A Sermon for Covenant
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
June 23, 2013
Kyndall Rae Renfro
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
Instead of a traditional sermon, today I offer up a story as one possible expression of today’s Scripture text:
There was once a girl who daily wandered the fields for her love of wildflowers. She would walk through the tall grasses that brushed her legs in the breeze and she would try to quiet the noise in her head so that there was space enough inside her heart to absorb the fragrance and the color. She would take deep breaths and gaze, gaze, gaze as if to inhale the sights of the earth.
As she walked she would talk to the Artist who gave birth to this beauty. “Artist,” she would say, “these Indian blankets are my favorite.”
“Yes, I am fond of them too, and I can see how much you love them,” the Artist would reply in a whisper that could only be felt, not heard.
“Did you make them just for me?” the girl would smile, feeling filled to the top with love and happiness.
“Yes,” answered the Artist, “and no. I made them for you, because I knew they would touch your heart. But I also made them for me, and I made them just because, and I made them for all the boys and girls who delight in the color red, and I made them for the lonely person in need of brightness, and I made them for the distracted driver on the highway, and I made them for no reason at all, and then I made them just especially for you, my sweet, and all these things are true.”
“Mmmm,” the girl simply nodded her head, for she was wise beyond her years and knew this mystery might reveal itself in time if only she believed.
“Is it wrong to have a favorite?” she asked most sincerely, for she was a sensitive girl and was worried that the orange, white, pink and blue flowers might feel neglected due to her devotion to the Indian blanket.
“No, no, my child. Your heart is drawn to those particular flowers for a reason, and you should always listen to your heart. Every wildflower needs a steady and faithful admirer. I send others to tend to the bluebonnets, some to the sunflowers, still others to the foxgloves. Do not neglect your duty to love what you desire to love.”
The girl chewed her lip thoughtfully, and she gingerly fingered a particularly vibrant yellow flower. “I do love them all, you know,” she offered upon further reflection.
“As do I. As do I,” answered the Artist, “There is room in my heart for every variety to be a distinct favorite.”
The girl pondered this, and though slightly confused by it all, it felt as though her heart were stretching. “And what about the flowers that grow in hidden places that no one ever sees? Why did you make those?” she asked the Artist.
“For pleasure, for the chance of discovery, for the fun of hidden beauty, because those very spots were begging for color, because I can see those places, and for five hundred more reasons.”
At that moment, a bird soared in a circle over her head, and up she looked, watching it float upon its wings. She kept walking, but she was no longer looking down, and so that is how it came to pass that she tumbled right into a cactus clump before she could stop herself. “Ahh!” she cried and said some words that pleasant girls do not often say, but as it was only her, the flowers, and the Artist, she did not bother to apologize. The Artist quite nearly chuckled, but managed to hold it in and whispered a sympathetic sigh instead, only she did not hear him at all for she was too busy staring in dismay at her now-barbed legs.
How could there possibly be that many needles in one small plant? she wondered to herself along with every other person who has ever tangled with a cactus. It really didn’t seem possible, but there they were, seemingly countless spines stuck in her skin, and she set about the tedious task of plucking the painful suckers out one by one by one. “What I really want to know,” she muttered rather irritably under her breath, her prior serenity less intact, “why the dickens did you ever make cacti?”
Annoyingly, the Artist was smiling. “That is for me to know, and you to ponder for many years.”
The girl rolled her eyes. The Artist waited patiently. She stormed off in a huff and it was many, many years before she returned to the fields where the wildflowers bloomed in spring. She had grown older and taller. The Artist had not changed at all, and there he was, waiting for her still. She nearly did not recognize him, it had been so long, but he knew her at once, and the breezes stirred in joy at her arrival. “Hello,” he whispered, but she had forgotten how to listen, and at first she did not hear him.
She was distracted, with the busy mind and the heavy burdens so many people come to carry once they become older. She ran her fingers listlessly through the tall grasses, not even noticing them, until a red and yellow circle of petals stopped her in her tracks: an Indian blanket, and suddenly the wind and the sunshine and the dirt of the earth were all speaking to her and she could hear them. She inhaled the fragrance, the feel, and the fellowship of living things. “Artist!” she breathed, not to summon him, for he was already there, but because she recognized him.
He laughed with delight, and relieved to see he wasn’t angry at her long absence, she suddenly wanted to tell him everything, all the reasons she left, all the reasons she hadn’t come back, everything that happened between the times, but the words caught in her throat and to her relief, she could tell: he already knew, without it being said.
And so they walked the fields in silence, until they came upon a large bunch of cactus, where the girl stopped. It was just the right time, and the large yellow and orange cactus blooms were just now exploding into the open. But she was gazing past the petals to the clusters of spines. “I have met a number of cacti in real life,” she told the Artist gravely.
“Yes,” the Artist nodded.
“People who prick and hurt and wound and stick. Also, people who are unsightly. People who seem out of place among flowers. People who get in the way and block the path. People who intrude your serenity.”
“Yes,” the Artist nodded.
“I’m still pondering why you put them here.”
“Yes,” the Artist nodded again.
“And yet you feed and water and shine upon them too, just like all the other life . . .”
“Yes, I do. Of course I do,” said the Artist.
“Today I see even the cactus are blooming.”
“Yes, I wondered if you would notice that,” the Artist smiled.
“And sometimes I think you’re especially fond, even of the cactus?”
“Yes. Yes I am.”
“I still do not quite understand,” she wrinkled her nose.
“That is for me to know, and you to ponder.”
“I understand more than I used to,” she added hopefully.
“Yes, yes you do,” and at that the Artist went silent for a very long time and the girl admired the blooms between the spines, all the while careful not to step too close.
(Galatians 3:26-29): “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
May the wild-flower variety of people in this world fill your heart with wonder. May you see all the color and fragrances and diversity for the beautiful thing that it is; may you recognize the one Artist whose glory each bloom reflects. May you never wish for all one kind of flower to the extinction of the others. May you never shun an unsightly plant. When you see a thing you do not understand, open your heart wider, then wider. Trust that someday, these mysteries will become known . . .
May you embrace the world as your God has embraced you. May you see the fingerprints of the Artist everywhere you look, for the fingerprints are there, in every corner. May you acquire reverence for all living things, even and most especially, those people who intrude your serenity. To God be the glory, Amen.