July 8, 2018

               The Lord gave me today’s message as I was driving to Evenglow and noticed all the wildflowers that were blooming along the highway.  Not that I haven’t noticed them before.  I have always enjoyed seeing them, and often photograph them as well.  Many folks probably drive past the same flowers and never think twice about them, or appreciate their beauty.  We treasure the rare orchids that bloom in greenhouses, or the beautiful roses in well-cared for gardens.  But the wildflowers so often go unappreciated.  And so it is with people, too.

          Within the church we find all four types of ‘plants’ – greenhouse, garden, wildflowers, and yes, even weeds.  What does the Bible say about each type?  Let’s take a look…

          Greenhouse plants need perfect conditions in order to grow and thrive.  The soil, the temperature, the amount of sunlight and water, all must be carefully selected and administered.  Some garden plants start out as seedlings in the greenhouse, but when they are strong enough they are moved outdoors.  Others must remain in the greenhouse or they will either be scorched by the sun, perish in the cold, or not survive the condition of the soil or the amount of rainfall that waters them.   But these tender plants, if their needs are met, can produce beautiful flowers such as orchids, which are highly treasured by many.  The apostle Paul spoke of Christians that are weak in the faith in Romans 14, who needed to observe specific days or eat certain foods, and who would be easily offended if others did not adhere to their strict standards.  And as you heard in our first Scripture reading, he told us “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.” (Romans 15:1-2).  Paul also said that those who are weak in the faith cannot eat spiritual solid food, but must be fed spiritual milk, like newborn infants (1 Corinthians 3:2).  Their faith is fragile like a greenhouse plant and they cannot yet withstand a change in climate.  They need extra encouragement and understanding, until someday they hopefully can be moved into the garden.  But even if they need remain in greenhouse, we are to love and cherish them, so they will blossom.

          Now let’s move on to the garden… I love to garden, and garden plants are a joy for me to take care of.  Yes, they need attention – weeding, watering, trimming, and oftentimes, especially with roses, spraying to control insects and fungus.  But when well-tended, a beautiful flower garden is a joy to behold, and a tribute to our Creator who originally placed man in a garden, and asked him to care for it (Genesis 2:15).  This includes farms and orchards as well.  Farm crops need regular working of the soil, planting and harvesting, fertilizer, as well as pest and weed control.  Fruit trees need to be pruned.  Lawns need mowing.  There is great diversity among all of these plants, and yet they all need care.  So it is with the church’s ‘garden plants’, and I do think most members fall into this category.  They bear fruit or flower when they are well-fed with the Word, watered with the living water of the Holy Spirit, and care is taken so they are not choked by the weeds.  And Jesus said that the branches that bear fruit will be pruned by the Father so they bear even more fruit; and any dead branches will be removed (John 15:2).  Pastors and other church leaders are entrusted with the task of caring for these members of the body of Christ, so that they will indeed blossom and bear fruit out in the gardens, fields, and orchards of our world – our churches, communities, workplaces, and homes.

          And now we come to the title of my message, the wildflowers; those often unappreciated blooms on the side of the road, or in other places where even some of the hardiest garden plants would fail to survive.  They spring up in the rocky places that Jesus talked about in the parable of the sower, and yet they do not perish because of poor soil (Matthew 13:5).  Their roots go deep, even through the rocks.  They can withstand drought and heat.  They can be cut down and they’ll grow back even stronger.  And their seeds spread far and wide, whether carried by the wind, by birds, or even by us.  Many years ago, when I ran a newspaper agency, there was a customer that lived in Marseilles.  All along one side of her house were wild daisies that bloomed every June.  She offered me some of their seeds, which I gladly took and planted in our yard in Morris.  Within a couple of years they filled an entire flower bed, with no special care on my part.  I then took some seeds from those flowers and planted them in the rocky ground next to Mazon UMC.  They have flourished and spread there as well.  Now I have brought some of the seeds to Braceville, and have no doubts that they will bloom there, too.  And there are so many beautiful varieties of wildflowers, in every color imaginable, just as there are members like them in the body of Christ – the wildflowers that bloom wherever they planted, that spread the seeds of the Gospel far and wide, and thrive no matter their circumstances – just like Paul in our third Scripture reading (Philippians 4:11b-13).  Yes, these are the flowers I truly admire.  These are those who are mature in the faith - who don’t need constant coddling, who aren’t easily damaged by weeds and parasites, who can survive the heat, as well as the cold. 

          And what about the fourth type – the weeds?  Yes, they will always be with us.  Jesus spoke of them in one of his parables as well, the parable of the weeds, also translated as tares. (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).  What you might not know about wheat and tares, is that when they are young, it is very difficult to distinguish the wheat seedlings from those of the tares.  They look almost identical.  But as they mature, the wheat produces edible grain.  The tare on the other hand, produces black seeds that cause dizziness and nausea.  Likewise the weeds within the church are not true wheat, and do not produce good grain (or fruit).  And Christ said, “by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:20).  While all of the first three types of plants produce something of value, the weeds rarely do.  They take but give nothing in return.   And yet, God said to leave them alone, as we might damage the good crop in our attempts to get rid of the weeds.  But on the other hand, if the weeds are allowed to flourish unrestrained, they will also damage the garden, and pretty soon all you will have left is the weeds.  So handling weeds calls for caution and skill – as well as discernment, for some weeds are easily mistaken for wildflowers.  They can look pretty and fool many.  There is a species of hogweed that naturalists intentionally brought here from Eurasia in the early 1900s, because its size and enormous flowers made it seem desirable for ornamental planting.  But it turned out that this invasive plant’s sap can cause painful burns, scarring, and possibly even blindness.  And before it reaches its full grown height of 14 feet, it looks very similar to a wildflower known as Queen Anne’s lace.  Likewise, discernment, caution, and skill are required when it comes to weeds within the church.  Is that person who doesn’t follow your tradition to the letter a wildflower or a weed?  By their fruit you will know them.   Is their intent to spread the gospel of Christ, or to further their own agenda?  Does that person who volunteers do so out of love, or out of a desire for self-recognition and advancement?  Does that member who constantly criticizes do so in an awkward attempt to actually help the church’s ministry to its members and the community, or out of jealously or maliciousness?  Again, it is often difficult to tell the wheat from the tares, and the weeds from the wildflowers.  Only God can look into the heart, but we can see the fruit.  And by their fruit you will recognize them. 

          So which category do you fall into?  Do you need to be kept in a greenhouse?  If so, I pray a beautiful orchid results.  Are you a garden plant?  I pray you bloom and produce fruit.  Or are you a wildflower?  May the Lord bless you and may your seeds spread far and wide.  But if you are a weed, I pray you would be recognized for what you are, and God would protect his children from you.  Amen. 

                    Video:  "Bloom"  (Moriah Peters)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bt4o-5AGTi8

      Children's Message      

          Some flowers are very fragile

          And their blooms are quite rare

          They are kept in a greenhouse

          And need a lot of care

          Some flowers grow in a garden

          That is watered and well-tilled

          And protected from the harmful weeds

          So that they won’t be killed

          But the flowers that grow wild

          Will bloom in rocky ground

          They need no one to tend them

          And spread joy all around