A Homily for Sexagesima
February 16, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Luke 8:4-15
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our Strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning I want to tell you the story of how I became a Christian, because once, almost twenty years ago, someone tossed some seeds, and one landed in my heart. This seed changed my heart, turned me away from a worldly life, and redirected me towards Christ. I want to tell you this story in part because I think we can live a faithful life, we can continually cast the seeds of the gospel, and we can feel as though nothing we have done makes a difference, but we may never know where a seed has landed and how the Holy Spirit has used it to foster in someone a new life.
I also want to tell you it so you understand my heart as a pastor better, my heart as your pastor and priest. When I first became a deacon or perhaps shortly before that I spent the weekend with a friend and mentor of mine. We sat on his porch in Waldoboro, Maine chatting about life and hopes and dreams. During that weekend, he asked me “Ian, why do you want to be a priest?” there are few questions I have known the answer to more intuitively than I knew in that moment, and I what responded with is what I hope my life has been shaped around, I desire to be a priest in order “to make and grow Christians.” It is my desire because I know the difference Christ has made in my life – I hope I can point those who I’m called to serve towards him, towards knowing Him more intimately, towards a deeper relationship with the one who came and died for our sins, and set us free from the dreadful death of the world.
But back to how I met Jesus – there are two things you should know about me – first I have struggled with depression my whole life – I remember one day when I was seven, wondering and thinking, perhaps 8 will be better. Like other things – this isn’t something I talk a lot about, but it has been something that has propelled me into the arms of Christ – over and over again.
Secondly, I grew up nominally Roman Catholic. What this meant was when we were home my mom and I went to church, I remember being jealous of my cousins who were taught the Lord’s prayer. I remember my devout Roman Catholic grandfather being upset that I didn’t know the sign of the cross. Religion was something we did when it was convenient, but not something that was discussed freely at home.
But now to meeting Jesus: my freshman year of high school my family and I spent a year traveling – we visited Nova Scotia, the eastern seaboard of the United States, and the Bahamas. It was an incredible gift that my parents gave me, to see the world slowly, to experience cultures outside of Maine, and to experience a different life than the vast majority of Americans get to experience. It was good.
But, as it turns out people change a lot freshman year of high school.
My two closest friends from middle school changed while I was gone – one discovered doing drugs was fun, and the other discovered that being mean to the dorky kid was a cathartic experience for him, perhaps, if it’s not clear – I should mention here that I was the dorky kid in question.
That year was a year of aloneness, wandering, sorrow, and of course deep, dark, depression. But something else happened – I applied for a leadership conference. All the sophomores had to apply, so it wasn’t anything special or to be honest, something I would have done on my own. I did my best to highlight all my qualities as a leader, and there weren’t many. I dutifully turned the assignment in and didn’t think of it again.
Until one day – I was called to the principal’s office with a popular, overachieving, somewhat meanspirited girl.
As I contemplated my story this past week, I couldn’t help but think of her, and wonder how she is, and realize – this is the reason we pray for those who have wounded us. Those wounding words she’d thrown at me – those are the same wounds Christ has tended to over the years – those are the same wounds that made Christ irresistible to me. For he stood in contrast to her and so many others. It was the wounds I bore that drove me to the arms of Christ.
But – back to the leadership conference, by the providence of God I was selected to attend. Providence is the only reasonable explanation because I was certainly nothing that even vaguely resembled a leader in high school – I was cripplingly shy, nervous around people, and quite a loner.
But I attended, and it was there that I met two people who loved Jesus.
Until then, the idea of an imminent and loving God was completely foreign to me, the idea of having a relationship with Jesus made no sense, maybe I had seen stereotypes on TV. But, to know God, to walk with Him, that was not a reality I could imagine. But now I had met people who did.
Then summer came, and depression and loneliness came with it. Darkness swept over me, as it so often did.
And I started asking those nagging questions – what is the meaning of all this? Is there truth? Is there hope? Old familiar questions.
But this time – I had seen a great light in two beautiful people. I explored and dove into these painful questions – and again and again and again Jesus made sense, I saw Jesus was the answer.
My conversion to Christ has always felt like an intellectual ascent, that in Him is truth, and that he IS the truth – but as I look back nearly 20 years later – I think he was beaconing me, calling me to himself, something inside of me shifted, it felt intellectual at the time – but it was certainly spiritual as well.
There wasn’t a moment as some people experience, I didn’t pray the sinners prayer – but I know I started August 2001 agnostic and worldly – and I ended it a Christian, still a sinner, but desperately thirsty for the love that only Christ can quench and how I drank!
Seeds were cast, the sowers didn’t bother to ask “did it land on good soil or bad?” they simply cast, and kept going, kept sowing, kept shining, kept loving.
I was telling some people this story recently and someone asked if meeting Christ cured my depression
– the answer is no.
But it is in Christ that I find solace, that I find peace, that those dark and tumultuous storms of my youth are less dark, less tumultuous, and in the end – when they come, and they do, they always push me back to my saviors arms.
St. Paul writes about a thorn in his flesh that he asked God to take away and God said – my grace is sufficient – in this – I am reminded that God’s grace is sufficient. I share my imperfections with you – so you know that like you – I am imperfect, that I have walked where you are walking, and I hope that it encourages you and helps you to know that you are not alone in all of these, that you have a friend who has walked where you are, and has experienced Christ in dark times. My friends – you are not alone – Christ is with you and you have a Christian family who is with you.
But now what of our seeds and soil: Just as those who cast the seeds that landed in my heart – we have no idea where the seeds that we cast land – do they land on a hard heart or a soft heart? This is not ours to know. Do our seeds grow and blossom and produce beautiful flowers and more seeds? We may never know, we simply cast. Now, there is more to farming than simply casting seeds – but the immediate call of our lesson is to cast, and cast, and cast.
Jesus gives us two formulas for how to make disciples – first is what we read today – we go along in our several callings, doing beautiful works, glorifying God, and casting the seeds of the gospel upon the land. The second is that of the great commission – we are likewise called to go out making disciples and baptizing. To make a disciple is an active and intentional process, and so is casting seeds. But as we cast, we worry not what kind of soil it lands upon, at least not immediately.
Christ, again and again, criticizes his generation for being dull hearted, for being deaf, for never really understand what he is teaching. But Christ uses the underdogs, the outsiders, the unsuspected, the lowly fishermen, and the sinful tax collector, and the dirty prostitutes to reveal to them the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
This same criticism can be made for our generation – we are so hardhearted, sin is normalized, we prefer our own way to the Way of Christ, we do what is right in our own mind, and not only that but we celebrate it as a culture!
But Christ uses the dorky, lonely kid from Maine, the druggies, the outsiders, the arrogant, and rude, and unkind sinners and he changes their hearts and in this he reveals to us who will be broken for Him – the kingdom of heaven.
Cultural undertones haven’t changed much, and as such the truth of the kingdom of God remain unknown, unrecognized by the world.
But Christ unravels the parables mystery for his disciples, and they through Saints Luke and Matthew and Mark unravel it for us.
On one side there is the call from the parable to let the light of Christ shine through our lives – to both an intentional and a passive scattering of seeds – to a sharing a gospel with your life – both in words and deed.
In words – knowing how God has worked in your life and being ready, as I did this morning to give a testimony, to say – this is how God has worked, how God has healed me, how God has softened my heart. Being ready to share the light and joy of Christ.
But in deeds is as important – if you tell someone God loves them, if you say I am a Christian but then you are rude to your waitress, get visible mad at the person in traffic, if you are unkind to those around you – this is incongruent with the Christian life. No – the Lord is softening our hearts and as such we grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The fruit of the spirit manifest in a way to testify to the world what God has done in our lives.
And so knowing the right answers is good – but showing the love of Christ to the world around us is better – loving your neighbor, your friends, your family, your co-workers is as much a part of sowing the seeds that change hearts.
But there’s a third part to the sowing – prayer. It is not our job to soften hearts – yes our witness can make a difference in someone’s life, but it was God who made my heart soft, and it was God who planted the seed, it was God who tended to the young seedling, and nurtured it into a healthy plant, it is God who reforms me and prunes me and calls me back to him, it is God who convicts me, and encourages me and again and again, and again.
St. Paul writes about this. Yes various people do various things in the grow of Christians, one plants, another waters – but ultimately – it is God who gives the growth. So we pray – pray for our witness, pray for those whom struggle, pray for our loved ones who don’t know Christ. We pray constantly.
Now – there is a second side to this parable –it is a reminder of the necessity of tending to the soil of our own hearts. I want to be careful here – because we can easily become self-righteous or find our righteousness in our works. This is not what the Christian spiritual disciplines are, rather – they are a call to allow the spirit to reform our hearts.
People have suggested numerous disciplines – but these are some that are consistently cited as being important and central to our growth – privately – prayer, reading the word of God, and fasting, and as a community – corporate worship, participating in the Lord’s supper, and fellowship.
Privately – we are called to be constantly in prayer – we give God our joys, and sorrows, our hope and our disappointments. We are called to pray constantly.
We are called to be reading the word of God daily – to read His word is to hear his voice. It is amazing how often I have had struggles or question and the word redirects me, encourages me, and draws me nearer to Him and it is in reading God’s work we learn of His heart – and that the Holy Spirit is given words to form us.
We are called fast occasionally, but regularly. If you have fallen out of the tradition of fasting, I would encourage you to intentionally observe Anglicanism’s two days of fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. If you are over 72, you have a dispensation from fasting – but you can still moderate your food intake. Instead of eating big heavy meals, intentionally keep them simple that day. If you are under 72 and healthy, then abstain from all food for those two days – it might be hard – but it’ll be good. In your struggle, learn to depend all the more on Christ.
In community – in the body of Christ we are called to gather together to worship. Our time of corporate worship should be a priority for us. It is here that we are bound together, here that we learn together, here that we lay the foundations of our faith. The act of worshiping our Lord as a community is critical to our growth in Christ.
We are called to break the bread of the body of Christ, and to drink the wine of his blood, and we do so regularly. Partaking in the sacraments provide us with a mystical bond with Christ, allow us to experience Him in a tangible way that we cannot otherwise do.
Finally, in fellowship – we meet each other, and walk with each other through our trials and hardship. I have a dear friend at the seminary, we’ve traveled together through Greek for nearly two years. On our breaks during class we take a 10 minute walk together, sometimes he shares his hardships, sometimes it is my turn. It is a good and intimate time of friendship. This past week as we walked he said something – I could have been offended or hurt by it, but I know he loves me – and he has earned the right to say harsher things than many – so instead it was as though his words untied a knot in my heart that had been tangled for a very long time, it was as though I was freed from something that had plagued. We need brothers and sisters in Christ who are willing to love us, to walk with us in our hurt, and to exhort us to a deeper relationship with Christ.
It is ultimately the Holy Spirit who tends to the nature of our heart – but developing healthy Christian habits or disciplines draw us closer and closer to Christ. These are not ways to earn salvation, but rather ways that God uses to make our hearts tender for the sake of the kingdom. St. Paul, again, writes “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” We work, but it is God working.
As Lent draws near, I would encourage you to reflect upon what ways have you fallen short? In what ways is your heart hard? Are there Christian disciplines that you need to grow in, of the sake of the kingdom?
This week I provided another half sheet that you may find helpful in this time of reflection, one side has the Christian disciplines I mentioned on it, and the other asks these questions – that God may reveal to each of us where our heart needs tending to.
It is my hope and prayer that this season of Lent would be one of deep intimacy with Christ for all of us, of knowing that He lives and He is with us. For just as he is saving a dorky, lonely kid from Maine and transforming him into His child, Christ is working in all who know Him.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.