Fr. Allen’s sermon from Sexagesima Sunday: “A Pre-Lenten Check-Up with the Gentle Doctor of our Souls,” Preached at St Michael the Archangel Anglican Church in Matthews, NC on February 12, 2023.
“What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Well, if anything is made clear by our gospel reading this morning it is that Jesus is a gentleman. He will not force himself upon anyone. In fact, He tells this parable in order to protect the free wills of those who are listening to Him, making sure that no one is converted unwillingly, or begrudgingly (v.10). After all, parables without an explanation are simply riddles, and while riddles make us think, they do not make us change.
You see while Jesus is the only one who can fill and transform our lives into what they were always meant to be, He only does this for those who feel their need and want for Him, first. Many people only come to Jesus for Him to fix their problems (their lack of fruit), but they are not willing to let Him transform them into the kind of people who will avoid those problems again in the future. Most people love their sin; they just want Jesus to save them from the consequences of those sins.
This is why any time we insist that a person’s present problem is a consequence of personal sin, they start sounding like The Who singing, “Who are you? Who, who, who who?” Who are you, to ask me that? Who are you, to point out that?
And again, this is why Jesus uses a parable; it side-steps all those things that would naturally trigger our defenses. He simply calls us to think about the nature of life. He doesn’t point fingers. He doesn’t shame. He doesn’t guilt. (He knows we will do that to ourselves). No, He simply tells a story to provoke a question, not a quarrel. And that question is: In light of this parable, will you ask, “Who am I?”
We don’t like that question, Blaise Pascal said all of humanity’s problems, stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone for one hour (We don’t like the company). But the disciples were willing to ask it and they gave Jesus their permission to begin His healing and transforming work on their lives. And the first thing Jesus does as the Great Physician is say, “Okay. Now sit still and let me listen to your heart: Is it beating in rhythm with God’s impulses or hardened to them; is it currently too weak for any lasting change; is it beating too fast and hard after a myriad different things; or is it fully alive to God’s will and working?”
Jesus first warns that there are some people whose hearts are completely out of rhythm with God – they see no value to Jesus whatsoever. These are the people of whom Paul says, “The god of this world hath blinded their minds, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them” (2Cor.4:4). They are those set in their ways, who already know what’s “best” for them; there’s no openness for anything new – like a hard-beaten path.
Secondly, He tells us about those whose hearts are too weak for any lasting change. “Life is in the blood,” and that life can’t flow because their hearts are too congested with all the old people, places, and things – old habits and hang-ups as we used to say. Jesus excites them, but there is not enough strength or committal in them to implement His teachings.
Then, thirdly, He tells us there are hearts that are overworked by the things of this world. They are like Siamese-twins born only with one heart; it can’t maintain full life for either. They are simply over-committed to the lies and lures of the world to experience Jesus’ abundant life. They will ask God into their lives, but they won’t dare give themselves to the life of God.
And finally, He tells us about those whose hearts are fully alive to God. They have let Him remove the old heart of hardened-stone; they have committed to His spiritual exercises for renewed strength; and they have pledge allegiance to His kingdom seeking to uproot any and all competing forces.
The condition of our hearts will be one of these four. So, will you be like the crowds to whom Jesus told the parable who heard nothing more than a riddle about winning some and losing some. Or, are you brave enough to sit at the feet of Jesus like the disciples and to ask, “Who am I in light of this parable, Lord?”
The Good News to all of this is that, no matter what the condition of our heart is, Jesus is the Great Physician; He can and will treat it. Last week we talked about certain motives which can prevent our joy and happiness in Christ and today we are warned about content and conditions of our hearts that will do the same. We all have something that needs attending to, so let us come to the throne of grace now for Him to treat them. For “The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seekers such to worship him.” Amen.