Sermon Sexagesima Sunday
February 7, 2021
Fr. Scott Greene
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. Luke 8:15
Let the words of my mouth + and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer. Amen (please be seated)
The Gesima bell tolls once again telling us we are one Sunday closer to Lent. I hope everyone has been meditating on what they can offer up to God during this season as we prepare ourselves to walk, with our Lord, the way of the Cross and to see it come to completion on the Feast of the Resurrection together. As we learned last week, God has given freely to us out of His own goodness and there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation, yet we strive for perfection in response to this gift. Knowing that we do not have to earn salvation is a burden off our shoulders and a central part of the Gospel message but during this season we turn to our own part in participating with God toward our own sanctification. Conquering our sin and disciplining our lives is wrought with obstacles that hinder our spiritual progress and is the message of today’s readings.
In our Epistle reading from St. Paul to the Corinthians we see him laying out some of these obstacles to the spiritual life. First, he speaks of external threats that he has had to endure for Christ. The list of threats he gives is in the context of him laying out his credentials, so to speak, for the purpose of teaching the Corinthians a lesson. He shows them that as they have suffered, he has suffered more and yet does not sadly dwell on them but instead glories in his trials.
How different of a response by St. Paul then we normally display when faced with difficulty. At the slightest inconvenience we throw in the towel but listen to what St. Paul has had to suffer. He has been whipped to the fullest extent of the law 5 times, stoned to death which he survived, shipwrecked 3 times, been in perils of waters, robbers, his own countrymen, heathen, in cities, in the wilderness, at sea, and among false brethren. He has been through weariness and painfulness, been hungry and thirsty, and been cold and even been naked. All of these for the cause of Christ. All of these external threats to his body could have hindered his spiritual progress and his mission within the Church.
We can also be subjected to these external troubles, although hopefully to a lesser degree. Modern Christians, in the West, are spoiled in regards to most of these threats. We probably will not be beaten for our faith or stoned to death because we are Christians although our brothers in other parts of the world do still suffer like this. The trials we will likely face are of a far less fatal nature, even though they are still very real. Our external threats deal more with damaging our social status instead of our bodies, going without a second brand new car instead of hunger from food, being hurt emotionally by our co-workers instead of hurt physically by robbers. All still very real and feared.
Paul was also afflicted with some kind of health condition though, he never tells us what exactly it is, but, health conditions are still something we share in struggling with St. Paul that can cause us to not progress in our spiritual life.
Then St. Paul says that besides all those other things, something else tests him… the care of all the churches. This is St. Paul’s God given job - to oversee the Churches. We also have jobs and daily responsibilities that are given to us by God that we are called to overcome and reclaim for the purposes of God and not merely for financial stability.
We see all that St. Paul, with God’s help, had to overcome and we too are called to that same level of commitment as St. Paul. Because we are not constantly facing these threats involuntarily like St. Paul, the Church has given us a dedicated time to voluntarily take on trials to deepen and strengthen our spiritual life.
One truth I hold to is that God has never let me down. When obstacles come my way, I normally struggle through them best I can while I am in the middle of them and only see God working for my betterment after the obstacle has been defeated. I strive to see God working while I am in the trial, to glory in them, like St. Paul did, in mine own infirmities or weaknesses.
During this upcoming Lent season specifically and in life in general, we will face these external trials that present themselves as obstacles to our Christian walk. How are we going to face them? We can suffer through them? Not letting them hinder us and can we can glory in them and allow them to draw us into a deeper relationship with God like St. Paul did?
St. Luke records for us this morning the same struggle of the Gospel taking hold in our lives and not letting anything get in the way of it taking root and growing in our lives. A wonderful aspect of the parable given to us this morning is that our Lord explains it for us in the text so there isn’t much more I can add to the interpretation of the parable, but I hope to make it applicable for us this morning.
St. Paul spells out his troubles externally, but our Lord shares the struggles internally, within our own hearts. The seed that is sown is the Gospel message and the various types of soil are the condition of our heart. We see that one internal obstacle is the demonic forces that assault us, accusing us of our sin which makes us feel guilty and leading us further into sin through temptation. This is the way-side where birds come to eat up the seeds of the Gospel.
We also see seed that is sown on rocky ground which has no roots. A seed that grows big and fast but quickly is uprooted and withers. Then we are told of seed sown in thorny ground that gets choked out by riches and pleasures of this life. These thorns seem to be what we contend with the most in modern life, the struggle of choosing the Creator over His creation. These very same riches and pleasures are what we are specifically targeting during Lent. Consciously weeding out the garden of our heart during this time.
Finally, we get to the good ground that is receptive to the Word of God which is an honest and good heart. Notice what is promised at the end of our reading, the bringing forth of fruit with patience. There is hardly a better stated goal of Lent then that. During Lent we are to fight off the Devil and his demons of temptation, we are to sink our roots into the Word of God so that we do not dry up, we are to prune way the thorns of distraction in our life, so that we might bring forth fruit with patience.
This fruit that is produced is of the power of God and His working in our lives. This process takes more time and more pain than we would like, so we are called to have patience with this process. You are not going to sort out your walk with the Lord over one season of Lent, this is a lifetime journey. But with God’s help, we can conquer that one sin that keeps plaguing us or establish a godly habit that will serve us well in the future or maybe we can loosen the hold that some “thing” has in our life that is holding us back.
Whatever God leads you tackle this upcoming Lent, know that God is able and willing to see the work in you completed. Give Him your problems, your issues, and your struggles. Instead of despairing over your weaknesses, actually glory in your weakness, knowing that despite all the evidence we come up with for us to fail, God can and will be even more glorified when He accomplishes in you His work of sanctification, all we have to do is try with a honest and good heart.
Let us pray,
Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in these our supplications and prayers, and dispose the way of thy servants towards the attainment of everlasting salvation; that, among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, they may ever be defended by thy most gracious and ready help; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.