Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tending the Garden of Our Souls, Sowing Seeds for Christ

Driving around town you can’t miss the fact that it is time to pick the cotton. Growing up in the North I never knew what cotton looked like in the fields let alone how it was picked so I was very excited last year when we moved to the South and I saw my first cotton field. It was all white like fresh snow one day and the next…it was gone. Only large bales of cotton sit in the field waiting to be transported to the mill. This year I’ve been watching the fields along Ebenezer Road and noticed something different about the cotton, it was small and the field was covered with weeds. Then I saw the cotton fields outside of Darlington and the cotton was huge without a single weed. In the fields covered in weeds you couldn’t even see the cotton but in the fields without the weeds, it looked like fresh snow which is what I remembered from last year’s crop. Then I thought about my garden at home, which right now is covered in weeds and I realized weeds and gardens don’t mix. A good crop needs fresh fertile soil without weeds.

And then it hit me. This morning’s Gospel is about gardens and weeds. The Gospel says, “A sower went out to sow his seed…” (Luke 8.5ff) The Lord tells us that this parable is about the Word of God, Jesus Christ, being sent by the Father to all of us. Each of us hears His Word. “Those by the wayside are the ones who hear, then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the words with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8.12, 15) All dirt, whether it has been trampled down by traffic or covered with weeds begins as good rich fertile soil, and those of us who like to garden know, that it takes effort and constant attention to keep weeds from growing in our garden. It takes regular maintenance to keep the ground soft and not packed down by the weather.

The same thing can be said about our soul. Each of us was created by God with a pure innocent soul and without proper attention our soul can become hardened by the pressures of life. Like the cotton fields along Ebenezer which are covered with weeds our soul can become covered by sins which hide the fruit we are trying to produce for God. And just like a garden takes work, so does our soul. Gardeners have special tools to help them with weeds and rocks and hard packed dirt and there are tools for our soul too: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, Confession and Holy Communion. Each of these tools is needed to keep our hearts and soul rich and fertile so we can bear fruit to the glory of God. Without a hoe, a spade, a pitch fork, water and even some good old spring cleaning, a garden will remain a field of weeds. Without our spiritual tools, our souls will remain hard and without fruit.

It doesn’t take much time in the garden before you realize that if you let the garden go too far, it becomes harder and harder to produce a good crop. When you spend time in the garden every day pulling weeds and caring for your crops they will grow large and full and produce lots of good fruit. The same is true with our soul. If we allow sins to continue they can grow out of control and take over our lives. Many people suffer with different types of addictions: food addictions, chemical addictions, behavioral addictions, emotional addictions. These all share the same reality. The longer we continue in our addictive behavior the harder it is to quit.

When a garden has gotten out of control sometimes it’s easier to just “till it under” and start over. Every season we till the weeds and old crops under and start our new crop in the fresh fertile soil. When our souls have become covered and overgrown with sin we can also start over. When we go to Confession with our Spiritual Father we ask God to forgive us for the sins we have committed and He always does. All sin is forgiven by God when we ask Him. The only sin that God does not forgive is the sin that we do not ask forgiveness for. After Confession with our Father Confessor our soul is clean and fertile and ready to receive the Word of God and bear fruit in our lives. Just like a garden needs to be turned over ever season, we need Confession every season.

A good garden requires constant working of the soil and plants to produce a good crop and so does our soul. With prayer, fasting and almsgiving we work the soil of our soul to keep it fresh and without sin. When we fast, say the Fathers of the Church, we cannot want. When we do not want, we cannot be selfish. When we are not selfish, then we can be charitable to others. With prayer our Lord reveals to us through His Word, Holy Scripture and the Church, how He wants us to live. Do we remember the words of Christ last week? “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return.” (Luke 6.35)

Isn’t it easier to keep weeds out of a garden than to remove them once they have taken over? The same is true for our souls. Nobody can deny it is easier to not begin a sinful behavior than to stop once it becomes a habit. Which is easier: to not smoke or to stop smoking after twenty years? And the longer someone smokes the harder it is to quit. When we see a weed it is better to remove it than to allow it to grow and the same goes for our soul or we risk having no fruit in our lives. Listen again to what Jesus says, “Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and our choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity.” (Luke 8.14)

Of course no garden will grow, no matter how much work we do, unless it receives water. Without water there is no life and without Holy Communion, the Eucharist, there is no life. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6.53) No matter what we think and no matter what we have been told in the past we cannot live without receiving Holy Communion…often. I hear all the time, “Father, I was taught you should only receive Holy Communion four times each year.” This is wrong. What would happen if we only ate four times per year? Well….we would never live to eat a second time; that’s for sure. If we wish to live then we must receive Holy Communion often.

The ancient Church, with the guidance of the Holy Apostles who walked and talked and ate with Jesus Christ, knew very well what Jesus Christ said. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” (Acts 2.42) The Holy Apostles taught, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death; and between the two ways there is a great difference.” (The Didache)

The Apostles taught that prayer, fasting, almsgiving, confession and Holy Communion were required in order to follow the way of life. If we want to be good gardeners we would follow the advice of a good gardener. If we want to be followers of Jesus Christ and become “sons and daughters of the Most High,” (Luke 6.35) then surely we would follow the advice of His Holy Apostles who were found worthy “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.” (Luke 8.10)

Only one question remains: Do we want our souls covered in weeds so we can’t even see the fruit, or do we want to have clean fertile soil so we can “bear fruit with patience?” If we want to bear fruit in our lives we must follow the teachings of the Holy Apostles and use the tools of the Church: prayer, fasting, almsgiving, Holy Confession and Holy Communion. After all we’re not just picking cotton, we’re becoming children of God.

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