18th Sunday of Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on Sowing Bountifully

We’re presented today with this elemental truth of the Gospel— “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly.” We’re called today to consider our attitude toward giving of ourselves, our abilities, our resources, to consider how much we give back to God from that which He’s so generously blessed us.

St. Paul challenges us in today’s Epistle to consider what we would call today our spiritual ‘investment’ in our own future. He does so, calling to mind a very simple image that we may take stock of our ourselves and our attitudes toward God. The image is a farmer sowing seeds. The imprudent farmer sows sparingly—only sowing that which he thinks is the bare minimum he can get by with to produce a crop—will suffer loss: bad weather, drought, a heat wave, pests, other unforeseen problems can devastate his harvest since he’s sown only sparingly, only the bare minimum. The prudent farmer, on the other hand, sows abundantly, more seed than just what he thinks he may need, knowing that some of the seeds won’t sprout, will be eaten by the birds, or will be taken by inclement weather. Yes, he pays more for those extra seeds, but sowing abundantly, he’s assured an abundance.

Likewise, what we ‘sow’ in our spiritual lives is a direct reflection of what we’re willing to entrust to God in terms of our time, talents, and treasures. But it’s never just about how much of ourselves we give, but also about the attitude towards God in which we give. God, we are told, loves a “cheerful giver.” (II Cor. 9:7). Ultimately, everything you and I have, is a gracious gift from God. The one who is thankful, appreciates this truth and is ready to experience more from God and grow in the knowledge and love of Him. He will, in turn, be a generous giver because in giving of himself, he learns trust God more.

Those who are satisfied with occasional church, who rarely pray, confess, or give of themselves through service to God are missing out on the blessings that God has for us as we entrust our gifts, talents, and treasure to Him. It follows that those who are sparing toward Christ and His Church with their gifts, talents, resources, are also those who struggle the most with faith and trust in God and His provision in their lives, both physical and spiritual. They struggle to understand God’s central place in their lives because they don’t realize essentially that everything they have is not their own, but that it belongs first to God and that our Christian life is sacramental in nature. Their heart is still not ready, being reserved toward God, and, therefore, their growth in the life of God, is stunted.

The attitude that says, I will give to God only the minimum I can get by with, also means that that heart is not yet ready to receive more blessings, the peace of God, joy, provision from Him who alone is worthy of our trust.
While warning us that those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly, St. Paul also assures us in the same Epistle that the inverse is also true: he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. This belief has been lived out in our Orthodox Faith since the beginning: it’s what we call “sacramental living.” A wonderful example of this is seen in our theology of the Eucharist we celebrate today: God enables us to grow the wheat and the grapes we harvest to make bread and wine. We offer these Gifts to the Lord in the Eucharist, “the thanksgiving,” as the service is appropriately called. God blesses and transforms our offered gifts into the precious and holy Body and Blood of Christ, the “Medicine of Immortality,” which furthers us in our spiritual healing even as it unites us with Him who is Eternal Life.

So it is with our giving to the Church: God enables us to labor, to be productive; we earn a wage for doing so and we give a portion, a ‘first fruit’ back to God to enable the provision and further the growth of His Church. We are not meant to give reluctantly or to give “whatever is left over at the end of the month.” Such is not “first fruits” giving. As in the Eucharist, God receives these gifts of thanksgiving from us and transforms them into spiritual blessings, providing for the ministries of the Church that feed our souls and furthering us in our communion with Him.

The standard of giving we’re given in the Old Testament is the tithe, ten percent. It is “the tithe” that St. Vladimir instituted as the standard of giving in the Church of Russia after his and the nation’s conversion. And so we see, that throughout the centuries, the tithe has endured as the standard. Yet, in the early Church, we see that many gave much more generously, so great was their faith. As one Father has said, in reality, the New Testament model is that we don’t give ten percent, a tithe, but rather that all we have belongs to God. Still, if everyone gave ten percent to the Orthodox churches across North America, imagine the well-spring of missions and ministries that could be established and expanded. Imagine the spiritual fruit in our own lives.

Though Christ God speaks repeatedly in the Gospel about money, its hold on us, its corrupting of us, so as to warn us and put it back into its proper place, our giving to God in the Church is never just meant to be about money. Instead, we’re also urged to view our time, our gifts and talents, our service to God, in this same sacramental way: all are part of God’s mercy and abundance towards us, all are part of how He has created us and called us. None of it is meant to be taken for granted, but rather, offered back to God in thanksgiving that He may deify us through these gifts and talents He’s entrusted to us in His love and mercy.

What we give of ourselves now impacts our future—just as we hear in today’s Epistle. We build on the foundation that Christ has laid for us in the founding of this local church, so that we can continue to grow now while also providing for the needs of all who come to be part of this church family in the future. This is part of our love for God and our neighbor.

In our own Mission, the opportunities are great to give of ourselves sacrificially and, in turn, to grow in faith, trust, and communion with God. Our Mission provides adult education for many in larger churches that do not have such opportunities. Just think how this mission can grow if we all give generously of the “first fruits” of our time, our talents, and our treasure to help provide for this church, which provides for our own spiritual needs and that of many others who avail themselves of our Bible studies and adult education, college ministry, worship, etc,

We sow now in Fall 2017 that our worthy ambitions can become a reality in the future, that we can continue to proclaim and live the time-less truth of Christ here in Annapolis, assured that God will take whatever we offer him with a grateful heart this harvest season, will bless it and give it back to us to further His ministry, to grow this church, and further grow us in faith.

So, today, I ask each of you to take a “Time, Talent, Treasure” card and begin over the next three weeks between now and our patronal feast retreat weekend, November 5, to prayerfully consider what God would have you give to support this Mission and her ministries. God promises us that no one who sows abundantly will be disappointed by His outpouring, just as St. Paul reminds us today: “Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God” (II Cor. 9:10-11).

Fr. Robert Miclean
Holy Archangels Orthodox Church
Sunday, 8 October 2017
Sowing Bountifully 3

Epistle: II Cor. 9:6-11
Gospel: Luke 7:11-16