Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar
First Congregational Church of East Hartford
November 4, 2018
Do we have any perfect people in the house?
(The perfect people are all too humble to raise their hands.)
We all have an area of our lives we could grow in.
We could grow in our spiritual lives, in our closeness of to the Divine.
We could grow in our ability to weather conflict.
We could grow in our financial management.
We could grow in our capacity to listen.
We could grow in the nurturing of friendships.
We could grow in our understanding of current events.
We could grow in our careers or grow a new business.
We could grow in healthy eating habits.
We could grow in our exercise and physical fitness.
We could grow in compassion and willingness to forgive.
We could grow in our courage to act for good.
There are many ways we could grow personally,
But we could also grow in community.
Two years ago, this congregation conducted small group vision dinners at people’s homes.
The dinners were a time to listen to one another about our hopes and dreams for this community.
One of the big themes: a desire to grow as a community.
We could grow in our mission and service work in East Hartford.
We could grow in the depth and breadth of our social justice actions.
We could grow in the number of active volunteers.
We could grow in the depth and closeness of the relationships between one another.
We could grow to include more people who worship on Sunday morning.
We could grow as an inter-generational faith community.
We could grow as a multi-racial faith community.
There are many ways we could grow as a community and as individuals.
Do we want to grow?
Or, in the words of this year’s stewardship letter,
Are we ready to grow?
Growth necessarily comes with change.
New ideas. New ways of acting. New people.
When the new comes in, it sometimes requires the letting go of the old.
When a child grows and receives new clothes,
The old clothes must be given away to make space in the drawers for the new.
When a couple is married and starts a new family together,
The spouse becomes primary and parents secondary –
or else the new family cannot build the intimacy and trust necessary to sustain life’s struggles.
This is the emotional significance of the “giving away the bride” tradition.
Growth comes with change and requires a letting go.
Do we want to grow? Do you as an individual want to grow? Do we as a community want to grow?
Recall a time in the past you have grown.
In growing we draw near to the divine
In growing we become closer to the person or community God knows we can be.
In growing we experience a deeper and more profound love.
In growing we unearth a great truth residing within us.
While growing takes sacrifice,
It brings about new life.
We remember that it was through Jesus’s great sacrifice that the resurrection promise emerged.
Jesus obviously knows quite a bit about growing and he offers us a profound parable about how to grow.
This parable is found in multiple Gospels, with slight variations.
Today we read the version found in Luke.
Let us listen Jesus’s wisdom on how to grow.
Scripture: Luke 8:4-8; 11-15
If we do want to grow, this parable offers us 3 truths about growing.
- Environment matters to growth.
- Growth takes patient endurance.
- Growth takes an honest and good heart
Jesus begins the parable with the many environments that do not allow for growth:
the road, rocks, thorns
We could focus on the individual reasons each of these environments are not conducive to growth,
But the big picture is that the environment matters.
Growth will not happen if we deny a seed safety from the birds.
Spiritual growth does not happen in a community of gossip and negativity – for such an environment is not safe.
Creativity does not grow in an environment of harsh criticism.
New friendships don’t grow in an environment of fear.
Growth will not happen if we stifle a seed with thorns.
Financial growth – not the increase in wealth, but the increase in our satisfaction with our wealth – does not happen in an environment of competitiveness and “keeping up with the joneses”
Growth of new ideas or relationships does not happen if we are already booked solid and don’t have time or space in our schedules.
Growth will not happen if we neglect to water and nourish the seeds.
A church cannot grow without staff and basic resources – thus the annual stewardship season.
A Christian life cannot grow in isolation, it needs a community in which to check our ideas and understanding, a community to lift us up in times of despair and challenge us to go deeper in our faith.
Jesus reminds us that Growth happens in a fertile and spacious environment.
However , even in the best environment, growth is a spiritual endeavor.
Jesus tells us that growth comes to, “the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.” (Luke 8:15)
Two points from this explanation:
- Growth, bearing fruit, comes with patient endurance.
- Growth comes to those with an honest and good heart.
I had the pleasure of visiting the new Basler twins a couple weeks ago.
Mackenzie and Haley are so incredibly small.
Matthew, their 2 year old brother, is huge!
Here is the thing – before seeing the little newborn babies, Matthew looked pretty little too.
He has slowly been growing, day by day, week by week.
We all know he was – but something about seeing him beside the little newborns brought home just how much he has grown.
Growth is gradual – day by day – such that we may not really notice until we look back and see where we have come from.
Like nearly any spiritual endeavor, growth is ultimately gradual.
You might have a mountain-top experience,
but it takes time to integrate the lessons of such an experience.
Lasting growth is a gradual process that takes patient endurance.
One new person at a time grows a community.
One “date” at a time grows a friendship.
One prayer at a time grows a relationship with God.
One reading, one worship service, at a time grows faith and understanding.
One PT exercise at a time grows healthy new muscles.
When we want to instantly be all grown up, be done with our healing growth, or have already reached our goal,
the slow process of growth can be excruciating and
certainly calls for the patient endurance Jesus lifts up as necessary for growth.
In addition to patient endurance, Jesus tells us that growth happens with an honest and good heart.
Dictionary.Com Definition: without deceit, upright and fair, genuine, honorable, truthful, sincere, respectable
An honest heart sees things for what they are and does not try hide or manipulate to cover the truth.
An honest heart accepts reality.
Easier said than done, because sometimes we don’t like reality.
Honesty is vital to growth because you cannot grow if you don’t know where you are.
If you get lost on the road, it’s mighty difficult to get to your destination.
Honesty allows us to look at what is and move forward with clarity.
Without an honest look at reality, we blame the wrong thing or person for our lack of growth.
The black sheep in the family often gets blamed for everything.
Hitler blamed the Jews for the economic depression in Germany.
When we are not honest about what is, we can hardly fix the problem let alone grow abundantly.
An honest heart requires self-reflection.
I just finished a rather entertaining book, “MWF [married, white, female] seeking BFF: My yearlong Search for a new best friend” by Rachel Bertsche. It all about making friends as a young adult and I thought it would be helpful as we develop our young adult ministries here at the church – plus I could pick up some good tips.
In one scene, the author takes an honest look at how she is as a friend – and realizes she has some room to grow. So she starts to listen better, interrupt less, and stop showing off about the great lengths she will go through for friends. I won’t give much away when I say her honest heart certainly helped her grow in the friendship department. You will have to read the book to discover the other ways she grew her friend network. Whether we are growing our friend network, growing a faith community, or growing as individuals,
An honest look at who we are and where we are at is crucial to growing.
When we take an honest look, we might notice not only our own contributions or obstacles,
But we might also notice the environment in which we are trying to grow in.
When it comes to growing, environment matters.
Are we fostering an environment of growth – an environment with adequate resources and ample space to grow?
Creating and supporting such an environment of growth requires an honest heart.
In an environment of growth,
With patient endurance we gradually grow –
Putting down roots and producing lasting fruit.
Whether we wish to grow personally or wish to grow in community,
May we accept reality with honest hearts,
Foster an environment of growth,
And with patient endurance grow closer to the one God knows we can be. Amen.