This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 23, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.
Gospel Reading: Luke 8:4-15
“But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it and bring forth fruit with patience.”
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, our God is One.
Some of the seed that is sown doesn’t even get a chance to sprout. The birds swoop down and they pick it up. It has no chance. According to Jesus, this is the devil taking the Word out of our hearts. Some of the seed sprouts. There’s no moisture. The ground is shallow, and in the heat of the day when temptation comes, the little plant shrivels up and dies. There’s no fruit. Some of the seed sprouts and grows, but then it’s choked out by the weeds and dies and there’s no fruit. And only some of the seed gets good soil, and grows and bears a crop.
It’s easy for us to believe that this parable is for those outside the Church. But you see, that’s a different kind of soil altogether. For those that are not in Church, those that are not hearing the preaching of the Word of God, they’re not getting any seed sown on them at all. If you show up – if you hear the preaching of the Word of the Lord – that gives you the opportunity to be one of these four soils.
You see, there are people in Church that have the Word of God planted, and then the devil steals it out of their hearts, and it doesn’t even sprout. There are people in Church that hear the preaching of the Word of God, and they receive it with joy and it starts to grow, but there’s no root. There’s no moisture. And the moment that temptation hits, that little plant is dead. In Church, there are people that hear the preaching of the Word of God, and the roots start going down, and the plant starts growing, and then all the entertainments and the riches, and the cares of this life choke out that little plant, and there’s no fruit.
Thankfully, in Church, there are also the hearts that are good soil – that are receptive to the Word of God. The weeds are plucked up, the roots go deep, and the moisture is drawn up into that little plant. And even in the heat of the day when temptations come, the plant stands strong, and it continues to grow, and it bears a fruitful crop.
The First Soil – Seeds Devoured by Birds
How does it happen in Church? How does it happen that you can be a person who loves God enough that you want to show up, that you care enough about worshipping Him that you’re here this morning, and yet still the devil could steal that Word out of your heart and make it bear no fruit? How is that possible? Let me tell you a couple things that are very, very common. And even those that have been Christians for decades have to guard against this, because it’s one of the devil’s sneakiest ways of making you think that you’ve heard the Word of God and taken it to heart, when actually the devil has simply stolen it out of your heart, so that it puts down no root.
First way he does it is through daydreaming, pretending that it’s only your warm body present here that God is requiring. You’re physically present, but mentally you’re falling asleep, you’re looking out the window. . . “Oh, that’s a cool car going by there. I wonder who just bought that model?” . . . Distracted by a squirrel going up the tree . . . You start thinking about that camping trip you’re going on, that fishing trip you’re fixing to go on, that flight you’re fixing to take. And five minutes pass, and you don’t even realize that you haven’t heard a word that has been said. So right in Church, the very time that you’ve come to worship and to hear the preaching of the Word of God, the devil can steal that Word out of our hearts simply by our lack of attention – simply by our daydreaming, the wandering of our mind.
The second way that he does it is by simple assent. You hear a sermon preached that says, “Give alms to the poor”, and you say, “Oh, I agree with that!” And simply because you said you agree with it, you pat yourself on the back as if you have already obeyed it.
You hear preached, “Study the Scriptures,” and you say, “I agree with that. People should study the Scriptures.” And since you agreed with what was preached, you pat yourself on the back and pretend that you’ve already obeyed it.
You see, agreeing with the truth of what has been said is different than obeying what has been said. There’s not a person here today that will say that giving alms to the poor is a bad thing. There’s not a person here today who will say that tithing is a bad thing. There’s not a person here who will say that daily family prayer is a bad thing. There are a thousand things that we could preach out of the Scriptures, and everybody here in unanimity would say, “I agree, that’s true! We should do that!” And so often we stop right there. The devil tempts you to believe that just because you said, “Amen!”, that you have already obeyed it.
That’s not true. You see, on that last day, when Jesus the righteous Judge stands and has all the world for all time set before Him – countless billions of people – and they are divided as the sheep and the goats – the sheep to His right Hand and the goats to His left – when that happens, He is not going to say, “How many of you said ‘Amen’ when the pastor said to visit the sick and the prisoners? How many of you said ‘I agree’ when I said to minister to the broken-hearted? How many of you said ‘that’s true’ whenever I said you need to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give drink to those who are thirsty?”
Not once does Jesus ever ask the sheep or the goats, “How often did you verbalize agreement with me?” No. Jesus asked, “Did you actually feed the hungry? Did you actually visit prisoners? Did you actually clothe the naked? Did you do it?”
The devil can so easily snatch that Word out of your hearts, so that it doesn’t even sprout, because he tells you, “Oh, you already agreed with what the pastor said. So, since you’ve agreed with it, you’ve already done it. So go and be at peace. You’re already right with God.”
No. Let’s look at our actions and see whether our actions are in obedience to what Christ has said. The devil can snatch the Word from our hearts through our daydreaming. He can snatch the Word from our hearts by us giving an assent, an “Amen”, but then believing that we have somehow already obeyed just because we said an “Amen”.
And then the third way is this: Amy hears the word of God preached, and she thinks, “Yep, my husband really needs to do that.” Lori hears the word of God preached, and says, “Yep, if my son would just do what the pastor said, everything would be alright.” Russ hears the word of God preached, and says, “Well, if Jeremy would just do what the pastor said, then everything would be okay.”
Have you ever been guilty of this? I have. I think we all have. Have you ever heard about what gossip is? Gossiping is confessing other people’s sins. It’s a sin! It’s a grievous sin of the tongue. And what I’m talking about now is just another version of gossip. It’s kind of an internal dialogue, but it’s the same thing. You’re turning attention off of your own sin, and your own accountability, and your own responsibility, and you’re diverting your thoughts to how your brother is sinning, and how they need to fix themselves. It’s just like gossip. “I’m not going to repent. I’m not going to confess my own sins. Oh, but I’ll confess your sins all day long.”
“Oh, I’m not going to listen to this preaching, and hear the Word of God, and let it sprout and put down roots in my heart. That would require a change in my lifestyle. I’m not doing that. But, man! If the Word would sprout in your heart and you would change your lifestyle, now, I’d be okay with that.”
Do you ever hear the preaching of the Word of God calling for repentance on some sin, and your first thought is not, “How have I sinned in this way? How can I repent? How can I change my own ways?” But your first thought is, “Well, if my husband would just listen to this . . . If my wife would just listen to this . . . If my kids would just listen to this . . .”
Let that be your second, or third, or fourth thought. But let your first thought be for yourself. For it is you who will answer to God for your own soul. You cannot plow the soil of another person’s heart. But you can plow your own. You can water that soil, pull the weeds up from that soil, till that soil, shoo the birds away, and protect that seed that has been planted so that it will grow, put down roots, and bear the fruit of godliness in your own life.
Don’t waste your life, leaving your heart hard, while you’re trying to plow the hearts of others. Start with your own heart. Repent of your own sins. And then you will become godly enough that you will be able to turn your attention to helping others.
So, those are the three ways that the devil steals the word from our hearts:
- Pretending that agreement is the same as obedience
- Turning our thoughts to the sins of our brothers, instead of to the sins of ourselves.
The Second Soil – Dried Up Roots
Now the second soil – the birds did not get to it. The seed actually sprouted. That means you got past the birds. You got past these first three things. And now the Word of God that has been planted in your heart has actually sprouted, and little roots start to go down. You start feeling the pangs of repentance. You start feeling the joys of forgiveness. You start getting more serious in your obedience and in your walk with God. But it’s shallow. And it’s not watered daily with prayer. . . . you start off with true joy and it even says in Scripture that you “believe for a while.” Ultimately the sun rises in the sky, the heat of temptation overpowers you, you wilt, and your roots dry up. There’s nothing left but just a little dead plant where that seed of the Word of God used to be.
How does this happen? One of the pictures given in Scripture is in the book of James: a man who beholds his face in a mirror and sees himself for who he really is. That’s what happens to us when we look in the Word of God, when we are called to repentance. We think we’re wonderful, we think we’re clean, and then we look into this mirror of Scripture and we see, “Oh! I’m dirty.” It’s disconcerting to see your hair all messed up and dirt all over you, and realizing that your soul still needs a bath. But this picture in the book of James is of man who looks himself in the mirror, sees who he really is, and then turns away and forgets what he saw (James 1:22-25).
You see, this soil is the soil is the person who goes to Church. They don’t daydream, they don’t point the finger at anybody else, they don’t even pretend that agreement is obedience. No, they listen attentively. They hear the Word of God preached. It sprouts in their hearts. They begin to repent. And then by Monday, they forgot what the sermon was. Because Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, they’re not praying. They’re not worshipping God daily. They’re not reading their Scriptures. They’re not making any effort whatsoever, six days a week, to obey what got their attention on Sunday when they heard the preaching. Have you ever been guilty of this one? I have. [This is] something for every one of us to repent of, for these are sins that all of us have been guilty of at one time or another.
When that Word of God gets a hold of you and you feel that initial sting – that recognition that there’s something you need to repent of and change – and you start to feel that initial joy of being that much closer to God because you’ve repented, don’t let go of that!
How many of you have ever been camping? Have you ever started a fire? A campfire to cook on? I’ve done it countless times. How well does it work for you if you get your match or your lighter stick, and you get a log, and you just try to light that? How well would that work for you if you did that? You’re not getting a campfire, are you?
Okay. How well does it work for you, if you take a little piece of paper or kindling, and a little twig, and you light that, and the flame starts, so you start cooking your burgers over that? That doesn’t work either does it? How quickly does the kindling go out? Just like that!
You see, you’ve got to have both. It’s important to have that initial sting from the Word of God that calls you to repentance – that initial joy that gives you the motivation to start working on obedience and repentance in that area of your life. But the sermon that you hear this morning, that’s just the kindling. If you don’t take that kindling and put bigger twigs and sticks on top of it, and then big logs on top of that, you’re never going to get that raging fire that you need to warm the home of your family and to cook your food. Coming to Church, worshipping once a week, hearing the preaching of the word of God – that is the kindling that you have to have to get the fire going.
Then comes the hard work of Sunday night, Monday morning, Monday night, Tuesday morning, Tuesday night, Wednesday morning, Wednesday night, Thursday morning, Thursday night, Friday morning, Friday night, Saturday morning, back here for Vespers Saturday night – constantly, daily, multiple times daily, you’re buried in the word of God – seeking to make its precepts written in your own heart. You’re constantly participating in family prayer on a daily basis. You’re constantly having personal prayer, just you and God, on a daily basis. You’re pursuing righteousness as the thirsty deer pursues the stream of water.
That’s the log that you put on the fire. And you have to have both the kindling and the log if you’re going to have a workable campfire, or a fire in your fireplace. Don’t just have shallow roots. Don’t be just satisfied with that initial joy, that initial repentance. But let this go so deep, that your entire life is defined by repentance and your pursuit of obedience to the Word of God.
The Third Soil – Choked By Thorns
The third soil is choked out by weeds and thorns. How many of you have experienced some weeds and some thorns in your life? I’ll raise both my hands on that one. I think we’ve all had our share. See, the devil knows he’s in danger if he can’t steal that Word out of your heart. And he’s in even more danger if you’re soil is not shallow, and if you’re watering it daily. So if he can’t attack the plant itself directly, then he’ll attack it indirectly, by planting other things in your life that will try to crowd out that little seedling, and see to it that it never bears the fruit of godliness in your life or in the lives of your children.
This third soil really feels like they’re a good faithful christian, because this third soil is the person that comes to church and hears the preaching of the Word of God. They’re not daydreaming, they’re not blaming anyone else for their sins, they’re taking it personally. They’re not pretending that agreement is the same as obedience. And they’re not forgetting about it when they walk out the door. They’re actually trying to practice what they hear preached in the Word of God on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Sounds like a very faithful Christian. But then the car breaks down. Then that family member gets sick. And then, somebody that lives under your own roof starts treating you nasty. And then you get sick. Then you check your bank account and there is no money in it. Then you call your friends and your family and of course, their bank accounts have no money either.
You’re hit once, you’re hit twice, you’re hit three times, and it just doesn’t stop. Like a trained boxer, the devil just pummels you and pounds you and hits you and beats you, until finally you say, “You know what? Forget this! I don’t have time for daily prayer. I don’t have time to read my Bible. I’m so exhausted. I’m so tired and so fed up with all of this junk, that I just need a couple hours to zone out and watch the football game.” So you just sit there on the couch and you watch the football game for a couple of hours, and you drink your beer. “I just need a couple of hours to zone out, and goof around, and email, and My-Space, and Facebook and Twitter. I just need some time to go hunting. I’m just going to go shoot some squirrels and let my mind clear.”
Now here is where the devil is at his most insidious. Because let me ask you something. Is there anything wrong with hunting? No, there’s not. Is there anything wrong in moderation, once in a while, just sitting down and watching a ball game on T.V. ? I don’t have a problem with that on occasion. Is there anything wrong with reading stuff on Facebook or on your email? No, there’s not.
See, if the devil can’t get you with outright sin, he will get you by taking good things, decent things, and tempting you to put such a priority on those things that you crowd out the most important things in your life. I don’t think God is going to get after anybody for watching a football game. But woe unto the person who doesn’t have time for Scripture because of football. God is not going to get after anybody for squirrel hunting. But woe unto the person that’s out squirrel hunting instead of leading his family in daily prayer. I don’t think God is going to pick on anybody because they sent a quick note to a family member on Facebook, or email. But woe unto the person that will spend two or three hours surfing the internet, and then they’re just too tired to spend fifteen minutes studying Scriptures, praying with their family, making that next step in their lives where they know they need repentance and obedience to Christ. You see, the good is the enemy of the best.
Is it wrong to go shopping at Walmart or the mall? Not necessarily. There are things that we need to buy. Russ, let me ask you something. When was the last time (when you were a lineman) that you missed getting up on the electric pole and working hard, because you just didn’t have time that day? You needed to go do some shopping for some shirts and some ball caps and stuff. Did that ever happen, Russ? [Russ shakes his head “no”.] You mean you found other ways to . . .
Let’s say the coal mine. You worked in the coal mine for a while, Henry David. Henry, you still do. When was the last time you said, “You know what? I’m going to be about two or three hours late going to the coal mine because I want to go do some fishing.” Has that ever happened? Not even once? [Henry and Henry David shake their heads “no”.]
So you’re telling me that hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times, you show up to work on time, and your kids see you show up to work on time, and you don’t miss because you needed to go fishing? [None of you] missed because you needed to work on the car? [They shake their heads “no”.] I mean, the car broke down – that’s really important – you gotta work on the car. You still found a way to work? [They nod their heads “yes”.]
How important – through your kids’ eyes – do you think they believe your job is to you? You know, at your home when your kids were growing up, how important do you think they believed that your job was to you? Very important! Christa, when you worked at Windmill Apartments, how often did you show up two or three hours late because you had a knitting bee to go to, or you had a TV show you wanted to catch up on? It never happened. How important do you think your friends and your family believed that your job was to you? And at the coal mines, if I were to ask Daphni or Hunter or David or Nancy or Henry David or Dion or Maria – any one of them – and I were to say, “How important is it to Henry that he makes it to the coal mine on time, every time that he’s supposed to be there?” What would they tell me? How important is it?
Another question for you: What is more important, meeting your family’s physical needs, or meeting your family’s spiritual needs? Which is more crucial? Which is going to be more dangerous to your family if you don’t supply those needs? There’s nothing wrong with knitting bees or baseball games, or squirrel hunting or shopping at the mall, or email or Facebook. These are all good things that can be put to good use. But if we would not let any of those things crowd out our need to be at work so that we can feed, clothe and shelter our wives and our children, then how much more should we not let little things like a broken down car, or a sick family member, or no money in the bank – how much less should we let little things like that get in the way of our daily inculcating our families in the teachings of Christ. Every day of the week!
And I’m not just saying to bring your kids to your church. That’s not even close to enough. That’s just the start, that’s just the kindling. Seven days a week, you need to be sitting down with your family and looking at the Scriptures. You need to be standing with your family in prayer, when you rise up, when you lie down, when you’re at home and when you go out by the way, all day, every day, everywhere that you are (Deuteronomy 6:4-7). Are you taking every possible moment that you can, to make sure that your wives, that your children, that your grandchildren, are being corrected any time that they’re falling into sin? That they are being brought back to the straight and narrow and are being pointed towards Christ? That they are being warned of the dangers of rebellion and laziness and neglectfulness?
I’m not worried so much about raising up the next generation of Presidents and lawyers and teachers, and computer engineers and coal miners and linemen. What I’m wondering, is where is the Church going to be a generation from now? Where are we going to get any priests? Where are we going to get any monks and nuns? Where are we going to get some godly fathers and mothers with backbones, standing up against the world and protecting their children against all the countless wicked influences that are trying to work their way into our homes?
Yes, you need to feed your children. Yes, you need to clothe them. Yes, you need to shelter them. And then after you’ve done all those things, then you need to move on to the important stuff: raising them to be godly men and women, who in the next generation will be the leaders in the Church, whether it’s wearing robes up here, or whether it is simply being faithful fathers and mothers in their own homes. That is what we are called to.
We’re not called to receive the Word with joy, and to put our roots down a little bit, and then to have those little plants crushed and crowded out by all the cares of this life. All the broken down car engines, and all the troubles at work, and all the sicknesses, and all the financial stresses – those are the weeds! Those are thorns! And I don’t care how many there are, you pull them up or you push them to the side, to make sure that the Word of God has the priority in your life, and that nothing is more important than that. That nothing competes with that. That nothing gets in the way of that precious little plant that just sprouted up when the Word of God was planted in your heart.
The Fourth Soil – Good Soil that Bears Much Fruit
And then finally we come to the last soil. The good ground are they which in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it and bring forth fruit with patience. The Word of God is not just something to be heard. It is something to be kept. To be obeyed. To be done. To be lived out through your fingers, and your feet, and your tongues, and to bring forth fruit – not with impatience demanding immediate results – but to be brought forth with patience. Not trying to obey God’s Word and then getting angry because within a week you haven’t got the response that you wanted. No, I’m talking about spending the next 5, 10, 20, 30 years if necessary, weeping and praying before God, repenting daily, learning more and more about His Word, worshipping faithfully every day of the week, so that whether it’s three days from now or whether it’s thirty years from now, that your life and the lives of your family finally bear this fruit of godliness that will carry your family, not just in this life, but into eternity.
I leave each one of us with a question. The question is not, “What soil do you believe is best?” That’s a no-brainer. We know which soil is the best. The question is not, “What type of soil do you want to be?” That’s a no-brainer. Everybody wants to think they’re the good soil. The drunk on the corner that never goes to church thinks he’s got good soil, and that he’s basically a good guy. I’m not asking you what soil you want to be. I’m not even asking what sort of soil did you usually think of yourselves as. We deceive ourselves all too easily. If you’re in the habit of thinking of yourself as good soil, that’s not what I’m not asking you either. And I’m definitely not asking you what kind of soil your husband is, or your wife is, or your kid. It says here in the Word of God that the good soil is that those who have an honest and a good heart. So no self-deception here. No lies, not even to yourself, not even in your mind. Be honest.
Look at your life over the past 24 hours, over the past week, over the past month, over the past year. And with full honesty – not opening your mouth – but just in your mind, in your heart, have brutal, 100% honesty and ask yourself, “What type of soil have I been?”
Over the past year, how many times has the Word of God been planted, and you didn’t even hear it because your mind was somewhere else? It didn’t even touch you because you were thinking of how it applied to someone else. It didn’t even prick your conscience because you convinced yourself that just agreeing with it was good enough, and the same as obedience. How many times in the past year has the Word of God been planted? You’ve heard it. It started sprouting, you received it with joy, you began repentance, and then after a day or two passed, you just forgot all about it.
The plant shriveled up. Temptations came. The plant died and bore no fruit. And how many times in the past year has the Word of God been planted in your heart and you receive it with joy? It starts to send down roots, and you even take efforts to start following it on a daily basis. And then you allow the cares of this life, the cares of this world – things like physical health, and finances, and entertainment – to crowd out these little plants that were sprouting. To crowd out the Word of God. To cause them to shrivel up and die. And to bear no fruit.
Be honest with yourself. Look into your own heart and ask, “What type of soil have I been?” And if for the whole past year without fail, you’ve always been the good ground, the Word of God sprouts and you protect it, and you pull up the weeds, shoo of the birds and the seed always sprouts, grows and finally bears fruit in your life, then praise God! But in all honesty, if you can see that you have been any one or even all three of these other soils, you need to take this as seriously as a heart attack. As seriously as an attack from some foreign army that came over onto our own soil, and they’re shooting at us right here in Omaha. Take this as seriously as if you just got fired from your job. Take this as seriously as if they just foreclosed on your house, and there’s no food to feed your kids. Because this is even more serious than any of those things.
If you have been any one of these other three soils, then with a firm resolve, determine to repent. Determine that from this day forth, you are not going to let the devil steal one seed out of your heart. You’re not going to permit one day to go by that you cast off that which you learned yesterday, and just go about your merry way. You’re not going to let one day go by that you permit the cares, and the troubles, and thorns, and the weeds of this life, to crowd out the things that are most important. Put Christ at the very center of your heart and your life and your affections. Not tomorrow, today. Because the Word can be planted, but only you can choose what sort of soil is in your heart. Only you can choose whether to plow that ground, or whether to leave it hard and shallow.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, God is One. Amen.
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, February 23, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.