Yesterday I gave my first sermon, at St. Vasilios in Peabody, MA. This is the approximate text - it is what I had on paper, which isn't quite what I said since I wasn't actually reading, but it should be close enough.To Whom Does the Gospel Speak?He who has ears to hear, let him hear
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. The Lord often spoke in parables and he often concluded them with the somewhat mysterious "he who has ears to hear, let him hear." But who has the ears to hear and what does it mean to hear?
I love playing basketball and last year I played on the Holy Cross team in the Boston Metropolis YAL. My wife came to a number of our games and was our most ardent supporter. I was told that she was cheering extremely hard at each of these games. After a particular game, she came and asked whether it did any good to cheer for me (everyone else had thanked her for cheering for them). I, rather incredulously, asked "Were you shouting my name?" You see, when I started playing, my sight and my hearing stopped at the edge of the court. Presumably I "heard" my wife cheering (everyone else in the building did), but I did not truly "hear" her; I concentrated so hard on the game, that I became oblivious to everything else.
In much the same way, we come to Church on Sundays and can easily be oblivious to what happens during the worship service. We hear the hymns - maybe we even sing them - but often do not realize what we say through them. We hear the Gospel and promptly forget what it was about, even though the Evangelist speaks directly to each one of us through the Gospel. Human nature has not changed in two thousand years: we still worry about tomorrow, we still wrestle with anger, sexual desire, and envy, we still search for happiness. Then, now, and forever, God speaks to each of us through the Scriptures, promising us eternal life. In return, we need to open up our hearts to Him, to listen in the deepest sense of the word, and to respond to that offer with love.
Thus, when each of us hears the parable of the sower, each is called to sincerely look into his heart and answer the question "What sort of soil am I?" Do I hear God's word but not take it to heart? Do I rejoice while I am here, but forget about God as soon as I exit the church building? Do I try to hold on to the word, but get overwhelmed by life? Or do I hold on to God's word as the pearl of great price?
These are difficult questions to answer sincerely, because we live in a society in which everything tends to be compartmentalized. We are our true selves when we are in Church, but we feel pressured to become actors playing many parts: parent, child, businessman, doctor, Christian believer and so forth. However, as Orthodox, this compartmentalization is not natural. God created us whole; He united body and soul, and man became a living being. To oppose the soul to the body creates a division which was not placed there by God. If body and soul are separated, the fullness of man is lost. This premise is also true in terms of our lives: fragmenting our lives, we lose the fullness of life, which Christ brought to us and which the Church presents to us.
The Church sows the seeds of God's love in our hearts with every service and with every prayer. She comes to us and offers us living water for these seeds so that they can grow and bear good fruit in our lives. We come to her to receive that water, to be fed by the Pure Body and Blood of our Savior. And when we are fed we grow until we can share in the work of the sower. For this is part of our calling - layman and clergy alike - to sow the seeds of faith in the world. We are not all called to be ordained priests, we are not all called to be preachers, but we, each one of us individually, are called to be holy and to shine Christ's light into the world.
If we love our fellow man even when he cuts us off in traffic, if we can say a prayer for the neighbor who is chatting next to us during the Liturgy, if we can put our children to sleep with an "Our Father" then we are shining God's light in the world and we are co-sowers with God. Before we can do that, however, we have to prepare ourselves to receive God's word. We have to open our hearts and let God's word take root in them firmly.
Opening our hearts to God and keeping them open is not easy, but Christ did not give us the easy way. He gave us Himself: the Way, the Truth, and the Life and He promised us that through Him we have eternal life. In response, He asks us to listen to His words and put them to work in our lives as much as we are able to. He assured us that He would be with us until the end of the age and told us that if we knock, the door will be opened to us. So let us knock by placing God before us a little more each day.
If we forget about God between Monday and Saturday, let us put in our planners five minutes of prayer each day. If we pray for five minutes, let us read the Scriptures of the day. If we read the Scriptures, let us think of what our Lord says to each of us individually through them. Who has ears to hear? Each one of us, if we allow ourselves. What does it mean to hear? To listen to the Lord's words as He speaks to us in the Scriptures, to take them into our hearts and apply them in our daily lives. May we do this in patience and humility and to the glory of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.