Growing in Spirit
by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts
May 23, 1999
Children's Sunday

Readings

Genesis 2:4-9 God plants a garden for Adam and Eve

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created:

When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, no vegetable of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up. For the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth, and there was no one to work the ground. But streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

The Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees to grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. He made the tree of life to grow in the middle of the garden, and also the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

Mark 4:26-32 Parables about growing seeds

Jesus said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like: Someone scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows. He does not know how it happens. All by itself the soil produces grain: first the stalk, then the head, then the head full of grain. But as soon as the grain is ripe, he goes in with a sickle, because the harvest has come."

Jesus continued, "What is the kingdom of God like? What parable will we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed that is planted in the ground. Yet when it is planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all the garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air come and make their nests in its shade."

 

Sermon

The Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees to grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. (Genesis 2:8, 9)

I know that our annual membership meeting was over a month ago, but I want to make an addition to my Pastor's Report--one had to wait until now: Our church has grown this year! We did lose one member: our dear friend Gladys Wheeler died in January and went on to her heavenly home. But last month Tammie Wilson was confirmed into our church; and today we celebrate the confirmation of three of our teens--Beki and Ben Phinney and Kristine Williams--into the membership of our church. Meanwhile, we are enjoying the presence of several new people in our services and activities.

It is easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what our church hasn't accomplished. It is easy to get stuck on our small numbers. But today is a day to celebrate what we have accomplished. Thanks to a dedicated group of teachers and parents, our Sunday School has had a wonderful year, with classes that both the children and the teachers have learned from and enjoyed. Our Youth League has continued sponsoring the popular weekend retreats, and our Youth Confirmation Class has led up to the happy event of today's confirmations.

Meanwhile, we have had an active year of programs serving our adult members and the people of our community. Invite-A-Friend Sunday energized our outreach efforts. The Women's Reading Group finally got going thanks to the leadership of Tammie Wilson, our Field Education student. The World Religions Series we hosted was a great success, attracting many visitors from the community. And now our Newcomers' Class on Swedenborgian Faith and Practice has gone beyond our original expectations for attendance.

All of these projects and activities of our congregation, and others that I could list as well, have added to the unmistakable feeling that we are a growing church! Our new steeple, which caused our church to grow forty feet taller this year, is symbolic of the way the rest of our church has been going. There is a sense of optimism and upward motion in our congregation--and that means even more than the fact that we have added to our numbers this year. Because as good as numerical growth is, the best kind of growth when we grow in spirit!

This is what both of our Bible readings are all about. In the story of the Garden of Eden, the Lord God "made all kinds of trees to grow out of the ground--trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food." We can think of our church, and our own spiritual selves, as a tree. We may not grow very fast. But like trees, we can add a little bit each year, growing slowly, steadily, and solidly. That is the kind of growth that lasts.

The roots that feed this kind of growth are the roots of our groundedness in the faith of our church--those wonderful teachings that give us the spiritual perspective we need to direct our lives toward the deeper realities of existence. As we send our roots deeper into this ground, we can make our lives more and more an expression of warm and genuine love for our fellow human beings: Love that is a gift from the Lord placed in our hearts. Love that motivates us to serve others and do our best to make them happy. Love that gives us the only true happiness that we ourselves can ever experience.

That groundedness in faith and love gives us the firm foundation we need to build upward and outward, like the trunk and branches of the tree. We reach up toward God and out toward others with our thoughts and ideas. And we take all the best of the faith and love that God gives us--that spiritual lifeblood that runs through us--and express it in the living fruit of kindness and thoughtfulness to the people around us.

Like the person who planted seeds and then slept and woke up without knowing how the seeds grow, we don't know how the Lord causes us to grow from the tiny seeds of our first spiritual awareness to the lush plants and sturdy trees of spiritual maturity and fruitfulness. Like the growth of plants, animals, and even our own bodies, the growth of our spirit is a wonderful and mysterious gift from God.

Today, as we celebrate the growth of our children and the growth of our church, we can also celebrate our growth in spirit and our growth in love for one another and for the Lord. Amen.

    

 

Music is Pachebel and Me
1999 by Bruce DeBoer