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The Ground of Your Heart
& the Power of Sin
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Sexagessima - 2/27/11 Is. 30:8-21; Ps. 71; 2 Cor. 11:19-31; Lk. 8:4-15
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus describes four different conditions of the heart, using the image of planting seeds to make His point. The seed, Jesus says, is the Word which God is planting in our hearts. The issue is: What sort of soil have we in our hearts to receive the seed?
First, there is that which fell by the wayside, and so was trodden down by the passers by, and the fowls of the air see an easy meal and devoured it. Those seeds, Jesus says, point to a person who is not protecting the seed, so it gets trampled or eaten by the birds, that is, the devil takes advantage of our carelessness when we receive the word of God and removes the seed. The seed needs to be protected and cared for, it needs to be watered and fertilized and protected from many things, such as from birds, being trod on, or from bad weather.
Secondly, some seed fell on rocky ground in which it could not send down roots to find water, so it starts up, but then withers away. Those seeds, Jesus says, are like a person who receives the Word with joy, but having no root, believe only for a while, but are then tempted by some distraction which they cultivate instead of the seed.
Thirdly, we have the seed which falls among thorns, which spring up and choke the growth of the seed. These seeds are sown in the hearts of persons for whom the cares, riches, and pleasures of the world mean more than the fruit of the Spirit, so they bring no fruit of the Spirit to bloom.
But fourthly, some seed falls on good ground, that is, in an honest and good heart, which, having heard the word, keeps it and brings forth the fruits of the Spirit in abundance. What could an "honest and good heart" mean except a heart that wanted the truth at any cost to itself? That openness to truth makes a good soil for planting the seeds of truth.
The parable is about the soil, the ground, more than about the seed itself. It is about the kind of ground in which the Word of God can (or cannot) grow and flourish. The parable gets us to examine the soil of our own hearts and to ask -- "What kind of ground does the Word of God meet when it falls into my heart?"
It is time to take ourselves by the scruff of the neck and take the parable seriously. Let's look at the possibilities before us. How might that parable apply to our lives in the here and now? We are in the pre-Lenten season, in which we are meant to prepare for walking with Jesus on His central mission in coming to earth, the last weeks and days leading up to His final trip to Jerusalem -- when He knew that He would be crucified, and that He had to do that for our good, not for His good. It would do us well to take seriously what Jesus is saying here.
The seed stands for the Word of God, that is the words, the thoughts, the commandments, the urgings, the rebukes, the encouragements -- all to pick up our crosses daily and to follow Him. To follow Him. To follow Him....
We might ask, So just what is this ground? How does it get there? Can it be altered, improved? It if is bad ground, what do I do about that? How does one turn ground which does not receive the seed into good ground?
Well, we know what farmers do. They remove the rocks, they break up the ground, add fertilizer and mulch so that the ground will become looser and have nutrients for the seed. They may water it to keep it soft and moist.
Our spiritual ground is the ground of our souls. So how do our souls get to be a certain way? Why are some souls good ground for the Word of God and other souls not so good, even hostile? For the answer to that, we must put this all in the context of the doctrine of creation. We are created beings who participate in our own development. God does not just "create" us, and there we are. There is a long period, some 20 years of growth into maturity as men and woman of God. In that growth, we are co-creators of ourselves with God.
In our first year, for example, God gives us certain circumstances, certain conditions of our life, mostly to do with mother, and then we respond to those conditions. We might respond in a favorable way, a sense of joy, of feeling blessed, or we might respond negatively, retreating, or becoming hostile. Then God responds to our efforts, our first attempts to be a somebody, and we move onto a second year of our lives where we meet new kinds of challenges to which we respond. That happens in cycles, going back and forth between ourselves and God -- as we grow into adulthood. God does something and we do something, each adding another layer to our sense of being and of direction. That is how we grow.
Our goal, right from the beginning is to be a somebody rather than a nobody, to grow toward strength and capability, to grow toward relationship and belonging. It is all very primitive, of course, in the beginning. But we get more sophisticated in our search for selfhood and relationship as we move through, for example, the terrible two's in which we learn how to say "yes" and "no" appropriately. We learn that we have a freewill, that we can contradict those two Important People in our lives, our parents. We can say "no" to them, which we experiment with, perhaps annoyingly.
But that is one of the most important lessons we learn. We discover that we have a free will, that we can say either "yes" or "no", and that how we say those two words will have a lot to do with the kind of persons we become.
We learn also that there is a true and a false, that we can tell the truth or tell a lie, and that that also has a large impact on how we say "yes" or "no", and how our relationships develop. We then have Big Decisions to make -- to be truth-seekers and truth-speakers -- or not, which sets us up for all other decisions. By three years old we know those profound truths.
But this cycle of responses is vastly complicated by the fact that we, as infants and toddlers, are not yet aware of the real God, and we think, quite naturally, that our parents are God. We do not use the word 'God', of course, but we see them as omnipotent and omniscient, and as the source of our being and direction. So, at our most vulnerable age, we have fallen and defective images of God who do not relate to us as God Himself would, or only partially so.
With the best of human intentions, our parents make mistakes and can quite unknowingly cause us great distress and harm. My parents had read a book which said that you should pick up your baby only at set hours. Between those hours you do not pick up the infant when it cries because you might spoil the child.
That could not have been a thesis which was tested with any competency, but it was thought my many in the 1930's, including my parents, to be the summit of scientific wisdom for child-raising.
But the result on myself and my one-year older brother was very damaging. We both grew up emotionally withdrawn because we had learned the wrong lesson that -- we are "on our own". No one is going to come and help us. By the time my sister came along four years later, they had thrown away the book and were just raising children. She grew up much more open and relationship oriented. But for myself and my brother, the effect had already been deeply imprinted. It took both of us decades to sort that out and realize that there is more to life than "being on one's own", a very lonely place to be.
Being raised by fallen parents gets us off early on wrong tracks, with false and debilitating impressions about life, sometimes quite destructively. Much of the brokenness from which we need to be healed comes from such experiences. When we get bound up in such knots, repentance can be difficult and even impossible. And then the normal ways of spiritual maturity, such as reading the Bible, receiving the sacraments, hearing sermons, participating in Christian fellowship, may not work to set us free.
In such a case, we might need the help of a spiritual counselor for inner healing of the soul. God has ways of rescuing us.
So we are co-creators of ourselves with God, but the first God-figures we meet, our parents, are not the true God, and do not readily convey to us the true image of God into which we are to grow. That is much of the reason that we need to be "born again", that is, born into the family of God. Our human families are only, at best, an approximation of the real family of God. We must move from the place where our parents are as God to us to the place where God is our Parent, where we are both mothered and fathered by God Himself. Only God can do that perfectly.
God can then "re-parent" us, heal those broken images of mothering and fathering which we stowed on board our souls, thus setting us free to become the somebodies which God intended, His children, no longer the broken and twisted images of God which a broken and sinful world produces.
What I have described tells us something about how the soil of our soul is created, and something about why we are open (or not open) to the Word of God, the seeds. The difficulties are a witches' brew of brokenness and sin.
But the grace of God is not lacking. He made Himself known to me in very personal and vivid ways as I was growing up. We are not really alone and "on our own", God is looking for us more than we are looking for Him. And He knows how to plant the seeds of salvation, coming into that true selfhood, our childhood to God. The child of God is the real "somebody" in the world.
Even the most broken of us can make that fundamental decision to be a truth-seeker which is necessary to that long trek back to wholeness. So we are never stuck in total blackness, no matter how bad things may seem at a given time. When we become truth-seekers, He who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life can plant those seeds of life so that they will grow to full blossom and bear plentiful fruit.
That "dialogue of creation", as we might call it, going back and forth between ourselves and God, explains how the soil of our souls gets formed, and can tell us something about how to improve that soil. But first let us take a further look at how sin destroys the soil.
All sin is some form of idolatry. We live in the created order but do not acknowledge God as the creator in some aspect of our lives. We want something in the world more than we really want God. That desire may not be even conscious, it may be buried down deeply in our souls, out of sight of our conscious awareness. But God has given us ways of dealing with those hidden parts of ourselves.
In our broken states, we search desperately for something to soothe the loneliness, to sugar-coat the pain. We want to feel good. Paul described in Romans 1:18 ff. the process of idol worship forming in our souls. It begins with subverting the truth, the first casualty of which is that we lose sight of who is God and what He is like. So, having lost God, we begin worshipping the creation rather than the Creator. Then, with an inadequate God, we fall into compulsive and self-destructive behaviors.
Paul uses homosexuality as his example, but he could have used any sin which binds us. We will pick something which makes us feel good. There are many options. You can see why the fallen world is so obsessed with feeling good. It does not know how really to heal the hurt and loneliness, so it seeks what the world has to offer, but thereby only further entraps itself into the world's cycle of death. The more you get into a spider web, the more you get entrapped in it.
The brokenness is in our relationship with God and with one another. The healing must come from restoring those relationships, not from trying to feel good. If we seek good relationships, they will make us feel good. But if we seek to feel good, that will destroy the relationships and we will never feel good in any stable and enduring way. It will always be a chase after the wind. Having good relationships is the only way to have stable good feelings.
There are hundreds of things we idolize in that way, hundreds of things we might clutch and grasp to ease our dis-ease. We must be rough on ourselves about our idolatries or they will be rough on us in a terribly destructive way. Each of our idolatries is a substitute for God, a substitute for the real thing -- who we think to be either not there, or to be not interested, or hostile to us. We fear the real God because of our rebellion or our ignorance.
The typical things which we idolize are well-known: money, power, drugs, alcohol, fame and popularity. Substance abuse, such as alcohol, cocaine, or tobacco smoking can give us a short high, but it always fades, and in most cases affects us physically so as to create an addiction. We come to crave the item because our body now demands it. It becomes our comfy blanket. But it does not heal the real problem. It sugar-coats the problem and diverts you onto a rabbit trail away from the Kingdom.
Any addiction is a brokenness of our will. Our will becomes incapable of doing what we know is right -- just as Paul describes in Roman 7:5 "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."
And so any addiction, even small ones, will sap our spiritual strength and warp our sense of spiritual direction. There may be not a person alive who does not have some addiction. It does not have to be one of the well known addictions. It need be only some small thing that you count as more important than being a truth-seeker, or picking up your cross daily and following Jesus. Your little addiction will sap your spiritual energy and sense of direction. It will compromise the integrity of your salvation. You will erode your ability to be your real self in Christ and your ability to choose to follow Jesus on the journey to the Kingdom.
That is the cycle of death in which the world, the flesh, and the devil are entrapped. There is only one way out, repent of our sin, be healed of our brokenness, and follow Jesus.
That is where we are headed in Lent. We must prepare ourselves by learning the gift of repentance, the gift of being honest with ourselves about our sin life, about our unfit soil. The judgement of God is not an unfriendly thing for those who are honest. It is a huge relief that the truth is out, that we no longer have to hide and pretend, and that there is a cure for brokenness and forgiveness for sin. We can live in the Light.
Repentance means freedom. It creates a good and fertile soil for the Word of God to take root and flourish. As we develop more fertile soil for the Lord's seed, our lives, and this community of Christians, will become the living and effective witness to the power of God which the Lord can use to reach out to those around us.
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