Sisters and brothers in Christ,
‘He went round the towns and villages. Sowing the seed of divine blessings everywhere.’ So it was said of St Francis of Assisi, while Methodists might cite Billy Bray and his apparently effortless ability to cry ‘Glory’ in each context. In both cases, they were individuals called of God to proclaim. Their methods might cause us to feel uneasy by the standards of today’s respectability, yet the task is of the essence of who we are. The more specific task of sowing the seed of divine blessing is perhaps more nuanced than the apparent ease of Bray’s booming voice.
At each moment of our ministry we need to face the particular challenge of how to undertake such an essential role of sowing the divine seeds of blessings. It is core to our apostolic task, and core activity needs to be attended to. Such sowing of divine blessings sets us in a bigger, more expansive context of all that God has created. The divine cosmic act exists now, and all that is has the possibility of redemption and inclusion. Therein lies an element of our Methodist theology that we lose at our peril, for to lose that is to shut down all manner of conversations; all sorts of striving for a more perfect way of being human in relation to God.
Even though there is a timelessness to blessing, the task is in need of constant rearticulating. The context is ever-changing even though there is a changelessness in the fount of all blessing. The challenge of holiness is as much a challenge to pay attention as it is to be immersed in Christ.
Francis was alert to a rather basic challenge as he wrestled with the dilemma of being available to the crowds, and yet retreating to be one with God. He was to proclaim in public and yet he had need to retreat to find God, alone. I suspect that if we think there is no tension there, or if we find that duality of responding to our call easy, then we are not taking either part of it as seriously as we might. Each of us faces a basic and often well placed tension of balancing our use of time; of dealing with various administrative struggles; of fitting too much into a defined space. The pressing challenge is not the claim on our time that fills the diary or crowds the church calendar. Rather it is about ensuring that we are attentive to the reception of divine blessing that we in turn may offer it, and offer it with diligence. The coming of the Christ Child is not contingent on our frenetic activity; it is God who brings forth the fruit of divine blessing through us: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
The sowing that we are engaged in requires at least a different, if not more complex, set of resources than perhaps Francis had. He was not working in a political context that saw heightened language of division as much around domestic politics as around international relationships. Our sowing of seeds has to contend with such division that is more than political rhetoric, it goes to the very heart of how we treat someone made in the image of God. A growth in knife crime is a growth in the denial of our shared identity as children of God, and how we minister, how the Church is prophetic, is made all the more demanding.
What is held before us in recalling the sowing of seeds of blessings in another age is the call to a pattern of life that places us in something bigger, something less definable, but at the same time utterly clear. Our relationship with the world is part of our relationship with God and that commits us to treating the world with respect and with love. We will sow more effectively when we come to terms with the requirement to think cosmically – way beyond the method of ecclesial life, for it is in that vast cosmos that we hear the cry of the child.
With gratitude for our continued partnership in the Gospel,
Gareth J Powell
Secretary of the Conference