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Ezekiel 17.22-24; Psalm 92.1-4,12-15; 2 Corinthians 5.6-10(11-13)14-17; Mark 4.26-34

Explore and respond

Adult & All Age

Explore and respond

Ways to engage different ages, spiritual styles and learning preferences

Ideas for a sermon or interactive talk

See also Thought for the week to read out in place of a sermon; and The week in focus', linking the readings to the news.

 Come close to these images of growth by looking at a seed and a leaf (e.g. by giving out leaves and/or seeds so that people can take a close look at them during the sermon/talk – be aware of allergies and choking hazards). What do you see? How does a leaf ‘work’? What is its purpose? How does a seed become a plant? When the everyday has given way to wonder – through explanation and discovery or contemplation – can we see these things as images of God’s power and a metaphor for the process of growth in the spiritual life? Perhaps we should spend more time just sitting with a plant or beside a tree?

How do we view Christians that we disagree with? How can we affirm that ‘everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new’, if they hold values that we deeply disagree with? This is a big challenge and may strain the bonds of fellowship. Interestingly, Paul makes this assertion in the middle of a series of letters full of frank disagreements. So, he is not recommending ‘saccharin sweetness’ but more honest relationships. Maybe part of the answer lies in Jesus’ parables: if we catch a vision of the kingdom persistently growing, we can have the courage to play our part faithfully, knowing that it is not all about us.

‘Earth was God’s great work and to serve in that great work is humanity’s highest calling’ – so wrote Thomas Berry, Christian ‘geologian’ and prophet (T Berry, The Great Work: Our Way into the Future, Bell Tower/Random House, 0609-80499-5). Hundreds of species a week are becoming extinct because of how we are choosing to live. We need to remember that we are earthlings (Adam was sculpted from adamah, Hebrew for ‘earth’). We do not have the capacity to save the earth alone, but we can serve the earth and nurture its deep energies for healing. Stirring in the hearts of people everywhere is the growing awareness of earth’s interrelatedness and sacredness. How do we create together an environment in which God’s ‘nature’ flourishes?

In her writing, Sallie McFague suggests imagining the world as God’s body. This is not intended to describe God – it would be a very limited description! – but rather an invitation to think of God’s creation in a fresh way, as sacramental with the presence of the invisible God. We might think of ourselves as gardeners, caretakers, co-creators and friends of a world that gives us life and sustenance, but also depends on us to continue both for itself and for us. What do these roles suggest for an environment in which God’s ‘nature’ flourishes?

 

Thought for the week

The growing adventure: exploring the environment in which God’s nature flourishes

Read out in place of a sermon if you wish.

Pay attention to what the natural world teaches us about the nature of God, and our place in creation. When we are present to nature, God teaches us through its seasons. The readings today describe the place of trees in the cycle of being. From the tiniest of seeds a great mustard scrub can grow up and provide a home for birds. The Ezekiel reading reflects on the same qualities of trees, as a symbol of hope. Trees appear throughout Scripture and are a cosmic symbol of wholeness. The tree of life that appears in the Genesis story reappears in the last chapter of Scripture when its leaves will be for the healing of the nations.

Thomas Merton said a ‘A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying [God]. It consents to God’s creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.’

 Recall in your imagination, in as much detail as possible, a tree with which you are familiar. Trees can live for 100 or more years. Imagine how old your tree is. Once it was a small seed, a seed that trusted itself into the act of letting go into death, as it sank into the soil, its outer shell cracking open as it absorbed water and nutrients and, of its very nature, began to grow. Roots went down, shoots up. And over many years it has become the tree you are seeing in your mind’s eye, roots going as deep as the trunk and branches are high, roots giving its trunk stability to endure through all passing weathers. Remember some of the birds you have seen sheltering in its branches and other creatures, or remember its fruitfulness. The tree ‘IS’ by letting itself be itself, by allowing itself to be the organism God created it to be. And that is all that God asks of any of us. Each year another circle of growth adds girth to the trunk. Each year it offers a fresh home to nesting birds, and perhaps fresh fruit or berries. Each year it is enfolded by different weathers. At the end of the tree’s life, other creatures will make their home in its decaying wood. Or perhaps it will provide warmth, even shelter, for humans.

 In the same way as we entrust ourselves to God’s wisdom, allowing God’s life to unfold at its own pace within us, we give glory to God by being ourselves, by consenting to be who God created us to be. What season of our lives are we living in at the moment? What sort of weathers are enfolding us?

 

All age act of worship Session

Active worship

Get close to nature

Explore being grounded

  • Invite people to go outside to the churchyard/garden or perhaps a nearby park. Look at the ground, the earth. Touch it. Smell it. Examine it closely. Notice the variety of things growing in it. For a few moments, immerse yourself in a connection with ‘earthiness’. (If this isn’t practical, set up a few trays of earth for people to do this inside.)
  • When everyone is back in their place, ask for responses using the following quotation from Thomas Berry to draw out some threads:

‘The spirituality of Earth refers to a quality of Earth itself…Earth is the maternal principle out of which we are born and from which we derive all that we are and all that we have. We are earthlings. Earth is our origin, our nourishment, our educator, our healer, our fulfilment…The human and Earth are totally implicated, each in the other.’

T Berry, ‘The Spirituality of the Earth (1979).’ In Tucker M. (Ed.), The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century, (2009), New York: Columbia University Press. (pp.69-79). E S

 

Begin to grow a rule of life

A way to enable God’s nature to flourish in your life

  • ‘Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.’ In ‘Canticle of the Sun’, St Francis reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.
  • Show a clip from the YouTube video, ‘Growing a Rule of Life’, from 11:15 to 13:30. (If you have time, you could use more of the video.) Ask people to share ideas about practices and rhythms that might enable God’s nature to flourish in personal or shared lives, using the metaphor of a garden as in the clip. E S A

 

Exultation

Using music to encourage a joyful response

  • Listen to ‘The Lark Ascending’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams, inviting people to reflect on what God may be saying to them through the evocative music. The music was inspired by a poem by George Meredith (you could read out the first few lines).
  • Either give out paper and pens, and invite people to respond by writing words or phrases of joyful exultation, perhaps a few lines of poetry, or a verse or two for a psalm or prayer; or invite people to share their inspired and joyful responses verbally. W E S

 

Craft and reflect

A creative response to nature

  • Read this quotation from Thomas Merton:

‘A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him…The more a tree is like itself it is like Him. This particular tree will give glory to God by spreading out its roots in the earth and raising its branches into the air and the light in a way no other tree before or after it ever did or will do.’

Then read the poem ‘I go among trees and sit still’ by Wendell Berry.

  • Make available a range of craft materials (paper, card, scissors, glue, tape, crayons, etc.) including small twigs and leaves. Invite people, working together in households or groups, to make a collage of a tree with branches and leaves, and a sense of the creatures that find a home in it. Suggest that just as a tree glorifies God by being a tree, so everyone gives glory to God by being fully themselves. E S

 

Graffiti turns cities into botanical tours

Explore a focus on God’s nature in the city

  • During 2020’s coronavirus lockdown, in some cities labels sprang up on the plucky plants that were living in the cracks of deserted streets. ‘Rebel botanists’ chalked names near weeds and trees to strengthen people’s connection to nature and raise awareness of overlooked flora.

"Botanical chalking gives a quick blast of nature connection, as the words encourage you to look up and notice the tree above you, the leaves, the bark, the insects, the sky. And that’s all good for mental health." Anonymous London chalker

  • Create a graffiti botany tour of the streets around your church, and invite members of your church to explore it. S A

 

A simple worship activity

A prayer of contemplation and thankfulness

  • In advance, gather a basket of natural objects from outside – e.g. pebbles, feathers, twigs, leaves, grass.
  • Pass the basket round, asking everyone to take something from it. Invite people to spend some time examining carefully the object, as if seeing it for the first time: consider its colour, shape, texture, smell, etc. Imagine its history. Where has it come from and how? What has it contributed simply by being itself? Spend a few moments appreciating the wonder, diversity and interconnectedness of each single part of nature.
  • Invite everyone to say ‘thank you’ to and for the object for all it is and all it symbolises, and ‘thank you’ to God for the wonder of growth and interconnectedness of creation. E S

 

Activity sheet 

 

 Drama: Kingdom sowing

Spiritual styles abbreviations
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Children & Youth

Explore and respond

Activities marked with an asterisk  next to the activity title are in addition to the resources in the Ready to go sessions. Suggested timings for these activities are also shown. NB The inclusion of additional activities varies from week to week.

 

 

 VERY YOUNG CHILDREN

Very young childrens Session

Plant and water

Play and wonder at growth in nature 

Provide seeds, compost and pots and encourage the children to plant and then water their seeds. Talk about what they might grow into. When they see their plant growing, children can remember how God’s kingdom grows.

 

Kingdom seeds

Create a reminder of growth with God 

Prepare a large outline of the word ‘Kingdom’. Invite the children to stick seeds or pulses inside the outline as a reminder of how God’s kingdom grows like a tiny seed.

 

Very young childrens Session

FOR CHILDREN

Childrens Session

Create the right environment                        W E

Think about what it is that helps you to grow

You will need: pictures and examples of scenarios (see below).

  • Divide the children into two teams. Explain that you will give them a scenario and ask each team to go and choose what they need to help them grow from the selection of pictures on the other side of the room. For each scenario, they can only choose two pictures.
  • Call out a range of scenarios and invite one player from each team to race to collect what they need.
  • After each scenario, discuss what else they might need to create the right environment for growth.

Examples of scenarios

  • learning a musical instrument
  • sitting exams
  • developing cooking skills
  • gardening
  • playing a sport
  • reading

 

Paint ‘God’s kingdom’ rocks!                      E S A

Share God’s values in your community

You will need: large stones, acrylic paint, brushes, varnish.

  • Invite the children to think about what some of God’s values are and what values might be needed in the local community.
  • Ask them to paint messages and pictures on stones, e.g. ‘Care for others’, ‘Be generous’. If you have a church social media presence, paint the name on the back of the rocks for people to post and/or include the phrase ‘God’s kingdom rocks’.
  • Varnish the rocks after your session and leave them to dry.
  • Give the children their rocks to take away and hide somewhere in the local community.

 

Sing

Preview song, then buy online and download.

My Number One, Hillsong Kids on Tell the World

Find more suggestions on the Hymns, songs & music page.

 

Talk together and talk to God

Use these questions to discuss the Bible passage and then bring your thoughts together by praying to God.

Talk together

  • When have you felt like you have really grown in something?
  • What do you think Jesus wanted people to understand about growth?
  • How can you create the right environment for God’s values to grow in your life?

 

Talk to God: Plant nature labels                 E S

Pray about different stages of faith

You will need: large wooden lolly sticks, a tray of soil, pens.

  • Discuss how everyone is at different stages of growth in life and faith. Show the lolly sticks and explain that growers write the names of plants and vegetables on sticks like these and push them into the soil to remember what is planted.
  • Ask the children to write on a lolly stick a kingdom value they would like to show, e.g. gentleness, thoughtfulness, or write a prayer asking God to help them grow in faith, then push their stick into the tray of soil.

 

Very young childrens Session
Childrens Session

Activity sheet 

 

Very young children's Session

Handprint plants                          10 minsE

A reminder of our own growth

You will need: brightly coloured paint, paper, washing-up bowl and towel, pens.

  • Invite everyone to make handprints using the paint to represent flowers, then paint a stem underneath.
  • Invite each person to write things they are interested in and gifted at around their paintings, to represent their own fruitfulness.
  • Leave the paintings to dry, reminding the group of their developing skills, talents and faith.

 

FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

Young people Session

Enviable environments10 minsW E

Create an ideal space in which to grow

You will need: catalogues/magazines; scissors, glue, paper.

  • Give out magazines and ask the young people to cut out and stick onto paper, things to create their own designer ‘environment’ which would best help them to flourish.

    Play the track ‘You Make Me New’, The Royal Royal on The Return of the King.

  • Discuss how our environment – the places where we live and learn – can help us.

 

Decorate plant pots 10 minsE S

Create a symbol of God’s values growing

You will need: plant pots, soil, seeds, marker pens. 

  • Together, plant seeds in pots. Talk about what they will grow into and what they need in order to grow.
  • Invite everyone to decorate the pots with words and phrases about God’s values that they want to grow in their life.
  • Discuss these values of God and ways they can help them flourish in their lives.

 

Birdsong prayer5 minsW E S A

Pray for those who need safe environments

You will need: recorded birdsong.

  • Discuss how an example of God’s kingdom values is caring for others.
  • Play birdsong on a phone/laptop. Ask the young people to close their eyes and think of birds finding shelter in a tree. Then pray for those for whom the right environment is difficult to find: those seeking refuge from war/danger, those needing help with mental health issues, those who are lonely.

 

Check-inConnecting faith with everyday, real-life issues 

 

 Small adventures                     10 minsW E A

Share real experiences of the adventure of faith

  • Compile a list of words that the group associate with the word adventure.
  • Ask the group if they think being a Christian is an adventure.
  • Invite a leader to share a personal example of how following Jesus has been an adventure. Ask: What helped you to grow in faith? Who/what helped create the right environment?

 

Spiritual styles abbreviations
W Word E Emotion S Symbol A Action
Read our Spiritual Styles articles
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