Monday morning this week Nico and I set off for our daily walk. This day, instead of wandering the paths of Toongabbie Creek we went to Lake Parramatta. It was early and few people were there. The sun was still fairly low in the sky and our breath steamed. The cool, crisp air enveloped us as we set off. It was beautiful and clear, the sky brilliant blue and the lake silky smooth.
Lake Parramatta was built as the domestic water supply for the growing Parramatta region from 1856. Hunts Creek was dammed with a masonry arch-walled dam – the twelfth built since Roman times and the first in Australia. The area is a beautiful reserve of Blue-gum forests, Banksia and other native species. It is tranquil and a beautiful place to walk and ponder. Both Nico and I walked, he sniffed and dragged me along, I pondered (and took a couple of photographs).
We walked down below the dam wall into a beautiful fern gully, with a small flowing creek. The track climbed back up and along the shores of the lake through gums and various bushes and shrubs along the shore. I stopped to look back across the lake and was consumed by the sheer beauty of the reflection of trees and sky across the water. Everywhere the reflection across the lake captivated me and led me into another place, another world. Entering the bush track along the lake is really like walking into another world. A couple of kilometres from Sydney’s second CBD, with its traffic, corporate and political life, glass, steel and bitumen, is a world of nature’s beauty and wonder. As we walked the birds called, the cockatoos screeched, and insects and other creatures scurried through undergrowth. Under foot, twigs cracked, and leaves crunched and the rocky path twisted and turned. We walked and wondered, wandered and pondered and were filled with the peace and beauty of this place.
Earlier that morning I had read through a story of Jesus and as I walked it occurred to me that the story I’d read was a story by the Lake. Jesus went down to the Sea (Lake) of Galilee, the major source of livelihood and life for the people of the towns and villages of the region. The Lake provided food and income for the multitude of peasants dwelling in the region. These people worked hard and survived well in their simple economy until the local rulers under Rome intervened and sought to profit from the Lake. They imposed taxes on the fisherman, claiming the whole catch for the state and paying the families little in return – after taxes were deducted. Life became more harsh and a struggle. Life always has its hard edges and challenges and humans look for hope, something to believe in, trust and look forward to. Jesus and his stories, provided a vision of something that could be, something that offered more than hope but an experience where everyone could find their place and live equally and well with other people and the earth. Jesus called this, The Reign of God. He said it was at hand, all around and he lived in a way that gave expression to this Reign in the world.
In this story (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23), Jesus was followed by crowds who wanted to hear him speak, to teach, to inspire and promise life in God’s love. He was crowded in and got into a boat, set out from the shore, sat and began to teach the crowd. He taught with parables, stories that were open-ended and drew people into a deeper place of challenge, reflection and often subverted the world as it was/is.
In this story there is a sower who sows seed lavishly and generously around; he seems to literally fling it everywhere. It lands along the path, the way, with its harder, compacted surface and that seed is picked off by birds. Seed lands on ground that has rocks and a thin soil layer. It takes root but not deeply enough to sustain it, and it is scorched and shrivels when the sun is hot. Some seed lands in good soil that has weeds and thorns. Seeds germinate and grow but are choked by the weeds and don’t survive. There is also seed that falls into good soil and flourishes, bearing much fruit.
The sower is God, who sows the seed which is the Word of God, Christ – the Word that becomes flesh and dwells amongst us. This is the essence of God’s Reign, the life-giving Word that breathes hope, joy, peace and freedom into the world. The Sower sows seed everywhere – all over the world in every place. This Word of hope goes out and is there for everyone to hear, see, experience and embrace. What does it mean for us to recognise the presence of Christ in everything? How does it look, feel, seem? For much of the church, this is a strange message and one at odds with the exclusiveness that often typifies and preoccupies its life and message. For the wider world, it is a strange claim, that the Word is everywhere and in all things, and it is the essence of love. Where do we see it, hear it, feel it, experience it? Do we?
The four soils are the different parts of our lives where ‘seed lands.’ Life is often hard or exhilarating and hearing this Word does not seem important, relevant or real and there are moments, times when we resist or reject it. That is the seed along the path, and it is carried off as we choose to ignore its presence. There is seed landing in the rocky ground of life where we get excited and get on board quickly, but the passion or engagement isn’t deep, and we let it go. In the cut and thrust of life, the Word is lost, cast aside, and shrivels within us. Some seed lands well but as it grows there are also weeds and thorns that choke it out – the wealth, materialism, struggles for power, control, fame and fortune tempt and seduce us. The Word of life is choked as we are lost in the distractions and seductions we experience. There are also parts of our lives when the Word lands well in soil that is just right and ready for this mysterious grace and love to blossom and bloom into deeper love, hope and freedom. The Word takes hold and we are drawn into something bigger and more wondrous. Our lives open to others, to the Earth and to the mystery and love at the heart of everything, a mystery we may call God. The seed issues in fruit, actions and responses that are life-giving and hopeful to others. Random acts of kindness, compassion, love. Changes in attitude, and openness to the stories, experiences and lives of others whom we embrace into the way that is inclusive and loving. Sometimes we may not even realise that this is the Word, love, grace… in us, through us. Where there is fruit that is inspiring, lovely, loving, gracious, inclusive, peace-giving, liberating, joyful, kind, patient… that is the Reign of God growing in the good soil of our lives.
There is much wonder, love, mystery and goodness all around us for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see. These things lead us beyond belief systems and ideologies into a way of living and being that transforms us and the world. It happens from beyond us as an act of grace and love. There is nothing to do but experience it, live it and share it in the way we live with others and the Earth. This is the Reign of God in our midst.