Let it grow! Let it grow!

Proper 6B

In the name of God: who gives us growth.  Amen.

When I was in college I decided to grow my hair out.  So, somewhere, there exist photos of me with my hair held back in a ponytail.  Honestly, it was never a particularly good look for me.  I think my hair started receding when I was a pre-teen and growing it out made me look like an aging hippie, despite being in my early twenties.

But I remember when I was first trying to get it to grow, I thought that just meant not getting haircuts.  And sure, there is a degree to which that’s what it takes to grow your hair.  It won’t grow if you’re constantly cutting it off.  But people told me, you still need to get a trim, and it just didn’t make sense to me.  If I want it longer, why would I choose to cut it shorter?

What was explained to me was that as hair grows, it can develop split ends.  If they’re not trimmed off, the splits will spread up the strand of hair, making it weaker overall.  Weak hair breaks.  So not cutting it at all actually gets in the way of the goal of growing your hair longer.

The same sort of counterintuitive truth underlies the point of surgery.  There are times when healing takes cutting.  You have to do a little damage to reach the end goal.

I’ve never been much of a gardener, but I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of cutting to promote growth.  Like the way a true, master gardener will create a hybrid type of rose by grafting a cutting from one rose bush onto another.  Each year, as Michael grows basil in our little potted herb garden, I’m mesmerized at how important it is to trim the basil back so that it will continue growing fuller throughout the season.  Or germinating new growth entirely from cuttings – how does a piece of plant make a whole new plant?

There’s a reason why these examples from nature do so well in teaching us about our spiritual lives and our relationships with God.  Looking to nature, we can’t help but see growth.  It’s all around us.  It can be harder to see that growth in ourselves, but we, too, are God’s created.  We, too, are constantly growing.

And for each of us, our faith and our lives as Christians, started from a cutting.  A little piece of the faith was shared with us where it hadn’t been before.  And it took root in us.  And it has grown and it still grows.

This is the story we hear in the reading from Ezekiel.  What started from nothing grows into something substantial.  What started from nothing grows into something important and valuable.  Just a cutting – just a tiny bit off the top – was all it would take.

Today’s Gospel reminds us of one of the more familiar parables of Jesus – the parable of the mustard seed.  The tiny seed which, when sown, grows into something greater than itself.  It grows into “the greatest of all shrubs” – one that provides shelter for birds.

Just like the cedar cutting that we read about in Ezekiel – that tiny cutting grows into a great tree that will “produce boughs and bear fruit… Under it every kind of bird will live, in the shade of its branches.”

There’s a common thread there.  We are called, not just to grow, but to grow into our greatest usefulness and care for others.  The true sign of growth isn’t just growing bigger, but growing into our truest selves; growing into the creation that God imagines; growing into beings that exist not just for ourselves, but for the care of others.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul said, “The gifts God gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

In other words, we’re not all called to grow in the same way, but we are all called to grow toward the same goal – “to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”  That’s the goal.

We’ll never find that “measure of the full stature of Christ” if we only ever look inwardly.  The cedar tree from its cutting and the mustard bush from its seed became defined as “grown” – and moreover as “great” – by their care for others.  They provided shelter and protection for creatures that were more vulnerable than them.  And really, that’s the truest measure of the full stature of Christ: the fullness to which we devote ourselves to the love and care of others.

We are always called to grow.  We are always called to strive toward that “full stature of Christ.”  That is the journey of a life in Christ: from seed or sapling all the way up to “greatest of all shrubs” or “noble” tree.  And, along the way, maybe leave a few cuttings behind.  Drop a few seeds.  It’s not just how we grow, but how the whole forest grows.  We are responsible for it all.  Amen.