4th Sunday of Luke
Fathers of the 7th Ecumenical Counci
l Luke 8:5-14, Titus 3:8-15
It's that time of year again: winter lawn planting. Only in Phoenix: stop watering, perennial lawn dries up. Mow it down. Spread manure if you must. Spread the seed of the winter rye. Then water day and night, and in less than two weeks, presto! Lush greens worthy of a fairway at your favorite golf course. This annual ritual is the closest many of us will get to farming.
Today's Gospel reading was a familiar one. It's a farming parable. Jesus tells the story of a farmer who was out sowing seeds, which fell in different places as he scattered the seed across his field. He later explained the parable to His disciples. "Some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds came and ate it." These are people who hear the word of God (the seed), but the devil comes along and takes it from their hearts. "Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. This seed began to grow, but soon it withered and died for lack of moisture." These are people who have received the word with joy, but having no roots, lose what they received when temptation comes along. "Other seed fell among thorns that shot up and choked out the tender blades." Here, worldly cares, wealth, and pleasures suffocate the word which had begun to take root. "Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop one hundred times as much as had been planted."
"A Monk of the Eastern Church" writes that it is not enough for the word to fall on good ground. Just as the gardener takes several steps in planting, so patience and silence before God is necessary. The seed must be protected--the soil must be prepared. The planted seed needs regular water; so also does our life need regular prayer and other sources of God's grace, without depending on moments of emotion or "inspiration." We must not allow distractions and entertainment--not necessarily harmful in themselves--to hinder an intimate relationship between us and God.
There are four things we can do to put the soil of our hearts in order for the nurture of God's word--you've heard this before--they all conveniently begin with the letter "P." The first is "plow." The soil of the heart must be softened; the hard surface loosened. Repentance is the key here. It's not enough to be sorry for sins, but to confess that sin, seeking God's forgiveness and grace, and allowing Him to soften the hard heart. Second, is "prepare." The soil needs to be fertilized. Regular prayer, receiving the Sacraments, and reading the Bible fertilize the spiritual heart. Third, is "plant." We need to sow God's word into all the situations of our lives--we don't want our spiritual winter lawn to be splotchy. Said another way, we are not really Christians if we're just "Sunday Christians." Fourth, is "protect." We need to weed the garden of our hearts. Don't let the distractions of daily life choke out the word of God in us. Don't get caught up in pointless and divisive arguments, as St. Paul wrote to Titus in today's Epistle reading.
Well cared for, the seeds sown will yield an abundant harvest. This is our goal. Growing spiritually takes patience and discipline, which may come naturally for some of us. Most of us, however, need God's grace to give us the patience and discipline that is not in our nature. We have the saints as our examples that we can draw closer to the Lord and live with a singular desire to do His will. Today is also the feast of Hosea the Prophet. In his book we read of God's love for Israel in spite of the Israelites' idolatry and wickedness. Hosea also speaks of their captivity and restoration. The endless cycle of ancient Israel's falling away, punishment, and restoration is one that is repeated in the lives of many people who strive to follow the Lord. We take the reminder of God's love, which the Prophet Hosea weaves throughout his book, and do our part: see that the seed of faith is firmly planted and well- nourished.
In the life of the Church we also celebrate today the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, who refuted the iconoclast heresy. You recall the procession of icons on the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of Lent: guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church triumphed over heresy. The issue of iconoclasm--saying that icons were idolatry--had an underlying agenda of denying the reality of the incarnation of the eternal Son of God. When Diane Sawyer of ABC News interviewed Mel Gibson, and when he described his faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of a Virgin, dying a brutal death, and rising from the dead, a quizzical Sawyer, asked, "You really believe that?" "Yes I do," Gibson replied. Iconoclasm still lives today. The secular world does not believe what Christians do.
May we seek from God His grace, taking the Prophet Hosea and the Fathers of the Church as our examples, so that we may plow, prepare, plant, and protect the seed of God's word sown in us, that the Lord's harvest may be abundant in us. Amen.
John A. Nixon, MDiv, EdD attends Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, Scottsdale, AZ. Visit John Nixon's website.