The Sower and the Seeds
Sermon Preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 15, 2006
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!
There are many seeds that find their way into our hearts, some are good and some are not. Some are as Jesus said, “the word of God”. Some have other less beneficial origins. I do not know what you think of when you read this Gospel, but to me the “seeds” correspond to thoughts. God speaks to all human beings to draw us, if we are willing, if we are listening, if the soil of our hearts is prepared, to himself.
I love how St. Gregory of Nyssa puts it in his wonderful book THE LIFE OF MOSES, when he writes, even the philosophers and the pagans heard the thunder from Mt. Sinai. The Apostolic Fathers spoke of the seeds of the Logos being spread throughout the entire world. Where there is truth it undoubtedly is because of the Spirit of God. St. Isaac of Syria says that everyone that is motivated by love is motivated by God – everyone. The Lord is generous and unlimited in his affection and he shares himself with all people in every time and place in ways that each can grasp if they are open and willing. We pray and hope unceasingly for the salvation of all, so we rejoice when we see truth wherever it is.
We need to take care to notice the seeds that are being sown in our hearts and minds. Sifting out bad seeds is a huge part of spiritual effort. We do not want bad seeds to be planted, to grow and to bear fruit so the sooner we notice them, the sooner we can stop them. Let me give you a little example from my own life. If you haven't noticed after thirteen years, from time to time I fall into stupors and do things that are, well, stupid for lack of a better term! By the way, do you know the definition of stupidity? Doing the same old things and expecting different results. Ok, so here goes.
For example, I was driving up a ramp to get onto 93 south when I noticed a white BMW coming up behind me. My first thought was, “There is brand-spanking new and beautiful white BMW coming up behind me.” Simple, benign...at first and then another the next thought crept in. “Who does that guy think he is driving so fast?” And then that seed began to bear fruit, “I'll bet he thinks he and his fancy-schmacy car are better than me and my 1990 Chrysler Cirrus, well I'll show him!” As I started to put the pedal to the metal, I realized what I had done. In just a few micro-seconds seconds, I had not only judged the poor man and his car unmercifully, I had become the very thing I was imagining him to be, a snotty, stuck-up, self-absorbed son of a gun. Had I not awakened in time I might have condemned the entire world to a flaming conflagration before I was through! The only thing the poor guy had done was drive up behind me and, even more importantly, he had made the choice to choose a career slightly more lucrative than the priesthood! So, what was the insidious seed that sparked my sin? Pride, self-absorption, egotism...call it what you will. It produced in no time a veil of delusion that shut down my ability to see the situation clearly.
The old adage is, “The shadow follows the body, so as we think we become.” When the holy fathers and mothers of the church write about mindfulness,watchfulness or vigilance this is what they are talking about. Paying attention to what is going on in our thoughts so that we do not sin. Here is another wise saying, “The thought becomes word, the word becomes deed, the deed develops into habit and habit hardens into character.” So we must be careful to examine our thoughts.
St. Paul wrote that we need to see that good seeds are planted in our hearts and minds. To the church at Philippi he writes, “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things be of good report; if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think on these things.” (Phil. 4:8) Cultivating the spiritual life to a large extent is a matter of cultivating righteousness in our hearts and minds in cooperation with the Holy Spirit who is waiting for us to join him in the work he is already doing in us, for when we do our actions will be molded by this godly effort. “As we think, so we become.”
The Lord calls us to “newness” of life, in fact, we are given this new life in Holy Baptism when we die and rise with him in the font. St. Theoliptos writes that we are re-gifted in baptism with our original nobility, but our attachments to worldly things, to cravings, to passions and vain distractions may still enslave us. As a cure he prescribes “holy meditation”, continual mindfulness of God, the dispelling of external and internal distractions and the arming of the mind with divine thoughts, holy scripture and words of wisdom”. To this we must add blessed silence.
Here is a story you have heard from me before, but it fits nicely here. A Rabbi was approached by a disciple who said to him, “Rabbi, I want to get rid of all my idle thoughts.” The Rabbi exclaimed, “No, my son, if you do there will be nothing left!” Remember the Lord's saying that if you want to rid the house of demons be careful that you do not leave it empty or the demon will return with seven of his friends? As we seek to remove unhelpful things from our hearts and minds, we must also be prepared to replace them with good things. The spiritual life demands constant, intentional and conscious action.
St. Theoliptos writes that we must work to dispel “the thoughts within until” we “find the abode of pure prayer and Christ's holy dwelling place” which is, the heart where the divine image resides. The great hope, the certain knowledge is that this abode and the Lord's dwelling place are within each of us and can indeed be found if we desire it with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. This is the pearl of great price.
So we must take care that the seeds we allow to be sown in us are good seeds so that we may come at last to be one with the Lord and that our lives will be filled to overflowing with good, beautiful and holy fruit.