The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (8:5-15)
One of my greatest joys as a priest is seeing people grow in their faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is also a great joy to bring people into the Holy Orthodox faith. We train them and instruct them and receive them into the Church, and we hope that they will continue to have zeal and fervent faith for Christ and His Church. In the beginning, people are often energetic, but sometimes we have seen people who begin energetically and later they seem to fizzle out or fall away. We pray for them and we hope they will become Christians who bear mature fruit, the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their lives, but the truth is that we can never be certain because God has given us freedom to choose Him or to go in another direction.
In today’s gospel reading we hear the life giving words of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He describes the heart of the human being as soil, and the life giving word of God as seed. Either the soil of our heart is receptive to the seed of the word of God, either it is a good place for the seed to be planted, to grow and to bear much fruit or it is place where the seed goes to die and the person remains fruitless. What is the difference between the good soil that bore fruit and the other places where the Lord threw seeds that did not bear fruit? More importantly, how can we make prepare our own hearts to receive the seed of the word of God faithfully?
On Tuesday night we began our Intro to Orthodoxy class with a quote from Met. Hierotheos Vlachos who once wrote that “According to the patristic meaning of the word, everyone is a psychopath, that is to say, his soul is sick…he continues by saying “For the psychiatrist, the psychopath means…he is suffering from a psychosis: a schizophrenic. From the Orthodox standpoint, however, it is someone who has not undergone purification of the passions or attained illumination…”
The Church stands as a hospital for us, a place that cures the sick. She is a hospital but not simply a hospital, she is also a school of repentance and prayer. These are the medicines and practices that help us to undergo purification of our souls, and it is this purification that helps us develop the good soil of the heart. These things help us to follow the words of our Lord Jesus Christ faithfully, to the end. To become those who “hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.”
The chalice that is brought out for communion every Sunday is plated in gold in order to reflect the precious nature of that which it is carrying. The gospel cover is wrapped in a beautiful decorative cover, usually with some gold plating, in order to remind us of the precious quality of the words that are contained therein. In the same way, we are called to make ourselves purified and cleansed vessels in order to receive the precious seeds of God’s word in a fitting and acceptable manner. Everything in the life of the Orthodox Church is meant to help us on this path, this royal road, this narrow way of Christ.
We are consistently called to help the poor and needy, to visit the sick and the prisoners, and to clothe the naked, to support the church. Acts such as these help us to become detached from our wealth and possessions. As Orthodox Christians we are called to fast for over half the year. We also undertake other forms of asceticism, such as doing prostrations in our private prayers or staying up late and praying even when it means getting less sleep. We undertake activities that are not easy and not convenient. We serve others, we love our enemies. We do these things so that our heart will remain soft and fertile for God and not stony, rocky and hard. We do these things because we don’t want to be choked by the pleasures of life. Once someone is sucked into the quick sand of a life of pleasure, it is tough to crawl back out. So this is why the Church offers us her spiritual practices and methods and these have been tried, tested and true according to the lives of the saints who have lived them for centuries.
In addition the Church as a wise mother, gives us powerful nutrients and vaccines to help us grow and keep us away from various forms of spiritual danger. She gives us the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Communion, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. She gives us the support and fellowship of the whole community, the body of Christ. She gives us the sacrament of confession.All of these gifts and many more are given to us because God desired that we would all be saved and would come to know Him.
Perhaps some of you feel that you are simply going through the motions of your faith. Perhaps some of you are already exhausted by the cares and worries of this life. I want you to remember your purpose and your gift. You were created to serve and to love God, first and foremost. Everything else is secondary. Live with that as a constant reminder.I also want you to remember your gift. It is the gift of adoption into the household of God. It is yours. Everything that the Father has, He shares with you. He doesn’t do it begrudgingly but with openness and great generosity. He says, “come to me, sit with me, know me, partake of me, live with me.”
As Christians we are reminded by the words of the Lord Jesus, that life is short and that we should guard and treasure His words like precious jewels or something exceedingly rare. The best way for us to do this is to diligently hold fast to the practices and disciplines of the Church. To continually soften our hearts and train ourselves to be receptive to the grace of God that is working in our lives. God desires to save you and to transform you. But He asks us to make room for Him, to prepare the soil of our hearts for Him through daily, methodical, habitual practices of prayer and repentance and participation in the life giving worship of the church.
So we do this day by day, hour by hour and we believe that if we are diligent to tend the garden of our hearts, in time, He will faithfully fulfill His promise to bring forth the abundant fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And glory be to God AMEN.