Sept 14, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 13:24-30
Sermon Title: “Weeds and Clouds”
Childhood is full of lessons learned. Some of the lessons are delightfully experienced: kitty cats are soft, this we learn because we run our hands across their fur; snow is cold, this we learn because we laugh and giggle as we create snow men and ride sleds down the hill.
Some lessons are painfully experienced: kitty cats have sharp claws and teeth, this we learn because we get scratched after yanking their tail; stoves are hot, this we learn as we cry out in pain after reaching out to touch it while momma is making a meal.
One of the saddest lessons we are learn is the difference between a flower and a weed, because to a child’s mind all plants are beautiful and full of life. Dandelions push out of the earth, breaking up the green of the lawn with their yellow splendor, then turn into white-wish makers that we can blow upon; purple bluebells line the walkways to the lake and the Grand River, saying welcome and this is the way; tall and proud sunflowers burst open in radiance, following the morning light, feeding the squirrels with their seeds.
What child hasn’t thrilled at walking outside, picking wildflowers along the way, giving them to mom or dad as a homemade bouquet. If the children are young enough, and the parents kind enough, the response will be “How beautiful” and they are placed in a vase for all to see.
But inevitably someone, at some time lets slip, “Oh honey, those are weeds.” With those words the child’s reality is altered and things that were once seen as precious and unique are now labeled as something derivative and negative.
What makes something a weed, what makes something a flower? Why are rose bushes with their prickly thorns that draw blood seen as more desirable then dandelions that add color to the world and provide wishes, even if just imaginary?
We could get into the horticultural differences and dictionary definitions, but for today I like to propose that what makes a flower a flower and a weed and weed all comes down to perception, for perception is everything: perception shapes how we see the world, perception creates and reinforces reality, perception influences how we act and feel.
If you believe a dandelion is a weed, then it’s a thing worthy of being ripped up, destroyed, and poisoned. If you believe a dandelion is a flower, then it’s a thing of beauty and grace; worthy of carrying our dreams.
A flower or a weed? It can all come down to perception.
Let me share a recent experience of mine. A few weeks ago I went out for a bike ride. I rode from my apartment down to Clyde Park, then north on the Kent County Trails, along the river, towards the zoo. After an hour of riding and resting, I made my way back home, away from the zoo, back along the river, south on Clyde Park, until I came to the intersection at 28th street.
The light just turned red, so I stood on the corner, watching the cars pass by. Everything seemed grey and a bit bleak: the buildings on each corner not much of a view, liter on the ground, nothing but black road, brown brick and the exhaust of passing automobiles.
I looked at the pedestrian bridge that crosses over 28th. The light was still red, and with nothing to lose, I decided to walk up and across the bridge; perhaps, if I moved swiftly enough, I’d be on the other side before the light turned green.
No such look, for it takes longer to walk up a flight of stairs with a bicycle on your arms then it does for the light to turn, but when I got to the top of the bridge and looked out at the view...it was well worth it.
Standing on top of the bridge the whole world changed. Yes, I could still see the black of the pavement, the brown of the buildings and still smell the exhaust of the passing cars. But I could also see so much more.
Much, much more. I could see as far west down 28th as my eyes would allow. I could see as far east of 28th as my eyes would allow. Instead of seeing just the four corner buildings, I could see all the buildings, all the shops, all the stores: the McDonald’s M, the sign for Grand Buick Pontiac, the thrift store, Vanderveens.
I could see the cars, the vans, the motorcycles, the buses. I could see them coming and going, turning and waiting.
And I could see the clouds. Beautiful, voluminous, white puffy clouds that sat in the sky like pillows waiting to be rested upon. Large, soft clouds that covered the blue of the sky, a sky that went on and on and on without a hint of smog or pollution, clouds that spoke of possibilities and dreams, hopes and...heaven.
Not caring about the time or the changing of the lights, I remained up on that bridge for some time, thankful for the view, and the reminder that perception is everything, and sometimes all we need to do is climb a little higher.
That time on the bridge was, for me a God moment. It allowed me the ability to see it all, or to see much more then just what was on ground level, altering, if even for just a moment, my perception of reality.
During most of our lives we see things as humans often do: what is immediately in front of us, and what is immediately behind. When things are great they are great, when things are bad, they are bad. We seem to only see, remember and recall what is only happening now, forgetting so easily what has happened before, and unaware of what will come to be.
But that is not how God sees the world and our situations. Because God has been there since before the beginning, and God will be there after the end, God is able to perceive things as they really are and as they ultimately will be. God, while present with us in the moment, is constantly working and moving beyond that moment, striving to make all things work together, bringing goodness and mercy to light.
God doesn’t just see the present, but God sees the past and the possibilities of what is to come. Like being on that bridge, it was no longer just about four corners of the street, but it was about the street and the stores, the east and the west, the sky and the clouds, the coming and the going.
We, as a church, as a church that is celebrating Rally Sunday, are at a turning point; in fact it seems as if we are always at a turning point. But this turning point seems somehow more real, more crucial.
We are at a point of staying on the ground or moving higher. We have experienced the gift of new members joining, but also of familiar members leaving, disappearing or dying. We have seen an increase in community events, but we have also witnessed a decrease in congregational participation. We have heard a supply of new, fresh ideas, but we have also heard from people who wish we could go back to doing things the way they were.
We have seen an increase in individual giving, but a decrease in our savings account. We have noticed a surge in community recognition, but not enough people know who we are. New folks are contacting us for pastoral care and help, but not all of them are walking in through our doors.
And this creates three sets of perception that exist within our church. Those who look at what is growing and call it a weed and are standing on the four corners of the street. Then there are those who are looking at what is growing and calling it a flower and are standing on the bridge looking out at the endless cloud filled skies. Then there are those who are somewhere in the middle, not sure what to call the plant they see, standing on the stairs, not quite ground level, but also not quite seeing total view.
Today, I would like to invite you to join me and to join the others who are standing on the bridge, who are looking at what is growing and calling it a flower. I invite you to take a chance, to be daring, to place a foot upon the stairs and climb up to the top of the bridge.
In invite you to step out on faith and to begin altering the reality you see to the reality God is seeing, the reality God is creating, the reality that God knows we are capable of.
I once read that the difference between a church that dies and a church that grows is that a dying church believes its best years are behind them, a growing church believes the best years are yet to come.
Which way of thought do you fall into? What is it you believe? What is it your spirit tells you?
In conclusion, I invite us to welcome God into shaping our perception; to take us up to the bridge so we can see not just the street and the stores, but the skies and the clouds. And I invite each and every one of us to believe and to act upon the belief that the best years are not what came before but the best years are yet to be, shimmering and waiting to be discovered.
Not just for the sake of ourselves, or the sake of the church, but for the sake of our children.
For the sake of Stormee and Destiny, for Gabe and Emily, for Jimmy and Talon, for the sake of Leah and Isabell and Vanessa, for Alexandra, for the sake of Austin and Kayla, for Bella, for the sake of Brooklyn.
For the sake of our children, for the sake of their children’s children, for the sake of all the children of God, let us look beyond what we think are weeds, let us look beyond what is just in front of our face, but let us look up, towards the sky, towards the clouds.
Let us look upon our future as God looks upon us all.
Are you willing to climb up on the bridge with me?
All thanks and praise be to Spirit that brings the fresh winds of vitality into our lives, to the Son who teaches us how to love and for God who sees all and sees beyond.
Amen and amen.