Some years back I was representing Chichester Diocese on an interfaith pilgrimage which visited Damascus. As the light streamed through the window of my hotel room at dawn my spirit was drawn to the account in Acts 9 of the conversion of St. Paul. Within an hour or so we were walking where the newly illuminated Saul of Tarsus walked, along Straight Street (v11), visiting the house of Ananias, the Christian instrumental in Paul’s conversion and also the traditional site of Paul’s escape in a basket from the walls of Damascus (v25). As we trod where the key apostle of Christianity trod we became aware of how scripture’s record of God’s workings is rooted in space and time, the very space we inhabited that very day! Even looking at Straight Street – which is barely ‘straight’ - made us aware of the truth in a degree of irony in Luke’s own description in Acts 9v11 of ‘the street called Straight’. Damascus was a place where you could feel and hear the ring of truth about the scriptures.
In today’s parable of the Sower Jesus speaks of the word of God. Like all of his parables they strike us at many levels. You can’t tie down or systematise Christ’s teaching. It reaches beyond human understanding with different layers and levels that open up to us over our lifetimes as we plumb its depth. As I read again Mark’s version of the Parable of the Sower with its interpretation in Chapter 4 of his Gospel I came back to how that passage about St Paul in Acts 9 came alive to me on a visit to Damascus in 2005. As it was only Monday that we kept the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul that experience in Damascus is fresh in my mind and seemed a good illustration of today’s Gospel.
‘The sower sows the word…. those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ (Mark 4:14, 18-20) There is no word of God without power but to gain that empowerment we have to hear God speaking, particularly from scripture, by deliberately putting aside other cares to apply ourselves to attend, as we are doing here at the eucharist. It is always a challenge to embrace the word of God, not least putting aside other concerns to take up our Bibles. Through reading or, as today, listening, to scripture our minds are engaged with the truth of God but that is only the beginning. For the word of God to empower us the words of the Bible need to reach down through our ears and minds into the depths of our being. The Collect for Bible Sunday puts it very well: ‘Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them’.
There is no word of God without power but to gain that empowerment we have to hear God speaking. As we keep silent for a moment let us digest what God has to say to us individually so at this hour our lives may be put freshly into gear.