Fr. Luke A. Veronis serves as the Director for the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, pastors Sts Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Webster, MA, and teaches as an Adjunct Instructor at both Holy Cross and Hellenic College. He also taught at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (2005-2008). Fr. Luke has been involved in the Orthodox Church’s missionary movement since 1987. Together with his family, he served as a long-term cross-cultural missionary in Albania more than 10 years (1994-2004), and as a short-term missionary in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana for 18 months (1987-91). Since 2010, he teaches a summer missions class which he takes to Albania for two weeks every year. He has led four mission teams from his church to build homes for the desperately poor through Project Mexico. His published books include Go Forth: A Journal of Missions and Resurrection in Albania (2010); Lynette’s Hope: The Witness of Lynette Katherine Hoppe’s Life and Death (2008); and Missionaries, Monks, and Martyrs: Making Disciples of All Nations (1994). Fr. Luke teaches the Preaching course at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, as well as numerous classes in Missiology and World Religions. His weekly sermons since January 2013 can be found at http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/ Fr. Luke is married to Presbytera Faith Veronis, and they have four children.
Every day has 1440 minutes. If we sleep eight hours a day, that leaves us awake 960 minutes a day. What do we do with those minutes? How do we pass the precious time that God gives us each day of our lives?
Of course, many of us may work eight hours or more each day, so that stills leaves us with around 500 minutes, or eight hours each day to ourselves. How much of this time do we use to cultivate an intimate relationship with God?
Many of us spend hours and hours on the computer, watching TV, or on our phones? And how much time do we pass in superficial conversation, or in gossip and negative talk? Then there’s the hours we give to our hobbies and pleasure-seeking activities?
In other words, each day God gives us a precious gift – 1400 minutes of life. He then gives us the freedom to do whatever we want with that time. As Christians, however, we must ask ourselves, “What are we doing to use that time wisely? Are we being good “stewards” or administrators of this sacred gift of time? What are we filling our minds and lives with each day, and what are we cultivating within our spirit?
We who profess a love for Jesus Christ and His Church –do we find 30 minutes a day for concentrated, intense prayer and conversation with God? What about 20 minutes? Or even 15 minutes?
Imagine, we are awake for 960 minutes a day, and many of us struggle to find even 15 minutes to stand before God and fill our souls with his presence.
Along with prayer, what about cultivating something holy, pure and Christ-centered within our hearts? Through spiritual reading? In fellowship and conversations? In our actions with others? What do we do to dwell with God, and cultivate His Spirit in our lives?
Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us of the many obstacles which hinder us in our walk with our Lord. The Gospel describes the word of God as a seed that the Lord wants to plant in our hearts. Jesus Christ wants to cultivate within us His love, his peace, his joy, his faith, his hope, his abundant life! Unfortunately, while he tries to plant these seeds within our hearts, the devil obstructs and hinders the full growth of this faith!
The Gospel describes this battle of the heart as God’s word falling on four types of soil. One soil is so hard that it doesn’t even allow the seed to penetrate the ground. Another soil is shallow dirt with a layer of rock underneath it. The seed can penetrate this soil, but then has nowhere for its roots to grow. And with shallow roots, the young plant quickly withers. A third soil is filled with weeds. Once again, the seed takes root, and a plant of faith even grows, but the weeds and thorns quickly strangle and kill the young plant. The fourth soil is rich, nutrient-filled dirt. Here, the seed not only takes root, but bears a blossoming tree that offers sweet and healthy fruit!
As Jesus told this story, He obviously wanted his listeners, many of whom were farmers themselves, to make the correlation between the type of soil needed for a seed to bear fruit, and the type of heart needed to accept His word and bear fruit of an authentic Christian life.
Jesus Christ promises us an abundant life – a life of soothing love, a joyful peace, an unconquerable hope, and an invincible faith that overcomes all that life brings. This is the fruit that Christ wants each one of us to bring forth in our own lives. Unfortunately, we don’t all experience this dynamic type of Christian life. Why? What hinders this fruit of faith from growing within us?
Well, we should remember that just as Christ is actively trying to plant seeds of faith within us, the devil, whom the Bible describes as a roaring lion prowling about, is working nonstop against us. While God plants the seeds of faith, Satan tries to take them away. And if he can’t hinder them from penetrating our hearts, he then tries to suffocate the seeds of faith before they can bear fruit in our lives!
For those of us who are in Church today, we’re most likely not like the first type of soil that is hard and unresponsive. Considering that each of us comes to Church, I would say that we have allowed some seeds of faith to enter into our heart. We obviously believe something, and consider ourselves followers of Christ and His Church.
We must take care, though, and not imagine that this automatically means we will bear the fruit Jesus desires. When Satan doesn’t hinder the seeds of faith from entering our hearts, he advances to his next plan, which is keeping the roots of faith from delving deep into our souls.
How does he do this? By filling many minutes of our lives with superficial things – with meaningless conversation, irrelevant and time-consuming actions, constant noise and plenty of busyness. By filling our lives with things not concentrated on the Kingdom of God, we begin to live our lives at a shallow level. The word of God, which is something serious, authentic and profound, cannot grow any roots in our soul if we don’t take the time to meditate upon serious and deep issues. If we don’t allow deep roots of faith to develop, the initial joy of the good news will slowly fade away.
For people who do think at a deep and serious level about their faith, the devil has another method to sidetrack us. He fills our lives with many cares, anxieties, and even serious problems which may make us forget about the word of God. Or, he fills our lives with many comforts and pleasures of life, which anesthetize us from the vigilant call of carrying a Cross and offering our lives for the Kingdom of God. As we enjoy pursuing these temporary comforts and pleasures, we often don’t even realize it, but we no longer have time to cultivate the holy seeds of faith within our hearts, and even those seeds that have roots bear no concrete fruit in our lives. They get squeezed out by our daily, comfortable lifestyle.
Remember we each have 1440 minutes in each day. Think of the countless ways that Satan fills so many minutes of every day with shallow things, with temporary pursuits of pleasure and comfort, with even things contrary to the Gospel.
How often I hear people say, “I just can’t find time to pray, or read the Bible every day. Or Sunday morning is the only day I can sleep in, that’s why I can’t get to Church every Sunday. Or other such time-related excuses for not helping the needy, visiting the lonely, or using our talents for the glory of God. Of course, we fool ourselves because we all have the same amount of time that the saints themselves had – 1440 minutes every day. Our problem obviously isn’t time, but priorities. We have other interests and desires that are more important than God, and thus we find no time for holy things!
Of course, today’s Gospel does point out that some seeds of faith fall into rich and ready soil – in hearts that nourish and cultivate God’s spirit within them. People with such hearts find time in the morning to pray to God. They make time throughout the day to read the Bible, and fill their minds with holy thoughts and words. They guard their conversations and actions, so that they will be serious, meaningful and sacred. They pause throughout the day to talk to God. And they always end their day, remembering the Lord, thanking him for the day that passed and asking for his mercy for their sins and shortcomings. Such people follow St. Paul’s advice to the Christians in Philippi, “Whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, good, virtuous and praiseworthy, meditate on these things.”
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Our Lord Jesus Christ tries to plant the seeds of faith in the soil of our souls. How do we receive it? Are we the hard soil, that doesn’t even allow the seed to penetrate our hearts? Are we shallow soil that allows no deep roots to develop? Is our soul filled with too many other things, including the cares and pleasures and comforts of life, which choke the roots and never allow them to develop into plants? Or are we the good soil, which is prepared to receive the word of God, and allows this word to grow and bear abundant fruit in our lives?
We each have 1440 minutes every day. Let us use our time wisely, cultivating the soil of our soul, and allowing the seeds of God to take root, to become a strong plant, and to bear rich and plentiful fruit in our lives that will glorify His name!
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