circumstance, but is never the best idea! The dilemma presented to the people of God at this time is really one of ours too – I mean – We really can’t expect to reap the benefits of the presence of God in our lives if we are not following God’s way for us. Thankfully the voice of the heavens reminds us that God is merciful and will abundantly pardon us when we go wrong too.  

The rest of the reading  comes from the voice of God and contains two distinct strands. The first part reminds us of our perspective and God’s in all his awesome wonder.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

I think this immense statement reminds us of our perspective – God’s view of us, the universe and everything is so much bigger than our own and beyond our capacity to understand from our linear existence. It reminds us of our need to be deeply respectful and mindful of the gulf (and to remain committed to following God’s plan for us and not inventing our own plan that appears to suit us better!)

I read in an online commentary this is about like God saying, “This is where you have work to do. You see, My thoughts aren’t anything like yours. I think differently about everything that happens in your life. My way out of your troubles is different than you would expect, too.”

The second part of what God says is the link to Plough Sunday as we have a reference to the world of sowing and growing, the rain and snow watering the earth, and the crops grown to give food to the eater. The natural cycle of how our world should work. Where God is saying to us. – For as 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, so 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.

Just as we prepare the ground, plant seeds and encourage growth from watering the earth, God is doing that with us. All his guidance to us however it comes, is for the purposes God wants to accomplish in us, to succeed in the things God would have us do. That is how God is at work within us, and we must follow his call and his plan on our hearts and lives. Sometimes we are given the gift of hindsight in how things work out, other times we just have to trust God’s purposes and perspective. Have faith the God who loves us in and through time and space – and to honour that love as Jesus puts it towards the end of our gospel reading – Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

So this Plough Sunday, and as we consider what we will plant and grow for 2024 (and in a moment bless any seeds that have been brought for these purposes). Let’s always seek the kingdom of God and the seeds that God is planting in us for God’s purposes, our flourishing and his everlasting kingdom. Amen.


The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible © 1989-1995 Isaiah 55:6-11