Sermon ~ Standing at the Cross Roads

The Gospel of Luke 8:5-15

The Lord said this parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell along the path, and was trodden under foot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns grew with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew, and yielded a hundredfold.” And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, that they may not believe and be saved. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy; but these have no root, they believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And as for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.” As he said these things, he cried out “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

We are standing at a cross roads.  Here in America our lives have changed in several generations some would say for the good while others would say for the bad.  We stand at a cross roads here in our own little church.  Look around, lots of empty seats but we are not about the numbers.  Our goal should not be just to fill the seats in the Church, but our goal should be to fill the seats in the Church with quality, yes that’s right, quality rather than quantity.

Today we hear the parable of the sower.  This passage has taken on more meaning for me since I started to garden, it makes more sense if you will.  I always try to remember that Scripture was written at a particular time in history to a particular people in history.  The images and stories used are ones that the hearers would understand, and for us, we have to try and find their deeper meaning.  It is not always easy, but thankfully this is not the case today.

Jesus tells the story of a sower who is sowing his seed.  I imagine from this story the sower is scattering the seed rather than planting one seed at a time.  He places the seed into several categories.  The seed that falls on the ground, the seed that falls in the thicket or the thorns and the seed that fell in the good ground.  Now the farmer had to know that this was going to happen, and it is factored into his overall plan for the farm.  I am going to lose “X” amount of seed that will not grow.

There are a few other reasons that the seed will not grow, one would be the quality of the seed.  If we are not using the best we have then sure it might grow, but if we use a better seed we will get better results.  The other part of the equation is the soil.  If the soil is not properly cultivated then you can have the best seed in the world, but it just will not grow.

I was speaking with a painter one day.  I asked him what the most critical part of his job was, what did he spend the most time on for each job.  He told me that the preparation was the most crucial part of the job.  Sure the paint or the brand was important, but if the surface was not prepared well enough the best paint in the world would just not look right.  The same is true in our spiritual life.

This past week, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a study of religious trends in America.  This research is conducted each year and is designed, for those of us in Church work, to see where we are going as a society.  The findings were what I expected, but it was still a very sobering read.  For the first time in American history the “nones” as they are called, has become the majority religion in America.  More people are unaffiliated with any religion today than ever in our history.  A third of adults over 30 have no religious affiliation at all.  One third!  This trend is called Generational Replacement.  The older generations are holding fast, but they are not being replaced by the younger generation.  But I think the most striking response from the survey is that fifty percent of those who consider themselves religiously affiliated seldom or never go to Church.

There is a decrease across the board in church affiliation, but the good news is that, for us Orthodox, less than 1% of the population, our numbers remained stable.  That is good news and bad news.  We grew at the same rate as we declined.  Mainline Protestants saw a 5% decrease while Roman Catholics saw a 1% decrease.

So what does all of this mean?  We need to spend some time with this study as it points out several key factors of why people are losing faith if you will.  Most of it seems related to the way our society sees themselves and what they are entitled too.  They see themselves as free spirits who do not want to be told what to do, however, the Churches that have remained consistent with their beliefs are the ones that, although declining, are declining at a much slower rate than those whose beliefs change with the wind.  There is a desire amongst the “nones” for more social involvement, not in the political realm, but in the area where there is direct assistance to people.  Like our community meal and other programs that actually help real people.  Although the “nones” are more political, they do not want their church directly involved in partisan politics.  67% said that the Church was too involved in politics while 77% said that the Church needed to focus more on helping people in their communities.

Of course, statistics do not tell the whole story, but it does indicate the direction of where we are headed as Church as well as society.

St. Theophan the Recluse is one of the greatest saints in all of Orthodoxy.  His writings have been studied for years on the topics of spirituality and how to live the moral life.  The other day I came across a quote of his, “Christianity must remain eternally unchanging, in no way being dependent on or guided by the spirit of each age. Instead, Christianity is meant to govern and direct the spirit of the age for anyone who obeys its teachings.”

What we have seen is that the message of the Church has changed to fit society, the Church no longer influences society but society is influencing the church.  When we stop preaching Jesus and start preaching something else, the wheels come off the wagon.

So what about the seeds and the soil?

Orthodoxy has the best seeds that have ever been created.  Our seeds have not been changed by outside influence, and by seeds, I mean our theology.  The seeds we use today are the same ones that have been used for the last 2,000 years.  The real work needs to happen with the soil, with those who will hear the word of God.  How will they come and see if we do not go and tell?  The seed will not grow if we do not plant it.  The farmer can buy the seed, put it in his barn, and just hope it grows, but he will have a much better crop if he at least tries to sow some of that seed in the right place.

What is our soil like?  Do we take in the word of God and let it take root and grow within us and let it change us or do we chock it off and not let it work because we know better than God?  Does the word of God, and what our Church believes, transform your life?  Or does it fall on the stones of our hardened heart and with and die?

Our hearts will only be prepared to receive the seeds that God is trying to plant in us if we do the work that is required.  We need to do the work to transform our hearts of stone to hearts of soil that is ready to be planted.  We are standing at the cross roads which way are we going to go?

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