[Sermons] SERMON: "Growing in Spirit," by the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Lee Woofenden leewoof@tiac.net
Sun May 23 20:46:06 UTC 1999


               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.



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