Tilling the Heart

   In the past few weeks, we heard of several more tragedies that seem to be a growing trend. Disaffected husbands, alienated, separated or divorced from their wives, decided to either kill their wife, her children or himself or a combination of the three.

A Woodbury father kills his two children, Jersey and Jace DeHaven, sets his motor home on fire before killing himself near the Grand Canyon on October 3rd.

On the same day, a husband shoots his ex-wife, Stephanie Jaeb, in the parking lot of her St. Louis Park employer.

A man, Scott Dekraii, killed his ex-wife, Michelle Fournier, and seven other people the hair salon she worked at in California on October 12th.

Just a year ago, on this same Sunday, I mention in my sermon about a 14 year old boy killing his 15 year old girlfriend and then himself.

What on earth possesses people to do such horrible acts? Well, we hear about bitter divorces, custody battles over children, addiction issues, money problems and the like. Of course, there are no reasons that justify these heinous acts of murder but we must seek to understand how they can happen and what influences people to do this.

   Rage, jealousy and revenge would be obvious factors and they do relate to the themes presented to us in today?s Gospel reading from the Fourth Sunday of Luke 8:5-15. What do I mean? Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower, including where he casts his seed and what happens to that seed. Jesus then explains the parable saying the seed is the word of God and that the different locations are the various conditions of the heart (roadside, rocky ground, thorns and good soil). He even likens the good ground to a ?noble and good heart? (v.15).

   In our bible study last Tuesday we talked about what makes good soil/ground including water and nutrients. However, one of the most important aspects of creating good ground where a seed can take root and grow is tilling. Tilling is the breaking up and turning over of the soil which helps to soften and oxygenate it. In the process of tilling one can also find and remove roots and rocks hidden below the surface. In my own yard, I finally figured out that grass will not grow over a tree root buried just beneath the surface.

   How does tilling relate to our heart? Our heart is of utmost important in the spiritual life. Jesus said in Mark 7

20And He said, ?What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within and defile a man.?

Our heart requires tilling. It requires us to pickup a shovel and start digging to find out what is inside. And in order to do this, we need to first pay attention to the other soil conditions that Jesus mentions in today?s parable. We cannot always be by the roadside, on the fast lane of life, too busy to stop. We must take time each day in prayer to be silent and reflect on our interior life. In addition, we must be careful not to put ourselves carelessly in the way of rocky temptation, carelessly testing the abilities of our guardian angel. Finally, we cannot constantly seek the thorny cares, pleasures and riches of life. We must fast from continual consumption and material acquisitiveness in order to become aware of the poverty within our heart. If we can take care to avoid these unfavorable soils, then we are better able to take the next step, that of self-examination. King David mentions self-examination, guided by God:

Psalm 26   2Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; Try my mind and my heart.

Psalm 139   23Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me, and know my anxieties;

The author of Hebrews speaks directly to image of the seed as the word of God and self-examination:

Hebrews 4   12For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

   In our bible study we also discussed the necessity of self-examination in preparation before confession, using the guides found in the back of most Orthodox Prayerbooks. These guides typically take the person through the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes, asking specific questions that we should seek to answer as honestly as possible. Each question is like taking a hoe/rake/shovel and plunging into the soil of heart. The question is, when we find a root or a rock, what do we do with it? Do we say it?s too deep or it?s too big or it?s too painful and then just bury it again? Or do we have the courage to work hard to remove it? Are we willing to get other tools like a saw or loppers to cut through it? Do we trust someone else enough to ask them to help us lift it out because it?s too heavy for us by ourselves?

   I suspect that these murderous men that we just heart about allowed themselves to be taken over, to be possessed by the thoughts that entered their mind that gave seed to the passions of their heart. Hear what Book of Proverbs says about this:

Proverbs 14   30A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones.

Proverbs 18   12Before destruction the heart of a man is haughty, And before honor is humility.

Proverbs 21   4A haughty look, a proud heart, And the £plowing of the wicked are sin.

Proverbs 28   14Happy is the man who is always reverent, But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.

   It?s unfortunate that these men did not give these thoughts and pains over to God. King David once let his passions rule him when he had the husband of the beautiful woman, Bathsheba, killed in battle so he could marry her. Likely, after they lost the child conceived between them, he knew the importance of turning his heart over to God first before acting on any thoughts or feelings. David said:

Psalm 4   4Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still.

Psalm 51   10Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 34   17The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears, And delivers them out of all their troubles. 18The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Psalm 141   4Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, To practice wicked works With men who work iniquity; And do not let me eat of their delicacies.

Psalm 143   4Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart within me is distressed.

John the Evangelist summarizes this also when he wrote:

John 14   1?Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.

   What these men needed, what we need, is to forgive our enemies. They obviously saw their spouse as the arch enemy and they used their children and other people and destructive means as pawns in order to destroy their enemy. Only forgiveness can melt away and dissolve hostility. However, it?s difficult to forgive when pride and envy have gripped our heart causing us to feel comfortable in our rage and justified in meeting out vengeance. In fact, if we don?t allow God and His precepts to enter our hearts, then we will feel empty and that vacuum will suck in any kind of feeling, even bad ones, in order to feel at all.

   Let us close with another passage from Proverbs 4   20My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. 21Do not let them depart from your eyes; Keep them in the midst of your heart; 22For they are life to those who find them, And health to all their flesh. Finally, let us remember the words of Christ in making clean, good soil from Matthew 5   8Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. Amen!