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Homily for 11/9/08 - P21 - barriers to grace

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  • Fr David Moser
    Luke 8:5-15 In this parable of the sower and the seed we can find a description not only of the way that the Gospel is received by various people at various
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 9, 2008
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      Luke 8:5-15

      In this parable of the sower and the seed we can find a description not
      only of the way that the Gospel is received by various people at various
      times, but also we can see a description of some of the barriers to the
      Gospel in our own soul and how those barriers affect the working of
      grace for salvation in us. The first three scenarios where the seeds are
      imperfectly sown reflect upon three means by which the evil one seeks to
      rob each of us of the transforming grace which God so freely pours out
      upon us. First, the evil one seeks to distract us from the Gospel so
      that we do not even recognize its truth and power when it is applied to
      us and so it just sits inert not being received into the heart. Second
      the Gospel in us brings about conflict with the world and even fear that
      it will change our lives and thus the Gospel is made ineffective for its
      application is limited. Third we see the slow and constant pressure by
      the world to crowd the Gospel out of our hearts. These three barriers
      can be counteracted by nurturing three virtues which will act in defense
      of the soul: attention, courage and perseverance.

      One reason that we too often lose the effect of grace in our lives is
      due to inattention or even discounting the Gospel. Our thoughts are so
      scattered and our mind so distracted that even when it is right before
      us we miss the opportunity to acquire the grace of God. We see the poor
      and hungry and yet we turn away from them to something more
      “interesting” or comforting to the self without even considering giving
      to the poor, feeding the hungry or clothing the naked. We turn away even
      from the consideration of doing such a charitable work with thoughts
      about how that person might “misuse” our gift or how they are lazy or
      unwilling to work or some other rationalization as to why they have
      reached the state of begging on the street corner. By the time we have
      finished analyzing the reasons for their poverty, they are gone and no
      longer of concern. We have missed the opportunity for a charitable work
      and thus missed the working of grace in our heart simply by inattention.
      This is only one example of how the opportunity to embrace the life of
      Christ is lost simply because we do not see it. Another would be the
      trivialization of the Gospel. We can drive down the highway and see a
      billboard which offers a quote from the scripture. Instead of receiving
      that bit of truth with joy and meditating on it, we turn up the radio
      and think about how trite or foolish that billboard seems to us. Or
      perhaps we wonder about the “agenda” of the person sponsoring the
      message and why they feel the need to inflict their own spirituality on
      me. Or perhaps we just drive by without really noticing at all. If we
      had taken note of that message and had taken it as a chance to meditate
      on the mercy of God contained even in that little snippet of scripture,
      we would have provided a feast for the soul, but instead we pass on the
      feast and settle for the junk food of worldly distraction.

      The only way to change this is to train ourselves to be attentive to the
      grace of God which surrounds us and to become constantly mindful of the
      presence of God with us. We can learn to look for God’s grace and
      provision in every event of our lives. When you arise in the morning,
      remember the Resurrection for just as you arose from sleep and bed so
      our Lord arose from death and the grave; when you dress, call to mind
      how it is that God clothes you with righteousness; when you eat, recall
      how it is that just as you feed the body so also God feeds the soul. In
      each person you meet strive to see the image of God with which they were
      created no matter how hidden or distorted it may be. If the sun shines,
      recall the warmth of grace in the heart or the light of Christ which
      fills the world. If there are clouds and rain, then recall the grace
      which God pours out upon us constantly. When you see injustice or
      suffering, call to mind your own sinfulness and repent. When you see
      others who are joyful and happy, remember that your joy is in Christ. In
      every moment of your life, there is a bit of the Gospel that can be
      captured if you are attentive to finding it. Constant attention to these
      “bits” of the Gospel is what is required to take it in and not let it
      lie inert on the ground, only to be lost as it passes by unnoticed.

      Even when we do notice the Gospel around us and try to arrange our lives
      to live according to the grace that we have received, we will find that
      the life of Christ and the life of the world are often incompatible. Our
      Lord said that if we would come after Him then we must first deny
      ourselves, take up the cross and follow Him. Our own psyche, our inner
      desires and passions rooted deeply in the self push against the Gospel,
      preventing it from taking root. Sometimes we harden our own hearts
      preventing the grace of God from entering in because we want to preserve
      ourselves rather than deny ourselves. The constant bombardment of the
      senses with stimuli designed to inflame the passions and cater to the
      gratification of every whim of the self to which we are exposed on a
      daily basis is like the hot rays of the sun burning down upon the
      seedlings of grace. We are hungry and the burger stand is right here,
      but to find fasting food, we would have to take extra time and trouble.
      We may read the Gospel in the morning and wish to ponder on its truth
      during the day, but the constant noise of the radio, television and idle
      chatter around us drive away those grace bearing thoughts. We are faced
      with a moral choice and the impetus of the Gospel is compromised by the
      competing necessities of saving face or preserving our outward “image”.
      The constant bombardment of the world withers the shoots of grace which
      spring up in the heart, just as the heat of the sun withers the new
      shoots in the rocky soil.

      The simple remedy for this is courage. Courage to deny ourselves,
      courage to let the grace of God sink into the heart and begin to change
      us, courage to proclaim that we belong to Christ and not to the world.
      It does take courage to intentionally deny yourself and your own selfish
      impulses for this breaks down the stony defenses of the heart allowing
      grace to penetrate and put down roots in you. That grace will change
      you, it will have an effect on you that is transformational. It will
      begin to work in you to transform you away from the image of your sinful
      nature (the old man) and into the image of Christ (the new man). Such a
      substantial change at such basic level can be threatening (certainly it
      is threatening to the old sinful self which is being done away with as
      if on the cross) and therefore a bit frightening. In breaking down our
      inner defenses through self denial, we make ourselves vulnerable to the
      effects of grace. We know that the grace of God will change us if we
      allow it to work in us. To allow such a foundational change in ourselves
      requires courage, the courage to let down the defenses of the self and
      to allow the grace of God to penetrate even the deepest recesses of our
      self and begin to effect change in us. When this happens then the grace,
      which before was only on the surface, begins to put down roots and to
      grow and become strong thereby enabling us to withstand the constant
      onslaught of the world. The seedlings of grace, rather than withering in
      the heat of the world begin to draw upon the depths of the soul
      overcoming the pressures of the world and beginning to change us into
      the likeness of Christ.

      Once this work of grace in us is begun, we must persevere. Having
      breached the stony defenses of the heart, the grace of God will work
      more and more deeply in the soul. But still we must continue to feed
      that work with and ever increasing change in our lives. We have chosen
      to pursue Christ, we have denied ourselves and so broken the stony
      defenses of the self and we have even taken up the cross upon which the
      old sinful self is crucified. But we must continue to follow Christ. The
      world will continue to present us many distractions, competing interests
      and impulses which distract us from the work of Christ in us. These are
      the weeds which seek to take the place of Christ in us. There is always
      something that places demands on our time, clamoring to be more
      important, or more critical or more vital than our spiritual
      transformation. These competing interests suck up the time and energy
      that we would otherwise devote to our spiritual well being. We have to
      work to provide for our own needs and the needs of the family. We have
      social and personal responsibilities to friends, to spouses, to children
      that must be addressed. There are appeals for our time, energy and
      resources for any number of good causes. We have interests which we use
      for relaxation and entertainment that also pull at us constantly. All of
      these competing demands conspire to pull us away from the work of our
      transformation into the image and likeness of Christ and to devote our
      time and attention and resources elsewhere and make us too “busy” to
      become like Christ.

      In the face of all these demands, we must be persistent and persevere in
      the working out of our salvation. Some of these things can be assumed
      into that work (for example the obligations to spouse and family can be
      used as opportunities to do together some of those spiritual activities
      – to pray together and to attend the divine services together for
      example) while others must be relegated to second place. You must
      persevere in the face of all these distractions and never lose focus on
      what is most important, what is the priority in your life. Every day it
      is necessary to remember that all things are not of equal importance and
      to set priorities on what you do. The first priority should always be
      following Christ and the working out of your salvation and all other
      responsibilities and activities should then be subordinated to that
      first responsibility. The work of following Christ becomes the
      unalterable anchor or cornerstone about which all the rest of your life
      is organized. Every moment of every day you must persevere in the
      working out of your salvation, never letting anything else take its
      place as the central focus and organizing principle of your life.

      Here are three of the barriers to your spiritual transformation. First
      it is necessary to be attentive and to train yourself to notice the
      presence of God in even the smallest and most mundane aspects of your
      life. Second you must allow the grace of God to penetrate your heart by
      breaking up the stony barriers around your self. This is accomplished by
      self denial and taking up your cross. Third, you must persevere in this
      work, not allowing it to be crowded out by the busy-ness of life and the
      competing interests of the world. The work of your salvation must be the
      central focus and organizing principle of your life. If you accomplish
      all this, then the seed of grace in your heart will take root and grow
      and prosper and bear fruit abundantly in your life, changing you and
      transforming you into the image and likeness of Christ.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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