One Booming Life
What is better than the surprise of an unexpected patch of wildflowers?
In North Carolina that would include Cornflower, Poppy, Black Eyed Susan, Larkspur, and Sunflower.
They are beautiful. They attract bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. They don’t require much care and cultivation. They can grow just about anywhere! Don’t you love wildflowers?
Before, during, and after living in the White House, Lady Bird Johnson made wildflowers her passion. She brought that from Texas. Then and now, scattered throughout Texas are vast fields of bluebells.
In Israel, the early rains of the spring time carpet the land with wildflowers: irises, orchids, and anemones can stretch out as far as the eye can see. No doubt the psalmist had this picture in his mind when he wrote this double line in this hymn of praise to God.
“Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.”
I want us to think this morning about this sentence, about the wildflowers, and about our lives. I have been led to speak today from this text about “One Blooming Life”—Your Blooming Life!
Yes, I know, we know this psalm is about the greatness of God. “Bless the Lord,” the refrain sings again and again. We bless God, the psalm reminds us, because when we succumb to temptation, it is the Lord who forgives us; because when we fall sick, it is the Lord who heals us; when we walk in danger, it is the Lord who rescues us from death. Three times in my life, the car I was driving behaved in such an erratic and dangerous way as to bring me face to face with the grim reaper—but it was the Lord that stepped in and protected me.
This psalm is about the amazing grace of God. It repeats the chorus that runs through the Hebrew Bible: “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” This psalm speaks of God’s unfailing love, of his tender and compassionate nature, how his salvation extends unto the third generation.
Yes, we celebrate all that, in sermon and song, in prayers and testimonies. But right there in the middle of this wonderful hymn of praise to God, there is this one verse, this reminder of our finitude, of our frailty, of our future coming so quick. The wind blows and we are gone, it says in verse 16. Yes, God is here from eternity to eternity, but we are here, for a few years: for some, a very few years.
I am in a professional peer group of 10 ministers, missionaries, and professors. We have been meeting for 31 years. Among these ten colleagues, five have followed a hearse carrying the body of their child. Five have said good-bye too soon, too early, too young. Life is short. Life is dangerous. Life is unpredictable.
We bloom today and tomorrow we die.
But that word “bloom” catches my eye, my ear, my soul. Before we die, we bloom. All of us. Everyone of us. Everyone of you is a blooming…yes, there might be a couple of idiots among us, but mostly we are people, wildflowers blooming in somebody’s desert, spreading beauty, sweetness, and delight to the human bees that are buzzing all around us.
Yes, we are to die; but before that, we are to bloom. We are to shine with generosity, to sparkle with joy, to radiate hope. Every one of us, every blooming person you know is made to shine.
Paul the apostle wrote about this when he said, we are being changed, daily, from one degree of glory to another! C. S. Lewis preached a great sermon on this glory text from Second Corinthians, published under the title “The Weight of Glory.” There is glory in us, around us, through us, upon us: every one of us, allowing us to bloom, like wildflowers in a desert.
Yes, we die; and we here today remember those who have died. But we bloom, we flourish, we display the colors of grace, the scents of courage, the touch of kindness, the taste of discovery, the sound of joy, the feel of love. We flourish where we are planted, for the glory of God and the common good.
Sometimes we use that word “bloom” like this: She is in the bloom of life. We mean the physical beauty of the young adult. John Prine sings his song “The Great Compromise” with these words:
I knew a girl who was almost a lady. She had a way with all the men in her life. Every inch of her blossomed in beauty. She was born on the fourth of July.
That’s the way we think, don’t we? She has lost her blossom, we say. Meaning, she is just a bit too old. She had it once but lost it. We say that about talent and intellect as well. At one time, he was the sharpest tool in the shed. But no more.
We think this blooming, this blossoming is here today, gone tomorrow.
But let me remind you: the wildflower blooms …. when…? Every year! In some places, twice a year. It is not a one-time flower, like some. Wildflowers bloom and bloom and bloom again. Which is why people throw their seeds here and there and everywhere: along the road, in the garden, beside the house, in the highway median. They bloom one, twice, thrice. They bloom every year!
We are all wildflowers! We are made to bloom in childhood, in youth, as young adults, as old geezers! Which is a good gospel word for many of us! We are just coming into another blooming season!
CBS ran a story this year of a man, a veteran, who was blooming into his nineties. He had become largely immobile. A friend, much younger, saw the need and started a GO-FUND-ME page. She raised the necessary $1,850 needed for a scooter. She brought it to him, and he was thrilled. He rode every morning to the local military memorial to honor those fallen. Only one problem: people kept giving money! So, he bought a second scooter for a friend; and the money kept coming, and he bought another one and another one and another one. He said into the camera, “I am going to keep giving scooters as long as I live.” His face was flooded by tears and a smile at the same time. He was having the blooming best time of his life!
Every stage of life is a time to bloom.
A baby is a blooming joy but doesn’t even know it! A ten-year-old child gets excited about baseball, or butterflies, or the Bible and blooms right there in front of everybody, full of jubilation. My grandson Sam called on Friday afternoon. They were out of school and had I known that, I would have picked him up and brought him here to hear this testimony. He called me and, as he has for years, spoke with overflowing optimism and energy as he started talking about … Latin! He is a high school freshman. What possessed him to take Latin I do not know, but something in that language connected with something in his soul; and he is now brimming with Latin conjugations, Roman history, and the military tactics of Hannibal. I said, “That sounds like a world history class.” He responded, “No. This history stuff is not a class. It is just what I am finding on my own”! A 14-year-old-independent-study, I suppose. He is blooming as only a teenager wildflower can!
A single wildflower can bloom every year! And a single person can bloom at every stage of life. “We bloom and we die,” the Word of God says. But the good news is this: we will die only once, we can bloom a dozen times, or a score.
We gather here today to celebrate the lives of those we loved. You have lit candles and given testimony. Nobody spoke about the circumstances of a death. Did you notice? It was not the death that is on your minds; it is the life: the successes and failures, the aptitudes and attitudes, the activities and the achievements, the strengths in times of hardship and the delights that made them dance. You remember the blooming times of your friends, your daughter, your neighbor.
I lit a candle for my life-long friend, Pat Perkins. From our days in high school in St. Louis, she has been blooming—at every stage of life: devout disciple, talented musician, brilliant student, devoted mother, faithful musician, smiling member of the class of ’68. She bloomed to the very end, at every stage of life.
I lit a candle for my later-in-life friend, Lindy Mercer of Owensboro, Kentucky. He did not start blooming until he was in mid-life, after a business disaster and after a religious conversion. The sign of his conversion: generosity, especially as regards to candy and kids and Sunday morning. He became known as The Candy Man, his pockets full of candy and the kids knew it. Shortly after, our paths crossed when I became his pastor. He joined Dr. Moody’s Bible Class and turned his joyful spirit into a shinning example of blooming in the second half of life. There are not enough pages for the people of his county to chronicle his many deeds of generosity, kindness, and humility. On the wall of his truck stop diner hangs one of the first pieces of art my son Ike ever sold.
And yesterday, many of us gathered to celebrate another blooming beauty. She is 85 years old and sits this morning on the fourth pew of this sanctuary. It is one of the great gifts of my ministerial journey to serve with her in this church, and learn from her, and take delight in her many gifts and graces. Thank you, God, for Gail Coulter: for her life, her health, her spirit, her disposition, her dedication. Thank you, God, for helping her bloom at every stage of life, at this stage of life! She adorns the landscape in every situation. She is blooming still and inspires us to live better, serve better, be better: to sing for joy and live with hope.
Like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
Like wildflowers, we bloom, and bloom, and bloom again, and bloom yet again, and then we die. Like Jesus. Think about it. Like any infant, his birth was a blooming joy for his poor parents, for the shepherds and for seekers from the East, for the angels who sang at his birth, for all of who celebrate his birth. In a few weeks—no! already the signs of that celebration are in the stores, on the airways, and in your plans. Sam told me Friday, “Maybe Christmas I can spend with you where it is warm.” He meant St. Simons Island!
As a 12-year-old kid, Jesus bloomed in the temple. The Bible tells us he also, as an early age, was fixated on his calling in life. He was captivated by the Hebrew scriptures and Israelite history and Torah interpretation. He knew enough to astound his elders and he called it, “my father’s business.” He was blooming as a precocious kid!
More than a decade later, he appeared on the scene in Galilee, blooming like the anemones that blanket those hills in springtime. He went about doing good. The people heard him gladly. He healed the sick and cast out demons. He gathered the people to eat together, saints and sinners, Jews and Gentiles, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was the distinguishing mark of his ministry: table fellowship, so that after he died, his people kept doing it, eating together with glad and generous hearts. It was a blooming good time around the table.
And at the end, when he was unjustly arrested and prosecuted, tried, beaten, and sentenced, he was still showing forth the glory of God. “Take care of my mother,” he told one disciple. “I will see you in Paradise,” he told a criminal. “Forgive them,” he prayed to God. And then: “Into your hands I commit my blooming spirit.” On the day he died, he was blooming again, full of grace and glory.
No wonder God gave him one more change to bloom. On the third day, God raised him from the dead, singing for joy and living with hope. Thanks be to God!
You are a blooming soul! Whatever stage you are in, you can bloom for the glory of God and the common good. Keep blooming until the end: speak kindly, give generously, smile warmly, receive gladly, work diligently, dream broadly, be joyful every day. Do great things for God and your neighbor. And then you will die; but first, you bloom.