The Mystery of Growth
Matthew 6:19-34: August 26 2018
“Consider the lilies…how they grow,” Jesus said. There are many wondrous mysteries in the world, none more intriguing than the marvelous mystery of growth, that silent, invisible, universal process occurring through eons of time in forest and field, in rivers and seas. Without that, our planet would be like Mars, red dust and rocks here and there dotting the barren landscape.
Growth–we’re so accustomed to it that we don’t think about it much. Maybe the scientists in the laboratories do, but for the most part we don’t. It is so much part of life that we never stop to ponder its intriguing mystery.
Have you ever considered the lilies–how they grow…how anything grows? A seed sprouts up and becomes a rose, an infinitesimally small egg becomes a child, then a man, then a profound thinker who can reflect on life’s mysteries.
Here’s how one man who has a way with words considers the mysteries and miracles of this process of growth:
“I remember the red gullies, the broom straw, the fields of corn stubble in the Mecklenburg November, and in the spring, the daffodils that still bloom by the hundreds under a certain Orange County oak.”
“I remember the bobolinks and buntings, and mockingbirds mocking, loblolly pines and live oaks hung with moss, the taste of scuppernongs from the vines my father planted.
“ I remember making a slingshot from the fork of a persimmon tree and hunting rabbits with it along the creek bed. Those rabbits were as safe as if they’d been in their mother’s arms. I never hit a one.”
That man describing nature’s bounteous miracle, of course, is Charles Kurault, and I fancy that he would like the subject we are considering today.
The mystery of growth is so profound that we have no language to describe it. The biologists, of course, are trying. They look at cells under the microscope and describe their function. They map the human genome. They can tell us about the basic building blocks of life, how we human beings share the same basic stuff of the humble protozoa, but they can’t answer the question, “How does it grow? Why does it grow? What gives it that “umpff” to grow?” Some people say, “Mother Nature made it all happen. “ And maybe, without knowing it, they are giving a theological answer, for there is a mother soil in which all living things are nourished. Some call it “Mother Nature.” Others call it “God.”
And this is the reason the Sermon on the Mount has a depth that is not readily apparent. It isn’t just a series of wise sayings about life, but rather a revelation telling us about the essential nature of life. Underlying every utterance of Jesus is his fundamental conviction that everything that lives is rooted deeply in the providence of God, is enveloped by it, enfolded it, dependent upon it, and apart from it nothing can exist.
So in these few fragmentary sayings about birds and grass and lilies of the field, there’s a profound insight about mystery of growth.
It’s evident in the area of physical growth. In our hallway we have a series of pencil marks. We measure our grand children each time they come out. My wife said to our oldest grandson this year, “My goodness, Liam, look how much you’ve grown in a year.”
None of us can force growth. It’s out of our hands. Of course, that principle does not apply to the growth of our waistlines.
Look at the plant world. “Consider the lilies, how they grow…” Consider it. Drop a seed into the soil, and you see how instantly it is surrounded and enveloped in a providential process involving the total universe. Ninety three million miles away the sun beams down, the earth turns, the seasons come, the tides move in an out with the pull of the moon, the warm air rises from the oceans in an elaborate air-conditioning system of condensation and evaporation; the lightning flash releases the nourishing nitrogen, drops it to earth in the rainstorm, and our tiny seed is nourished. Each little flower that opens reminds us of the elemental forces of nature always silently at work.
Jesus might have said, “Consider the children, how they grow” This is equally a mystery. How does a boy go about growing up? It’s the quietest thing you ever saw. He takes no thought of it. He has his mind on other things, baseball games, and capturing lightning bugs and swimming at the lake. And all the while something is happening to him. His sleeves get too shot, his pants don’t fit anymore. And his grandma looks at him and says, “Land sakes, you are growing like a weed.” And he stands there looking a little sheepish. He doesn’t know why he’s growing; he just is. He hasn’t intended it or planned it.
Like the lilies of the field you and I are enveloped in a providential arrangement that takes care of our growth. Doctors don’t understand it; they can tell you how it may be stunted or stimulated, but the process itself is beyond their knowing–a secret that nature keeps all to herself.
Move up the ladder to the rung of mental growth, the kind of growing that is more interesting than adding inches to our stature. What is it that propels our minds to grow, to cause us want to explore music, and books, and technology? We don’t sit down one day and say, “I want to be smarter.” No, we see something that interests us, and we tackle it. We want to master it.
How do our minds grow? A lot like the lilies. We can’t grow intellectually by trying to grow. Instead, we walk down some trail of fascinating thought. We climb the stairway of wonder. We set our minds to tackle a task too big for them to grasp, and our minds stretch and expand. Like Columbus, we go out seeking a continent and a lot of other continents rise up in our paths.
Just think for a moment how our minds have been expanded in our life-time in the area of space travel. We take it as common-place that people go to the moon or circle the earth in a space capsule. We land a rover on Mars that can send back photos with incredible precision. I asked a friend the other day if he ever thought we would land human beings on Mars, and he began to calculate, “Let’s see, it would take two years out, and two years back, and enough fuel for the round trip.” To be sure, the astro-physicists are thinking about it, computing its requirements. So our minds are stretched as we follow new knowledge, new vistas, new planets to explore. And we know that God has many things yet to reveal to the inquisitive mind of seeking persons.
When we arrive at the highest and holiest place of the human spirit, the principle we have been talking about still holds true. How do we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ? How do we add new dimensions to our moral and spiritual nature. I need not remind you that this has become the pressing question of our age–spiritual maturity. Where do we find people wise enough in mind, big enough in soul, perceptive enough in vision to handle the mighty problems of our dangerous world. There aren’t many questions as important as that.
Like all other growth, spiritual growth can’t be forced. It comes as a by-product, something that happens to us as we reach for something else. And this is the secret of worship, why we Christians believe so stubbornly in worship when so many people have forgotten the worth of it. For worship is the soul of a human being reaching up for the greatness of God.
Alfred North Whitehead, that great process philosopher, was fond of saying that moral education is impossible apart from the habitual vision of greatness. And that’s what worship is–the habitual vision of greatness, the time-exposure of the human soul to the highest that we know. We tend inevitably to grow into the likeness of that to which we give our devotion.
When we visited the Sistine Chapel the visitors craned their necks to look upward at Michelangelos frescoes. Someone visiting the gallery said he didn’t know what was more impressive, to look at the paintings or watch the crowd as they gazed at it. Invariably, he said, everyone who stood in the Sistine Chapel o began to straighten up, to put back their shoulder, and stand a little taller, the lifting power of beauty.
I think this is what the Bible is about from beginning to end…little people looking up, people like you and me, who one day, like Isaiah in the temple saw the Lord high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1). And in seeing the greatness of God, Isaiah became greater himself.
Well, this is the glory of the gospel. In a time when everything around is causing us to look down, the Christian faith is asking us to look up. To give our devotion to something greater than our little lives. And the Glory of Christ is that he puts no ceiling on human life. He knows the potential greatness of our soul. He brings us, one by one, face to face with God. And when that happens, we will stand tall…and rise high…and grow into the kind of people we are meant to be.