"Every Tree Was Once A Seed"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 8/22/1999
Matthew 16:13-20; Exodus 1:8--2:10
One woman tried to hide her son and succeeded in doing so for three months. When it became obvious she could do that no longer, she wisely thought of a plan which she hoped might save his life. She fashioned a waterproof flotation container from reeds and tar, placed her son in it, and sent him drifting down the river.
The infant's sister followed the basket, observing it from the shoreline, until it entered the waters where Pharaoh's daughter bathed. When the young girl saw the compassion of Pharaoh's daughter toward the child, she approached her and asked, "Would you like me to find a suitable Hebrew woman to nurse the baby for you?" The princess said, "Yes".
This excellent plan unfolded perfectly. The natural mother was able to nurse her own son without the princess knowing her association to the baby. She received money for doing it. And she managed to secure her son's future by making the heart-wrenching decision to give him up. The baby was adopted and named by Pharaoh's daughter and reared as a member of the royal family. During his childhood, Moses was exposed to the best that Egypt had to offer.
Who could have imagined, at the time this drama was unfolding, what would eventually happen to this child? Who would have thought that from this set of unique circumstances would come a person whose life would influence societies all over the world? All parents dream such a dream. Yet no parent knows the potential of what they have brought into the world.
We are all conscious of the number of babies who have been baptized at St. Matthew's during the last two years. We watch as parents bring their children to the chancel and answer questions concerning how they intend to teach and influence their growth. One of the many uncertainties of life is that parents can plant their children in just the right garden as Moses' mother did and yet never know for decades what kind of fruit their off-spring will bear.
I remember the day when Lois and I took our daughter, Sue, to West Virginia University for the first time. Just for the fun of listening to our words many years later, we tape recorded our final noon meal together. No one knew what the future might hold, so we preserved our thoughts about Sue's departure from our home. And Lois and I encouraged Sue to talk about her hopes and dreams. How interesting that little of which we spoke has come to pass.
When we arrived at the campus and were riding the elevators in one of the massive dormitory towers, we observed what several other freshmen had brought with them. There were stereo systems, televisions, VCRs, golf clubs, tennis rackets, and ski equipment. Many of the creature comforts of home had come with them. Obviously, these students were serious about high academic achievement! We can lead horses to water, but will they drink? While every tree was once a seed, not every seed becomes a tree. That is one of the mysteries of life.
Did Moses take advantage of this opportunity? Absolutely! Imagine, one baby plucked from the river and given an opportunity that no other Hebrew child would have. Yet one quality was still missing from his education. Moses had all the elements that would make him a leader, but he did not yet have the one ingredient which would inspire him to move to the center of the stage of his people's history. He had not yet found God.
Moses' life took a sharp turn. In the midst of his intervening in a conflict, he killed an Egyptian. Fearing for his life, Moses fled Egypt. His life could have entered a plateau at this point. He married a woman named Zipporah, had a child, and settled down to take care of the sheep of his father-in-law, Jethro. Was Moses destined to use his privileged education for tending sheep? Perhaps, but something was about to change his destiny.
The point of recreating Moses' life in this manner is to illustrate that we can have everything which our wealth and privilege can bring to us, and still not have that one piece of knowledge which inspires us to live authentically with power and wisdom.
What the Moses saga teaches us is that God comes to us. We can have an excellent education. We can have a working knowledge of our faith. Everything we own and experience can be on the positive side of life's ledger. The one ingredient that is often missing from our lives is the sense of completion that comes from knowing God, not believing in God, not knowing about God, but knowing God.
It was the burning bush experience that gave Moses the confidence to confront Pharaoh with "Let my people go!". It was the experience at Jesus' baptism that sent him into ministry. It was the voice and the light on the road to Damascus that inspired Saul of Tarsus to become the world-traveling missionary for the Gospel. What about us?
God uses every doorway, every window, and every experience to communicate to us. God communicates through the book that we bought and cannot put down. God comes in our dark times and in our moments of intense gratitude. No doubt that God spoke to some of our participants who traveled to West Virginia to give away their time and skills.
We can get geared up for college and geared up for that interview with a prospective employer. We can do our research on the house we want to buy. We can go on the Internet to check on prices of the car we would like to purchase. Many of our goals and desires are focused on the here and now. We have the capability to prepare well for just about anything. But what about God, the being whom we most resemble?
Every tree was once a seed, but not every seed becomes a tree. One of the realities of life in the human form, is that the germination of our seed is up to us. We are the ones who must awaken in order to become the beings God designed us to be. Yes, God came to Moses in a burning bush that was not consumed, but Moses was the one who had to respond by stepping forth in faith. Now it is our turn. Are we ready?
When we step out on faith, we must relinquish the results we desire. Moses' mother released her son, surrendering him to another family to rear. Moses had to release his security and family to return to Egypt and confront Pharaoh. The fruits of faith come from knowing that miracles are experiences that only God can produce. Sometimes our most feeble efforts become those that God can use for purposes we could have never imagined.
This lesson was learned by a young seminary graduate who entered his first parish. A drama unfolded around this young man when the senior minister sent him to visit a wealthy woman who had been hospitalized. What the young minister did not know was that she had left the church over a misunderstanding with the minister a number of years before and she had not been back.
The blinds and drapes were drawn in her private room as he entered. He approached her bed and introduced himself. Since his eyes had not yet adjusted to the darkness, he smashed into it, sending the side railing crashing into its lowered position. As he tried to raise it again, his elbow struck her water pitcher, knocking it over, sending water across her tray and on to the floor. As he reached toward the paper towel dispenser on the wall, his foot kicked her trashcan slamming into her night stand.
The young man was overwhelmed by his comedy of errors and had not given himself time to recover. His inclination was to get out of there as soon as he could before he did any more damage. His humiliation, however, was not yet complete. During this sequence of events, she had not uttered a word. He took her hand and tried to offer a prayer. What came out of his mouth made no sense. His words, thoughts and sentence structure were that of a four-year old. After a number of embarrassing pauses, he finally said "Amen". He fled the room overwhelmed by a sense of failure. His fears told him that he was never cut out for such work.
No sooner had he arrived back at the church when the phone rang. It was the woman he had just visited. She said, "Young man, I owe you an apology. I am sorry I did not speak to you, but you see, I couldn't. I was laughing too hard. In fact, I put my small pillow over my mouth for fear that you might hear me. I felt sorry for you because you were trying so hard and nothing was working. When you left, I suddenly realized that I had not laughed like that for over 15 years. I was delighted that you came to visit me and would very much like for you to return.
When he arrived the next time the blinds and drapes were opened. Her hair was arranged beautifully. They had a wonderful visit where she told of her misunderstanding with the minister. She had been stubborn and was glad that the church reached out to her. She had made the decision that it was time to return.
When we allow God to create through us, even our imagined failures can be successes. The test is whether we can let go of what we want, so that God's will can be done. Without that faith, without that sense that God can perform the extraordinary, we could easily remain as something akin to the sheepherder Moses might have been. The missing ingredient for so many people, the ingredient that can make our seed grow into a tree of observable faith in action, is that confidence and trust in God to make happen what we could not possibly imagine.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Thank you, God, for helping us peel away any layers of self-doubt so that our spirits might be nourished by thoughts of your love and presence. Few of us seek to remain as we are. We desire to grow away from fear and toward having more confidence and peace. We desire for our words to reveal a spirit that is kind and understanding. We desire to have more moments when we are silent, thoughtful and still. Curb our need to be servants to our schedules. Enrich our routines with new experiences. Help us learn to find healing by encouraging others. Lead us to understand that "Here Am I, Send Me" was meant for all of us, not just prophets and priests. Help us sense the power of little things: one thought, one changed attitude, one moment of peace, to change our lives completely. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
We thank you, God, for creating us with the ability to seek and experience inspiration. There are times when we are inspired by seeing two people who are so in love with each other. There are times when we watch inspired football or tennis. There are moments in our own lives when we are so convinced that if life were any better, we could not stand it. Yet there are valleys and shadows as well as mountain peaks in all of our lives. There are times when we are full and there are times when we believe our lives are running on empty. During our days of spiritual famine, nothing pleases us and little can make us happy, not even being here this morning.
As we continue to learn more about you, O God, guide us to understand that you never run hot and cold. Help us remember that you are the same yesterday, today and forever. May our lives become transformed to the point where we remain aware that you desire nothing more than to surprise us with your unexpected gifts, to inspire us with what will not fade, and to overwhelm us with joy and peace. We pray that you will give us such vision to perceive your presence. We know that our physical eyes can betray us with false images. We also know that it is through our spirits that we see with clarity.
When you come to us in a form that we recognize, may you find us allowing love to become more visible. May sincerity be in our eyes, warmth be found in our spirits, and the spirit of kindness be heard in our words. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .