Archive for October, 2017

The Wasteful God

October 29, 2017

Waste! How we hate the word and the action. We work hard for what we have and we don’t like to waste it. So, we tell our children to eat what’s on their plate and not waste food; or we tell the wife to turn off the light when she leaves the room; or we hate the waste that is the hallmark of our local, state, and federal government. Most of all, it saddens us when it seems that someone has wasted the life given to them, and we even are haunted by the thought that maybe, in some way, we have wasted our life.

Now, I am not encouraging waste, but I want to share a simple, but profound insight with you: God is a wasteful God. This seems to be a terrible thing to say about God, but we find this truth portrayed in the parable of the sower which is found in St. Luke, chapter 5. Jesus explains the parable to his disciples. A farmer goes out to sow seed. Some falls by the wayside and is trampled down, some falls on rocky ground and dies for there isn’t any moisture, some falls among thorns and is choked out, and some falls on good ground and takes root and grows to be fruitful.

So, how is God wasteful? Well, the seed is the Word of God. The seed that falls by the wayside are people who hear the word, but like birds coming in and eating seed, Satan takes the seed away. The seed that falls on rocky ground are people who hear the word and even rejoice in it, but it doesn’t take root. When the heat of temptation comes, they wither and die. The seed that falls into the thorns are people who allow the cares, pleasures and temptations of life choke out the fruitfulness of the word. Finally, there is good ground and the seed is able to take root, grow and become fruitful. Jesus explains that the good ground are those who have an honest and good heart and bring forth the fruit of their faith with patience.

So, how is God wasteful? Well, think of this fact: there are four pieces of land, but only one plot is productive. That means that God wasted three-fourths of his seed. Three-fourths! What a wasteful God! Yet, the Father continues to throw out the seed despite the fact that three-fourths of it will not produce. This shows the absolute abundance of God’s grace to us.

To be honest, sometimes my heart is not receptive to the seed. Sometimes, I let the cares of life take away what was given to me. Sometimes, I’m just plain hard-hearted. Occasionally, my heart is soft and receptive and I prosper. Here’s the thing – whatever my situation, the wasteful God continues to sow his seed on me. I thank God that in his love for me, he never gives up no matter how much I waste.

I have heard confessions for 25 years. People come with all kinds of spiritual, physical and emotional situations and states. Often, because of habitual sin, folks are depressed or worried that their lack of progress has made God turn against them, or they are just completely unworthy. What can I say or what advice can I offer.  There is a theme that I work around all the time: trust in God’s grace.

The Saints convey this message all the time. The spiritual fathers counsel this all the time. They tell us to never despair and never give up, no matter what we say or do, or fail to do. They had a sense of the depth and scope of the grace of God and they bet their life on it.

Let’s work hard to make the ground of our hearts soft, and tend the plants of grace with patience. Maybe we should take the hint and become like God -wasteful in the love we show to our spouses, to our children, to our neighbors, to our brothers and sisters in the Faith, and to the world.  Even more, may we never believe that our sins are greater than God’s grace, for this will certainly choke out the seed. Remember and cherish this word: God is wasteful!

Thank God!

The Unavoidable Law of Life

October 6, 2017

(though this is written for the Church, the law of life applies to all, believers and non-believers)

Here is an easy rule to understand: “He who sows sparingly shall reap sparingly; and he which sows bountifully shall reap bountifully.” St. Paul will also summarize: “As you sow so shall you reap.” We might put it this way: you only get out what you put in. Now I understand that we have had several decades of TV preachers who have taken these ideas to proclaim what we might call the “prosperity gospel.” They have used this idea as a fund raiser and it has been quite successful. Sadly, by focusing on money and the promise of a prosperous lifestyle, they have missed the real richness of these words.

Now let me speak as a man, though these ideas can apply to women as well. I have always been amazed how some men sow sparingly when it comes to their wives and children. Some men have been misers when it comes to love and affection. Men seem to believe that because they work and are faithful, and mumble a rare “I love you” that this should be enough for any woman. I have counselled with women who were starving to death for meaningful affection and conversation. I have known children who grew up with an emotionally distant Father whose attention was difficult to obtain or was unwanted because attention was not given “with a cheerful heart.” There are even some Orthodox men who do not pray with their wife and children. Sadly the day comes when these men are surprised by broken marriages and distant children who leave the Faith. Then the law becomes clear to them: what you sow is what you reap. If they had sowed abundantly, they would have had abundance in their family life and in their emotional, spiritual, and intimate life.

As a priest, I have been amazed at how some people sow so sparingly when it comes to the health of their own soul.  We believe because we are Orthodox and have been baptized that this should be enough for the Lord. We are spiritual misers. Prayer is an occasional nod to God. The Bible is rarely read and never studied and we know little or nothing about the Saints who surround us. Confession is rare and when done is poorly done. We do not prepare for the Eucharist and fasting is haphazard. Sadly, when the day of testing and adversity comes, there is no strength of soul. We are saddened at our weakness. The law then becomes clear to us: what you sow is what you reap. Had we sowed abundantly in spiritual things, we would end our days in spiritual fatness and no adversity would be able to overcome us.

I have been amazed at how little we sow in each other. We believe that because we see each other on Sunday, it should be enough to call ourselves “the Church.” Clearly, the Eucharist is, among other things, an expression of our unity. How then is this unity lived out on a daily basis? Imagine that on the day of your marriage, you turned to your spouse and said that from that moment on, she would only see you every Sunday! Oh, Sunday time together would be happy, but that would be all. How long would this marriage last? So, let me ask: when is the last time you had another Church member to your house for tea, especially those that you don’t know so well? When is the last time you saw a member under a burden and tried to shoulder that burden with them? Well, if I only see people once a week, I won’t know what they struggle with anyway. There are times when I need help, but there are no volunteers. Everyone is too busy. Then the law becomes clear: what you sow is what you reap. I sowed little in the lives of my brothers and sisters and I did nothing to strengthen the bond of love between us. Now there is little to reap.

I have been amazed at how little we sow in our Church. We believe that because we drop in a few dollars this is enough. After all, there are others who are better off financially, so let them carry the budget. We know there is a trapeza, but we bring no food. We know there is clean up to do, but we are busy with our own affairs or have to leave early. We know that our children need a Sunday school, but we couldn’t volunteer to help with that. There are bathrooms and floors to clean, but that is not for us. Though it is better to give than receive, we come to Church not to give, but only to receive. We sow sparingly and then wonder why our Church seems small and weak. We face the law: if you sow sparingly, you will reap sparingly. If we would sow abundantly, our Church would grow in abundance.

I would add one other thing. If we sow little back to the world, then we will never know abundance. By this I mean that we as a Church must engage with the people around us. What Jesus said to the disciples applies to us: we are to be fishers of men. Any Church that does not cast its nets into the world will surely perish. We can be misers who think that all of this is just for us, and if anyone just happens to walk through the door, then good for them. No, this mentality is called “fortress Orthodoxy.” We raise our flags, but do not venture out as we wait for the casualty reports. No, we cast our net by being living witness present among the people of the community around us. We do this by making ourselves known by community events, acts of charity, and being where the people are in soup kitchens and ball games and work. If we sow sparingly in this, we will reap sparingly. We will be shocked or saddened when the doors close.

Perhaps all of this seems a bit “preachy.” Well, blame on St. Paul. I would only add what he felt obliged to add. All of this is to be done, not out of compulsion or obligation, but with a cheerful heart. How do we get a cheerful heart? In part because we do all of this not to be successful or even happy (as the world thinks of what happy means). We do it for Him which means we do it for love. Wherever there is real love, there is real joy. It is true that if we cast our nets, someday the number of fish we catch will amaze us. If we sow well, someday we will feast with those who sit in the Kingdom of God where the sound of their festival is never ending.