Matthew 6:28-30 CEB
And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith?
I have an important reminder for everyone, technically it is now spring. I am afraid the weather didn’t get the message, and we are getting some leftover winter before the season switches gears. The same can be said of Lent, where we have ash and dust, crosses and graves. This would make sense in the midst of winter or in the dying light of fall, but we end up talking about all these things at the very time each year when the earth is waking up and coming alive all around us! There is so much beauty and joy in the greenery and flowers that will soon start to blanket everything. So many folks see God reflected in this wonder of nature, including the Presbyterian pastor, Henry Van Dyke, who set the words of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Van Dyke speaks of hearts unfolding “like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above.” We are invited in the words of the hymn to look at nature, to look at the flowers of the field that do not “‘wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth.’” The flowers glorify “God simply by being themselves,” and we are invited to do the same, to glorify God by being who God created us to be, in all our beauty and splendor.
The scripture this morning is pulled from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Matthew, where he reminds his followers not to worry. Striving to have everything will not get you anything. Striving to be perfect will not make you perfect. There is a limit to how much we can do on our own, so Jesus directs the listener’s attention to the flowers. These “‘lilies in the field’” do not work to be beautiful, and yet, these simple flowers end up more radiant than the wealthiest and mightiest king of Israel, Solomon. God’s nature is “tender care [...] strewing beauty all over the place,” even on flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow. It makes me think of those first flowers of spring, the tulips and daffodils, already starting to poke their heads out of the thawing ground. What right have they to be as beautiful and colorful as they are? And yet, we have a God who loves to pour beauty on everything, on this creation that God calls good.
That’s the thing, after all, God is good, so God imparts that divine goodness and beauty into everything our LORD touches. As the hymn says, “All thy works with joy surround thee, earth and heaven reflect thy rays,” whether that’s divine heavenly beings like angels or the bright stars that twinkle in the night sky. “Joyful, Joyful” wants to remind us of what many of us already know, “the work of God [is] seen in nature.” I know many of you have shared with me that one of the reasons you love Wyoming is that you don’t have to go far to see the glory of God writ large in the world around, in those wonders of nature. Many of you capture these moments with your cameras, and so many of these pictures end up adorning the covers of our bulletins. God’s goodness and love can be seen in all that God’s hands' touch, including creation, including us.
When you think about God’s wondrous creation, when you think about this joy we see reflected in nature, do you extend that to humanity? What I mean is that we love the flowers, and are filled with joy when we see them, but is the same true when we look at the wide spread of humanity? There are so many colors and rich textures. There are beautiful languages and different unique cultures. Do you see God’s hand and beauty and joy when you look at the people that are also the good creation of our LORD’s hand? Do you see God reflected in people? Do you experience God’s joy in the tender care our God has shown in the crafting of humanity? Do you treat yourselves and the people you encounter as beautiful? What would change if you did?
After all, we tend gardens and grow flowers. We form state and national parks to preserve the wonder of creation for present and future generations. We do all of this because we encounter something splendid in the created world and seek care for that splendor. At the same time, do we show this same level of care and tenderness when it comes to the person in the mirror and the people we happen across on a daily basis? Our hymn reminds us that “all who live in love are thine; teach us how to love each other, lift us to the joy divine.” In order to live a life of praise, like nature does, we need to live in love, to live out the love and tender care we see in the world around us in the ways we treat one another.
We put enormous pressure on ourselves and others to be enough, including in our spiritual lives. Do we pray enough? Do we read enough scripture? Have we attended church enough? Are we on enough committees, involved in enough charities, and do we give enough of ourselves to the church? “Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, chanting bird, and flowing fountain” do not worry about these things. They praise God because they behave the way God created them to be in all their beauty. That’s what true beauty is, not aesthetics, but in being all that God has made you to be. That’s different from worrying if you are enough because you have been enough since day one. We have all been enough all along. God made it so when God scooped the dust out of the ground, molded it into humanity’s many varied hues, and called it good. We bear the divine image, as Jesus reminds us, saying, “‘If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith?’”
We do a great job covering our own divine image and covering the image in others, but none of it can erase the tender care found in every detail of each and every one of us. We find excuses to ignore that beauty. We find reasons that people have to earn their beauty. Instead, let’s treat every person we encounter as a cause for joy, just as we would any flowering meadow. Let us call every face we meet beautiful, and let’s treat each person that way. To do that, we need the ability to see that wonder, so stop, slow down, look at the world unfolding around you, and see the flowers blooming in the field and in the heart of your neighbor. It is God’s grace and love that does both. Let us see both, rejoice in both and join in nature’s “mighty chorus” as part of God’s good creation. Amen.
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Pastor Paul Grossman