This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 15, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services
Gospel Reading: Luke 11:14-28
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One
MY BURDEN IS LIGHT
There once was a cruel man who owned two slaves. He forced them to toil long and hard. He was very stingy. One day, he sent them on a very long and burdensome task.
He gave each one of them a very heavy, large bucket full of rocks, gravel, and sand. They were straining under the burden of this load. They were pushing hard. They were sweating. They were burdened down, and they had miles to go from the evil slave owner’s house to the town where he had sent them.
Along the road, they [ran] into this man who [had] a big smile on his face. He said, “I bring you good tidings of great joy. I have good news for you! This day, I have gone to your wicked master, and I have purchased your release. You don’t have to follow that slave owner anymore.”
They said, “But how will we live? Where are we going to go?”
He said, “I’ve taken care of that, too.” He said, “I sell fruit. I am a fruit merchant, and I have all of these wonderful wares,” and he showed them his cart. It was full of the most delicious peaches, plums, melons, apples, cherries, strawberries.
He said, “Carrying this is easy. You’ll find it’s much lighter than carrying all the stones, and the rocks, and the sand. Fill your buckets with my good, delicious fruit. Take it into the city. This is what you will do for me. You will find that the burden is easy. It’s light! It’s easy to carry! And as a bonus, if you get hungry along the way, I give you my blessing to eat some of the fruit yourself.”
Both of them responded with joy and said, “This sounds fantastic! Thank you so much. We would much rather work for you than for that other guy.”
So, eagerly, both of them got some of the fruit from the cart.
The first guy got an apple, and, by pushing really hard, he was able to wedge it about halfway down into the sand and the gravel. Then he got another apple, and he was able to push it down in there a little bit. He tried it with a peach, and it just mushed all over everything, and he ruined it. He got his hand all wet with peach juice.
Finally, he gave up trying to get the fruit into his bucket, and he just started stacking some fruit on top. Then he picked it up, and it was even heavier than before. So he’s lugging this heavy, heavy bucket full of gravel, sand, rocks, and fruit!
A lot of the fruit has gotten bruised. A lot of it, he has destroyed. He was hardly able to get any fruit into or on the bucket, and, now that he’s got it there, the bucket’s even heavier. He can hardly carry this thing. He struggles a few feet down the road, and finally, he gives up. He says,
“This is just impossible. I can’t do this! Following you is worse than following the other guy. I mean, it was hard. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like that other guy. I don’t like serving him. I don’t like being his slave. But at least I could barely get through it. But what you’ve given me is impossible. So here’s your fruit back. You can keep it. I’m just going to go back to being a slave of the other guy.”
So, strenuously, he kept lugging down the road with his bucket full of rocks, sand, and gravel.
The second guy watched all of this. He took his hand, and he picked some of the sand and gravel up out of his bucket and tasted it. He spit it out! He took his bucket and tipped it over. He lifted it up, and he dumped it out. He looked up in there, and there was still a bunch of wet sand. So he got his hand, and he brushed it clean. He even asked, “could you please give me a rag, a cloth, or something?” And the guy that had the fruit cart handed him one, and he reached up in there and cleansed it out. He got every last grain of sand out of there so that this bucket was totally empty, totally clean.
He turned the bucket back over, and he started putting fruit in it. He filled that bucket with fruit. He got it full all the way to the top. He went to pick it up, and he almost got it too high because it was so light compared to what he had been carrying around.
With a smile on his face, and thanksgiving in his heart, and joy in his step, he started going down the road to the town very grateful to have a new master.
Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” [Matthew 11:30].
He wants us to give up the works of darkness and carry about nothing but the fruit of the Spirit. He says this is easy!
Why did these two men have different experiences? Why did the first man say that it was so hard?
WHAT’S IN YOUR BUCKET?
Well, if you are determined to keep your bucket full of rocks and you try to add fruit of the Spirit to that, it’s going to be even heavier. You’re going to find [that] it’s impossible. You’re going to bruise the fruit. You’re not going to be able to have that much of it. It’s going to fall all over the ground, and you’ll just make your burden even worse than it was before.
Everything worldly, everything secular, everything focused on pleasure, everything focused on entertainment can be these rocks, and sand, and gravel in your bucket, even if it’s not sinful in and of itself. Even if you look and say, “Well, there’s nothing that wrong about it,” it still takes up your time – time that you could be using for building up the Kingdom of God.
What is very, very easy is to spend hours a day with your family, with your church, with your friends in prayer, in studying the Scriptures, in reading the lives of the saints. That’s easy. It’s not difficult at all.
You know what’s almost impossible? It’s very difficult to fill your time with all the TV shows that you want to watch, and all the video games you want to play, and all the places that you want to go, all the things that you want to see, all the pleasures, all the entertainments, and then somehow find a few minutes out of the day to stuff the prayers into your schedule somehow.
It’s very easy. It’s not difficult. It’s easy to raise to your kids – daily memorizing Scripture, learning what the Word of God says, spending hours reading about the saints and about the Church, about what Christ has done, thinking on holy things. [They can be] singing (not just reading but singing) the music of the Church, singing the Psalms from Scripture [so that] when they’re just out taking out the trash or working in the garden or cleaning their rooms, and they decide they want to sing something, the song that comes to their mouth is not some profane rock song, or country song, or secular song that they heard on the radio. They just feel like singing, and so they start singing Psalm 51 or Psalm 128 or some chant from the Church. It’s just what comes out of them, because that’s what goes into them. That’s easy! It’s not hard.
I’ll tell you what’s very difficult. I’ll tell you what’s hard. I’ll tell you what’s almost impossible. It’s almost impossible to fill your children’s hours with movies from the world, with songs of the world whether it’s on a TV set, on a Kindle, on an iPad, or on a movie theater screen – the entertainments of the world – and, after they’ve had hours of this poured into them, to somehow try to stuff ten or twenty minutes of prayer and godly singing into their day too. And even more difficult, even more impossible to actually expect, [is that] those ten or twenty minutes that you stuff into them are going to be what they want to sing on their own and what they want to think about on their own rather than all this other junk that you let them fill their days with.
You know what’s easy? You know what’s not hard at all? Giving 10% of your income to the Church, to God, to the Missions. I mean that as a minimum. It’s easy to give 15% [or] 20%. It’s not hard to give a good amount of your money to the work of God whether it’s to the local church or to missionaries overseas building the kingdom with your money.
I’ll tell you what’s really hard. What’s really difficult, what’s almost impossible is to say, “I need my wardrobe to be this big and this new, and I need this many new pairs of shoes, and I need to go on this many vacations, and I want to go to restaurants at least this many times. And, you know, a lot of times I don’t want to cook, so instead of cooking something that would cost two dollars I’ll just go buy something that would cost $20 or $30.” And, after you’ve spent all this money on material things, on your pleasures, on things that are not necessities so you can have something bigger, better, newer, more entertaining, to go back and scrape enough pennies together out of your budget to try to give some money to build the Kingdom of God – that’s hard.
When people say that following Christ is difficult, when people say that following Christ is so hard, that’s because they’re determined to follow Christ only if they get to keep their rocks in their bucket, only if they won’t pour the sand out of their bucket, only if the gravel has to stay. “I want to keep my worldliness. I want to keep my pleasures. I want to keep my comfort. I want to keep my self-indulgence. I just want to add the fruit of the Spirit to that on top. I want to stuff it in there with it.” It doesn’t work. It does make it harder.
It’s as difficult as seeing a fork in the road, one [path] going to Heaven and the other going to Hell and saying, “Well I have two feet. I’ll just follow them both.” That works only for a little while. Before long you’re going to be hurting. If you keep your feet trying to go in those two opposite directions, you’re going to be in a lot of pain real soon, and you’re not going to make a lot of progress.
Now, at first, you do. At first, your foot is able to go down the right path. You make progress for a little while, and then it just stops because you don’t have any more leg.
When there’s a split in the road and there’s two paths, one going to Heaven and the other going to Hell, what’s easy is to make both feet go the right way. It’s actually easier to do everything right than it is to be double-minded and be half-and-half.
What does that have to do with today’s Gospel reading? Jesus gave us a grave warning! The warning does not go to those people who have lived for the devil all their lives. They’re not even included in this. This is not for them. There’s other passages of Scripture that are for them. This is not it.
THE DEMON RETURNS
Jesus said, “There’s a man possessed by a demon. The demon has a stronghold in his life. That demon lives in there. The demon is in control, and the man is freed from it. The demon has been cast out. He was filthy, but now he is clean. Everything was disordered, and now it is better ordered. The demon was in, and now the demon’s out.”
He’s talking to us. There [are] all these wicked works of darkness that such were you, but now you are redeemed. Now, you’re in Christ. Now, you’re in the Church. You’ve been baptized. You’ve been cleansed. You’ve partaken of the Eucharist. He’s talking to us!
There’s a great warning: He said [that] a man can have a demon in him. He has the demon cast out. The demon goes out and wanders through dry wilderness places and can’t find rest anywhere. The demon has to have somebody to torment, somebody to bring down to Gehenna.
So, just out of curiosity, the demon goes and checks up on the former guy that he was messing with. And sure enough! There’s no demon in there. Sure enough, his house is clean. Sure enough, everything is set in order. Everything’s garnished. It’s a nice, well-kept house.
But the Holy Spirit’s not in it. You see, if that house was inhabited, if the Holy Spirit were filling that house, that demon would hightail it for the hills faster than you can imagine. He just finds it clean but uninhabited.
So he doesn’t just go back inside that house by himself and bring the man back to where he was. No, it’s much worse than that. He gets seven spirits more wicked than himself.
Did you know that there are demons more wicked than others? Any of you ever have to wrestle with the demons? Do you think demons have ever tried to make a stronghold in your life in the past? How does it make you feel to think that there [are] demons out there worse than those? You think you’re run-in with the demons has been bad? There [are] demons out there so bad [that] you haven’t even thought about it yet!
The point here is that the demons are persistent. They don’t give up just because you kicked them out once. [If] you kicked them out once, and you’re clean, and you let your guard down, you’re asking for trouble.
By the way, this would be very incompatible with Protestant teaching of “once saved always saved.” If you’ve ever heard certain Protestant groups (not all of them, but certain Protestant groups) teach “once saved always saved.” Once you’re cleansed, once God’s redeemed you, once you’re ready and following God, you’re set.
That’s not what Jesus says here. No, you’ve started on the right path, but believe you me, that was not your last battle. That’s not the last time you’ll see that demon. Not only that, but the next time, he’s coming back with reinforcements. He thought he had you, but you beat him by the power of God. So he’s going to come back with seven spirits more wicked than himself, and he’s going to see if the eight of them can take you.
Beware. Be sober. Be vigilant. For our enemy, the devil, as a roaring lion, prowls about seeking whom he may devour. Therefore, remain steadfast in the faith [cf. 1 Peter 5:8-9]. “Steadfast in the faith” does not mean “lazy in the faith,” “relaxed in the faith.”
When was the last time you heard a general talk to his army and say, “Relax.” If it’s a time of war, if it’s a time of battle, is it time to relax? You can relax after you win, and you haven’t won until you are in Heaven. Then there will be an eternity for however much relaxation, and peace, and rest that the Holy Spirit wants to give us. Right now, we are at war, and the first time you beat an enemy, he doesn’t go away. He comes back stronger, harder, and with more reinforcements.
You need the Holy Spirit. You need the fruit of the Spirit. And you’re not going to get the fruit of the spirit in your bucket unless you dump out all the rocks. You only have a certain amount of time in a day. If you do everything that the Scriptures and the saints say that you should do, how much time do you think you’re going to have left for other stuff?
You see, we get it backwards. We look at everything we want to do, we pick out the two or three things that are just obviously wicked and we say, “Okay. I’m getting rid of those.” That leaves a little room in our bucket. So now we’ve got 80% sand, and rocks, and gravel in our bucket [with] a little bit of fruit.
We say, “Man! How much better this is than life was before! Man, I’m holy! I’m godly! This is great!” Well, praise God. You’ve made progress. That is good! God wants your whole bucket [to be] full of fruit though, not just 20% of it. He wants the whole thing, and he knows that, as long as you’re trying to do both at the same time, that you’re double-minded. You’re trying to walk two paths at the same time, and the more you try to keep the rocks and the gravel in your bucket and add fruit on top of that, you’re just making the whole bucket heavier, not lighter.
LOCK YOUR DOOR?
I like to think that at least some of the people, when the demon comes back, at least some of the people were smart enough to lock the front door – maybe not all of them. You knew that this was a demon. You knew that this was sin. You locked the door. You locked the heart, and you said, “I’m not letting that demon in again.”
So, like any good burglar, like any good thief, he comes in your back door.
You say, “I was smart. I was strong. I was vigilant. I put up this wall. I put up these barriers. I put these locks.” Yeah, but if you left your back door wide open, he’s just going to come in that way. What does the back door look like with sin?
The devil can win the battle against us if he can get us to focus on a few sins that are most wicked and convince us that if we get rid of those in their overt and open forms, then we’ll think we’re holy. Then all he has to do is get us sinning in the same spirit but in a different way.
You see, there are clusters of sins that go together. Imagine that you are a mafia mob boss. You’re a don, and you remember that, in your younger days, you actually murdered some people with your own hands. Somebody comes to talk to you and says, “You, you’re not going to get away with it. If you keep doing that kind of stuff, you’re not going to get away with it especially now that you’re the boss, now that you’re in charge of this crime family. The police are going to be watching you so closely, you don’t dare even give the appearance that you’re putting anybody to death, that you’re killing anybody. I mean, if you even carry a gun around, they’re going to try to nail you.”
So, you say, “Well, in that case, I’m not going to kill anybody. Hey, Mario, you know that guy that we need put on ice? You take care of it.” And for the rest of his life, he never lifts a finger. He never pulls a trigger. He never gets a knife out. He doesn’t kill anybody; he just gives the order, and somebody else does it. In a court of law, if that could be proven, would [the jury] say, “Not guilty”? “Oh! You aren’t the one who pulled the trigger. You weren’t even in the same county when the guy was killed. All you did was, you just ordered the hit man to do it. Well, you’re free. No problem then.” It’s still murder. You may have no blood on your hands, but you still have blood on your record and blood on your soul. You’re still guilty of murder whether you pulled the trigger or not.
So it is with many other sins. Saint John Cassian wrote something called his Conference with Abbot Serapion, and in a portion of it, he talks about clusters of sins, how one sin leads to another. The spirit of one sin causes others.
“From gluttony proceed surfeiting and drunkenness.” So, even if you beat gluttony, and you have no problem with it, if the devil can get you to have a problem with alcohol, he’s just as happy because it’s the same spirit. It’s the same sin. It’s just a different form of gluttony. Instead of gluttony on food, now it’s gluttony on alcoholic beverages.
“From fornication filthy conversation, scurrility, buffoonery and foolish talking.” You say, “Well, in my younger days, I had problems with fornication, but I beat it! I confessed it. I ran away from it. God has forgiven me, and I don’t do that anymore!” So the devil comes in your back door and says, “Yeah, but you can tell some dirty jokes, act like a buffoon, talk foolishly, just joke around.” That’s still the spirit of fornication whether you ever commit the act or not.
“From covetousness [comes] lying, deceit, theft, perjury, the desire [for] filthy lucre, false witness, violence, inhumanity, and greed.” You may think that you’ve beaten covetousness. You may think that you don’t have envy for more than what God has given you. You may think you’re content with what God has given you. The devil will just come in the back door, and, instead of letting you see openly that you have covetous thoughts, you’ll have greed. You’ll have violence. You’ll lie. These are all connected to the spirit of covetousness.
“From anger [proceeds] murders, clamour and indignation.” You say, “I’ve never killed anybody.” Do you get angry? Do you have problems with indignation?
“From dejection [comes] rancor, cowardice, bitterness, [and] despair.” A lot of people today don’t even realize that dejection, and despair, and depression is a sin. They think it’s just a medical condition that you’ve got to take a pill to fix.
“From accidie [comes] laziness, sleepiness, rudeness, restlessness, wandering about, instability both of mind and body, chattering, [and] inquisitiveness.” It’s all connected to sloth. It’s all the same spirit. You say, “Well I’m not lazy! I get up. I do this, and I do that, and I do this, and I do that.” Okay. But are you rude to people? Instead of carefully opening your mouth only when you have something edifying to say to build somebody up in Christ, do you just chatter: “Well this this this, and this this this, and blah blah blah, and yadda yadda yadda, and chatter chatter chatter chatter chatter”? Idle chatter!
Restlessness, even sleepiness: Are you sleeping more than you should when you should be up with prayer vigils, when you should be reading the lives of the saints, when you should be getting deep in the Scriptures? You just get drowsy way too easily. All these things are connected into what’s call accidie. It’s a type of sloth.
“From vainglory [comes] contention, heresies, boasting and confidence in novelties.” You may say, “Well, I’ve had a real problem with pride, and vainglory, and boasting. I’ve tried to get rid of all that. Well, you’re playing spiritual Whack-A-Mole. You knock it down in all these places, and the devil says, “Well, I’ll just come in the back door. Let’s try contention. Let’s see if I can get you to be at odds with somebody else and – friction and just not getting along.” Much, much contention comes from a spirit of vainglory, a spirit of pride, a lack of humility.
“From pride [comes] contempt, envy, disobedience, blasphemy, murmuring, backbiting.” You say, “I don’t have any pride. I don’t have any envy.” Well, wives, do you disobey your husbands? Children, do you disobey your parents? Men, do you disobey your priest or your bishop?
Contempt: “I don’t have any pride. I don’t have any envy, but, oh! I just can’t stand that person!” It’s the same sin. It’s the same demon just popping up in a different place, coming into your house through a different door.
THE STATE OF YOUR HEART
Are you content to keep your bucket full of rocks? Are you content with two or three apples and a smashed up peach on top of that bucket of rocks? Are you going to say, “This is my fruit of the Spirit”? Are you going to let that demon come back? The demon you got rid of, the demon you fought so hard against, the demon you were released from – are you going to let it come back with seven of his wicked friends into your home, into your heart so that the last state of your heart is worse than it was at the first?
Did you know that can happen? You can have and ugly, demon-possessed heart. Christ can cast the demon out of it, and you can have a clean heart. The demon can come back with seven of his wicked friends. They can come in, and your last state is worse than the first. You end off worse than if you had never known Christ. Whatever that is, I don’t want to have anything to do with it! Not in my heart. Not in my marriage. Not in my family. Not in my home. Not in my church.
If the demon has been cast out, and your heart has been cleansed, and your house is clean, then give thanks to God that that battle has been won. And be sober and vigilant, for that is not your last battle! Even as we speak, the demons are trying to come in your back door.
Don’t think that, because you have valiantly and vigilantly barred up and locked the front door, that you don’t need to worry about the back. You need to take this seriously. You need to re-evaluate everything. Everything! Every type of reading material, every type of movie, every type of sports, every type of pleasure, every type of restaurant that you go to, everything you eat, what you sleep on, the type of furniture you buy, the color of paint that you use in your house. I am leaving nothing off the list. Literally anything that you do, any decision that you make, any word that you speak, anybody that you vote for, anybody that you don’t vote for – anything that you do, you need to come back around and say, “Okay. I used to think this was fine [and] no big deal, but let’s look at it again.”
Then you circle back around after a month, and you look at everything again. You say, “Okay. I used to think this was fine, but now let me look at it again!”
You see, when you’re covered in sewage – when you’ve been in the sewer and you’re just covered in filth – you smell so bad that nobody’s going to notice your bad breath. All they’re going to smell is the filth that’s all over you. Here’s the mistake that we often make: We go take a shower. We wash all of that filth off. We give thanks to God that we’re so clean and pure and that we smell so good, and then we say, “Good morning brother,” and they’re knocked over by our rancid, horrific breath. Then we [sniff test and say], “Oh my gosh! I didn’t even know I ever had bad breath!”
Just because you defeat the devil once, just because you’re cleansed of something, don’t assume that you’ve already won the entire war. Don’t assume that that horrific sin that you defeated is the only sin there is.
The spirit of love for Christ, the spirit of obedience to Christ, the spirit of humility says that continually, you keep coming back and asking God to re-assess your whole life from top to bottom to find every room in your heart that is unclean, to find every closet that is unclean. [Humility says] to literally speak nothing, spend nothing, and do nothing except that which builds the Kingdom of God in your heart, in your marriage, in your family, in your home, in your church, and in your community.
God didn’t just say, “Let few impure words come out of your mouth.” He said, “Let no unclean word come out of your mouth, but only that which will edify your brother,” which will build him up in Christ [cf. Ephesians 4:29].
Please wake us up to the seriousness and the extent of this battle.
Please help us to realize that, just because you have graciously granted us victories thus far, that we cannot let down our guard, but we must double up our efforts, for the enemy will return like a flood with reinforcements, with greater power, with greater wickedness; and we must submit to you that you might set up a standard against them.
Please don’t just grant us the fruit of the Spirit, but give us the wisdom and the clarity of thought and purpose to empty every rock out of our buckets – every impure thing, and not only every impure thing, but everything that we think is neutral. We don’t have time for anything neutral.
Lord, please purify our hearts of anything and everything that is not fully in submission to Christ.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
 Gibson, C.S., trans. “Conferences (John Cassian).” In The Nicene and Anti-Nicene Fathers, edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. Vol. 11. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing, 1894.
This sermon was preached by Fr. Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 15, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full service secretarial support (including homily transcriptions, editing services, and publishing assistance) to Orthodox clergy and parish communities.