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Farewell to Yorkshire

Matthew 13.1-9,18-23

The time has come to say ‘farewell’ and two songs come to mind. 

The first is the farewell song at the ball in the Sound of Music, when the children are about to go to bed. 

There's a sad sort of clanging from the clock in the hall

And the bells in the steeple too,

And up in the nursery an absurd little bird

Is popping out to say "cuckoo"…

There’s something slightly sad and faintly absurd about saying farewell without being able to say proper goodbyes.

The other song is ‘So long, it’s been good to know yuh!’ by Woody Guthrie:

Well, the churches was jammed and the churches was packed,

But that dusty old dust storm it blew so black

That the preacher couldn’t read a word of his text,

So he folded his specs ‘n’ took up a collection, sayin'...

So long, it's been good to know yuh,

So long, it's been good to know yuh,

So long, it's been good to know yuh,

But this dusty old dust is a-gettin' my home

And I've gotta be driftin' along.

The song had its genesis in another crisis. It’s from his album Dust Bowl Ballads released in 1935 at the height of The Great Depression, when huge clouds of dust forced many farmers and their families off their denuded land. People turned to prayer but in the end it couldn’t save them. In the song even the preacher realises that the game’s up. He’s gotta be driftin’ along!

We can’t pack the churches right now, but we have the same problem with collective worship. In the song the preacher couldn’t see well enough to read a word of his text. Today we can’t even meet to hear it. We can only read the preacher’s text or gather for a short time of prayer and reflection on Zoom.

Helen and I were recalling recently that since we got married we’ve lived in eight different homes - soon to be nine - and Helen has decorated all but one of them as well. So in some ways we’re used to driftin’ along, but in other ways you never get used to it and we shall be very sorry to leave behind so many friends. 24 years in God’s Own County is a long time! We're truly grateful for all the support and encouragement we've received from church members and colleagues.

Today’s reading is very appropriate in the sense that it’s a reflection on the effectiveness of ministry, and preaching in particular. Jesus was preaching to great crowds, but he was under no illusion that some of the seed he was sowing would be gobbled up by birds, or the rootless plants would be scorched by the hot summer sun, or - even in good soil - choked by thorns. 

The parable doesn’t really need explaining, but Matthew feels the need to offer an explanation nonetheless. The Evil One entices away some of the listeners with various unnamed temptations, and trouble, stress and the lure of materialism accounts for many more. Our effectiveness as sharers of the Gospel is not necessarily measured by success.

And yet Jesus concludes that it’s always worthwhile. Sometimes thirty people will find lasting benefit through our ministry, sometimes it’s sixty, sometimes a hundred - not necessarily in one day, but certainly over a lifetime and especially when we’re able to hand on the task to someone else. ‘I planted,’ says St Paul in 1 Corinthians 3.6, but ‘Apollos watered, and God gave the growth.’ He was countering the argument that his successor Apollos had been a much better minister than he was! (Time will tell in my case.) ‘Does it matter?’ he asks, ‘So long as some of the seed brings forth grain.’

Matthew tweaks the conclusion a bit. We aren’t all preachers, but every one of us can help someone we know to bear more fruit and we can all be fruitful ourselves, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

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