Sunday, November 23, 2008

18th Sunday after Pentecost

Rather he who sows sparingly shall reap sparingly and he who sows abundantly shall reap abundantly

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, glory to Jesus Christ!
Glory forever!

St. Paul in that epistle which only almost always on the calendar falls with second reading, the gospel reading today, both of which speak to us about sewing seed and the consequences of the sewing of the seed – St. Paul lets us know that those who are generous with what God has given them will cause a great crop, an abundance of grace, to come forth.

Some of you know that some of our culture, some of the preachers of certain branches of Protestantism, teach what they call a gospel of prosperity, and their message seems to be, “Well, if you give a lot of money to the church, then you’re going to get a lot of money back.” That would be investment planning, and I suspect that it would not be anymore successful than the one in which I am now engaged for my retirement. But that’s not what St. Paul’s saying. He’s saying that when we are generous with what God gives us, we are allowing God’s grace to abound. He says this: that because of the generosity of the Christians in supporting the missionaries, the work of the church, in feeding the poor among them – because of that thanks is given to God by many, and that great grace is released into the world by which many are saved.

Now we’ll move from that point. Because some people are a lot more disposed toward giving money to god because he’s going to pay 25% interest, than they are giving to God so that God’s work can be done on earth. And we’ll move on to the gospel.

Those of you who’ve been here for several decades know a lot about this gospel. You understand that in this Gospel the Lord was talking about a real situation – about the way a Jewish wheat field was planted. The Jewish wheat field was not very large – you might have many fields, but each one was separate and very small, about the size maybe of this quadrangle out here. And as one worked his soil year after year, rocks worked their way to the surface, and these rocks were carried to the edge of the field and used to build a wall around it so that every field was surrounded by a wall that had some soil that had washed up on it, but it was still rock.

And then you may also recognize that God had told the Jews that they were not supposed to harvest their fields all the way to the borders. That’s why Jewish men are supposed to leave the corners of their beards long – here – so that they will remember that they are supposed to be generous. Why didn’t you harvest your field all the way to the borders? Because what grew around the border of the field, that was for the poor or for those who were passing by who might be hungry. Our Lord and his disciples, on the Sabbath day, had picked some wheat from along the edge of the field and rolled it in their hands and ate it to assuage their hunger. But, because this border of the field was not going to be harvested, most Jewish farmers did not waste a lot of effort on culling or cultivating it, so it was full of weeds too. And then, across the field, was usually a path in the shape of an X so that then you could walk back and forth across the field and cultivate the field – either around the border or in the middle. In this way, you could reach every corner of your field with your hoe or your rake, and get the weeds out without stepping on the crop.

Now, the Lord says that a certain farmer went out to plant and then he went and he just threw the seed everywhere. He threw the seed everywhere. Some of the seed, He said, fell on the path and it was stepped on and the birds came and ate it. And He said then some of the seed fell on the little rocky area around the field where there was a little bit of soil, and it sprung up. But then when the heat of the day came, it died. It had no root, no moisture. And then there was the wheat that fell in that border around the field and it was choked by weeds and did not bring forth much of a crop. And then the Lord says, “Let he who has ears to hear, hear.” And what He’s saying is, “If you want to know what God has to say to you, you’re going to understand a great mystery here. If you don’t want to know, then friends, just forget about the rest of this.” Because God doesn’t make anybody believe, and He doesn’t compel anybody to understand.
The disciples come to Him and they say, “We don’t understand this.”

----Oh yes, he said, that which fell on good ground brought forth some 20, some 50, some 100 fold. That mean that for every seed that was planted, the heads of wheat had maybe 50 or 100 seeds in them.----

Now a logical question we might ask before we come to His answer to the disciples is, “If wheat is so valuable, why is this guy such a lousy planter?” You wouldn’t think that if your seed grain was dear that you’d be throwing it just every old place, would you? But the fact is, the Lord tells us that the seed is God’s word - that of which we spoke when we said, “He who sows plentifully will reap plentifully” – and that God is the farmer, and so He is profligate with His word, with His grain. He throws it everywhere – on good ground, on bad ground, on the path, among the weeds, on the stones – so that by some means, many might have the opportunity to have the word not just bounce off their ears but penetrate into their hearts.

And the Lord tells His disciples this: He said the stuff that falls on the path, that is the wheat that is the word of God that comes to a person who doesn’t really want to hear. So although it may lie on their eardrums, it may lie on that ground that’s been trodden down, Satan, like the birds of the air, will come pick it out and take it away from them and it will be as though they never heard it. And then He said that which falls on the rocky soil is like the word of God that comes to some who are hungry for meaning and purpose in their lives – whose lives are desperate, lives are lives of being wounded, of being fearful – and so when they hear the gospel of healing and of peace, of forgiveness – when they hear that, then they immediately accept it. But they grab it and the expect God to do their thing for them, rather than their doing God’s thing for Him. So, when the hot sun beats down, they spring up with a green shoot and it appears to be a luscious crop of wheat, but there’s no water beneath the roots to nourish it, and it is burned up by the problems of the heat of the day.

And then He says, those who fall among the weeds are those who both hear the word of God and they embrace it; but they believe more in their own problems than they do in God because they are more concerned about the stock market, or world peace, or the next election, or who’s going to win the American league pennant, or why CU is 4 and 3. Anyway, because those thing prepossess them, when the devil in the form of those means – the cares and concerns of life surround them – when they find that they are ailing, or that they are suffering loss, or that their life is contingent, or that their security in this world seems to be in doubt, then they become so strangled with worrying about things in this world that they forget to think about the kingdom of heaven, and they don’t bring forth very much wheat. They don’t bring forth very much nourishment for themselves, and they don’t bring forth very much fruit in the form of the Word of God, to spread the Gospel.

Then He says that which falls on the good ground are those who, hearing the Word of God, allow them to be watered by his tender love from heaven, the roots to sink deeply into the soil of the truth of christ’s gospel, and the sun of righteousness to shine down on them. And they bring forth fruit which saves many more than themselves. As St. Seraphim of Sarov said to someone who wanted to go be a missionary, he said, “That’s fine. But save your own soul and you’ll save a thousand people you don’t even know.”

Now, today, we’re going to bless this icon – I was going to bless it last Sunday, but it was impossible because it wasn’t here. This is St. Tikhon and St. Sebastian Dabovich. How blessed this church is. The people who, when I first came here, wanted to tear the building down and build another one somewhere, they didn’t have the slightest idea at that time how precious this place is. But here we have a picture of two saints, and these two saints actually were here and the same time, and this moment that is shown in this icon here is a moment of history shown symbolically. It shows St. Tikhon, who became our bishop when we came out of the land of Uniatism into the promised land of Holy Orthodoxy, and who in the third year of our Orthodoxy and the third visit he made here, handed our church over to this young monk, Sebastian Dabovich. He was here for only one year, but while he was here he started Orthodox churches all the way from Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana to Kansas City, Kansas, down to Texas, into New Mexico and the Western coast of the United States. He probably baptized more people than any Orthodox priest in the lower 48 ever. He was the first American born man to be ordained an Orthodox priest. He was the first American born man to become an Orthodox monk. And he not only worked in this country, but as you’ll read in his biography,* if you read it, he was traveling all over the world to places like Australia. He even went to parts of Serbia where the people had apostatized from the Gospel because of Islam or some other cause and re-evangelized people and brought them back to orthodoxy. He would serve in a parish here in America and when a war broke out in the Balkans, he would go to be a chaplain to the men who were fighting for the holy cross against Turkish aggression or against the aggression of heretics. And then he would come back here and serve some more.

He was born the year that the American Civil War was heating up. He is an American by birth because he was born on the ship that his parents took from Yugoslavia just as it pulled into San Francisco harbor. In his entire life he wanted nothing other than to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not just to Serbs, but to people of every nationality, of every race, of every identity, people distributed all over the world. This was his ambition. Of him, St. Nikolai Velimirovich said, “He had no evil passions in him at all.” He was a man of unmixed motives, a man of manifest goodwill. As our Lord said of Nathaniel, “An Israelite in whom there was no guile.” This man was responsible for spreading the seed of God. He could have been anything: he could have been an attorney, or a general, or a businessman. He came to American when America was in it’s growth, in its vigor. He could have stashed away fortunes. Even in the church, he could have become the comfortable dean of some large cathedral and made a salary that would keep him secure. But he never raise a penny for his missionary work. He worked in a parish, he got a little money, he got on a train or a stage coach or the back of a horse and went some place where there was no Orthodoxy and he preached the Gospel. And he did it all over this country. All over this part of the country. Everything west of Eastern Texas bears his mark. Not just Serbian churches, but OCA churches and Antiochian churches bear it as well.

And this, brothers and sisters, is the meaning of, “Him who sows abundantly reaps abundantly,” because he treasure was treasure for God. It was treasure he laid up in heaven, and you can read in the biography* that when St. Nikolai Velimirovich, who would end up as dean of our St. Tikhon’s seminary in Pennsylvania, when St. Nikolai went to the ____ monastery where he was in the infirmary as an old man, St. Nikolai was willing to do anything he could for him. And he said, “My dear brother, Father Sebastian, is there anything you want, anything you need?” Sebastian Dobovich smiled at his old friend, this man who had traveled with St. Tikhon and St. John Kochurov, and St. Alexander, had traveled with them to the Episcopal Seminary in Wisconsin, hoping to convert the Anglicans to Orthodoxy at that time, smiled at his old friend and he said, “I want, I need only the kingdom of heaven.”

Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, seek ye first God’s righteousness, and all the rest will be given unto you so abundantly. Not just of your money, of your time, of your love for God, of your testimony of the truth of the Gospel, and you will reap a crop abundantly, pressed down, running over in bushels, spilling on the ground, more than you could desire, more than you could ask for.

*Read the Biography of St. Sebastian Dabovich by following this link:

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