The Seeds of the Word
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, October 16, 2011
There are at least two ways to look at the teaching of Christ about “the seeds of the Word of God” we heard about in today's Gospel. There is the big picture and there is the little picture. They are inseparable really, not two things, but one. The first is about how everything was made and the second about how we relate to it. It is important to touch on both this morning because without an understanding of one we cannot understand the other.
So, let's start with the big picture in the view Orthodox theology and understanding of Holy Scripture.
First, God created, not because he had to, but because of love. Because He is love he spoke and there was light, space, and matter. Because of love He made neutrinos (maybe even faster than the speed of light), quarks, electrons (or maybe just one of those as one theory goes), insects and animals and humans and angels and stars and galaxies and, maybe even, universes!
The more we look into the nature of things the more mysterious and wondrous it appears to be. And everything, everything is sustained by a constant outpouring of God's love. This constant outpouring we can call “the seeds of the Word of God”, creative, dynamic, active at all times in all things, sustaining creation. Nothing can exist without this constant outpouring. It is impossible to be outside of God.
This constant outpouring of the “seeds of the Word of God” connects everything. Physics tells us that all phenomena are inter-related. The beat of a butterfly's wings in the Rain Forests of Brazil is connected to the torrential downpours of rain we had yesterday. The movement of the stars effects the tides of the ocean as well as my movement out of bed in the morning. Creation is one great net of interrelatedness and we are part of it.
In the earliest days of the Church there were theologians and teachers called “Logos Theologians”. St. Justin Martyr was probably the most famous of these. These teachers taught the the Logos, the Son of God, is the rational force operative throughout the universe. They drew from the Prologue of the Gospel of John in support of their idea. Perhaps St. Gregory the Theologian was thinking of them when he wrote that the very life that is in us and all things is the life of God, the breath of God, the uncreated energy of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit Himself. That is the big picture.
The little picture presented to us in today's Gospel is about how we respond to this constant outpouring of “seeds” in our lives. Do these seeds find good soil in us in which to grow, or rocky, weedy soil? What is our role in this? Are there things we can do to sweeten the soil in our hearts so that the seeds can take root, grow and produce fruit? Of course there are! St. Paul calls us “co-workers” with Christ in our salvation. We have much to contribute to the process.
Our contribution is this: we are tillers of the soil. Unless we til the soil in our hearts, remove the stones and weeds, the seeds of God that are coming every moment will not fall into good, fertile soil and be able to grow. If our hearts are rigid and stony, judgmental, and arrogant, then the seeds will die on the path. If our hearts are choked with distractions, the desires and cares of the world, fears, anxieties, and sins, then the seeds may get into the earth, but they will be unable to grow well and bear good, healthy fruit.
There is much we can do to til the soil. The work is simple and accessible at all times, but it is not easy.
First, we need to take account of what kind of soil we have in our hearts. It is probably a combination of rocks and weeds, so we need to be ready to do a lot of various kinds work to make the soil of the heart receptive. That is what repentance is. Remember that the word for repentance in Greek is metanoia which means a real change of mind. Repentance isn't going down a list of sins once a year so you can receive Holy Communion at Pascha; it is a continuous work of conscious internal change, of breaking up the rocks and weeding the garden. I remember at a study group I was in at Oral Roberts University, I mentioned the idea of continuous repentance. A member of the group said, “But don't we need time to sin?” That's the point of the continuous work; we want to head sin off at the pass, so that we do not sin.
Look inside yourselves. What is going on in there? Look and see! And then you will know the enormity of the task at hand! It is daunting!
But, as St. Simeon the New Theologian tells us, when we see all that craziness inside, what he calls “a dense darkness” and what is called elsewhere a jungle of trees filled with monkeys leaping about here and there like children on Skittles, we must not get discouraged! What is called for is patience and consistency of practice. To see is the first step to change. To calm this craziness we must practice stillness, we must calm the raging monkeys, we must befriend them and domesticate them. Take with you into this jungle a bunch of spiritual bananas to tame the crazy beasts, namely kindness, understanding, compassion, patience. Tame the monkeys and there will be peace in the jungle.
The great hope, however, lies in what is under the soil. The bedrock of all existence; the Holy Spirit. St. Gregory Nazianzus tells us that the life force that courses through all of the created order, through us as well, is the life of God, the Holy Spirit. That force can never be extinguished, that light can never go out. This truth causes hope to spring forth whenever the darkness appears preeminent, why in the deepest hells we create on earth, people still live and more than live, grow. The darkness itself is shot full of light. Were it not for the light we would not even know it was dark, would we?
That is why Dostoevsky puts an amazing soliloquy in the mouth of one of the most despicable characters in all of literature, Marmeladov in CRIME AND PUNISHMENT. Right before his death Marmeladov has a vision of the kingdom of heaven. His description goes like this:
“Then Christ will say to us, 'Come you also! Come you drunkards! Come you weaklings! Come you depraved!' And he will say to us, 'Vile creatures, you in the image of the beast and you bear his mark. All the same, you come too!' And the wise and prudent will say, 'Lord, why are you welcoming them? And he will say, 'O wise and prudent, I am welcoming them because not one of them has ever judged himself worthy. And he will stretch out his arms to us, and we shall fall at his feet, and burst into sobs, and then we shall understand everything, everything! Lord, your kingdom come!”