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Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Matt. 6:28-29)
When Jesus spoke these words he had, according to the Gospel writer of Matthew, presumably gone up onto a mount in order to speak to the gathering crowds, and to impart the core of his teachings to his closest followers. If it was spring, and the flowers were blooming, all he had to do was gesture with his hand towards the hillside blossoms and they would know first hand of what he spoke. The phrase "lilies of the field" was a kind of generic term for flowers in general. He could well have been referring to the scarlet anemone which he then compared to the royal robes of Solomon, "whose lavishness was proverbial." (Interpreter's Bible) Previously, he had spoken of the birds of the air who "neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns" but are nonetheless provided for out of God's gracious bounty.
What he was trying to say was that human anxiety and concern about physical and material needs, though understandable, are not the key to the true understanding of existence. "Is not life more than food, and the body more than raiment?" God knows we have need of these things and our worry and anxiety about them will not add one hour to our span of life, in fact it may do just the opposite. Moreover, greed and selfishness, which are the cause of most wars and human conflicts, are rooted in an underlying anxiety about material goods. We are afraid that the other guy will have too much of whatever it is we think we need and so we resolve to get ours first and horde the rest for future days. "I've got mine, Jack, too bad for you."
This is a mentality based on a psychology of scarcity, not enough to go around, so I'm going to hold on to what I have and get more if I can. Jesus much preferred a psychology of abundance shared, there is plenty to go around if we let go of our anxiety and greed. Jesus' formula is simple and to the point. "Seek first the kingdom of God and (its) righteousness and all these things will be given as well." What is the kingdom of God? One way of putting it is to say that it is a right relation of peace and love and justice of human beings with God, with one another, with themselves, and with the natural world. Life and abundance flow naturally out of such a state of being.
Consider the lilies of the field. Jesus could have picked a flower and held it before his disciples as a direct example of what he was trying to say. Instead he used the words as a metaphor for the transitory beauty of nature which is here today and gone tomorrow and compared it to the inner beauty of the human soul in right relation to God and the universe and declared the latter to be of more value, of more value because an enlightened human soul can see into eternity.
It is interesting to compare Jesus' teaching
about the lilies of the field with Gautama the
Buddha's teaching about the secret of the golden
flower. The story goes that one day the Buddha
was gathered with a large assembly of his monks
on a mount somewhere. They all awaited
expectantly for him to impart his teaching
through the spoken word.
This time he would see which of them would understand his teaching in a wordless sermon. They were all ears as they waited for him to speak. But no words came out of his mouth. Instead he just smiled, picked up a golden lotus flower, turned it in his fingers, and held it silently before his listeners. The minutes went by, but no one understood what it was he was trying not to say, except for one monk, Maha Kashapa, who suddenly smiled in full recognition and enlightenment. Because he alone among Buddha’s disciples had grasped the Secret of the Golden Flower, the Buddha then designated him as his successor.
Consider the lilies of the field, consider the
secret of the golden lotus flower. The teaching
of the two great spiritual masters is similar,
though with different accents of the spirit,
poets have written of it and understood.
We can enjoy life most fully only by letting it go, "kissing the joy as it flies into eternity's sunrise", sharing what we have with others while we have it, knowing that the only beauty worth having is a soul centered in compassion and lived in awareness of both time and eternity. In times of both grief and gladness, in sympathy and appreciation, we send flowers, because flowers speak of a love and a beauty that is everlasting, though the flowers themselves are fleeting and transitory. Consider the lilies of the field, consider the secret of the golden flower.
This leads me to the story of our concluding ritual ceremony, the Flower Communion service. It has its origins in the life of a Czech Unitarian minister, Norbert Capek (pronounced Chah-peck), who was a victim of the Nazi death camp at Dachau. Born in 1870 Capek grew up as a Catholic in his native Czech republic. He eventually came to question the rites and rituals and dogmas of the Catholic Church and became a Baptist. He came to America and was introduced to Unitarianism in East Orange, N.J., by a close friend, Thomas Masaryk, who was to become the first Czech president on returning to his homeland after the First World War.
When the War was over the American Unitarian Association agreed to send Capek as a Unitarian missionary to Prague. He began by renting a concert hall which drew large crowds of people who were anxious to learn about this new liberal and rational approach to religion. Soon his new congregation prospered and modern Unitarianism began to take root in his native land for the first time.
Because his congregation had people from many backgrounds he felt the need for a symbolic ritual that would help bind a diverse group of people together. It had to be of such a form that all could participate without reservation. And so he conceived the Flower Communion. His grandson, Ron Fredrick describes it as follows:
Then came the tragedy of his martyrdom at Dachau. With Hitler's take over of Czechoslovakia in the 1930s Capek as a liberal progressive preacher was interrogated by the Nazis. They sent spies to listen to every word he preached on Sunday mornings. For awhile he tried to veil his message of freedom in Biblical parables and symbolic language, but eventually he was arrested, charged with treason, and sent to Dachau. While in prison he helped raise his fellow prisoner's spirits with dauntless humor and a cheerful countenance. One of the poems he wrote while in Dachau appears in our hymnal:
And then he says, "The Flower Communion is the very essence of UU respect for individual differences. Yet he found the security of mind, courage and heart to hold to his principles, come what may. He was tolerant, but he was tough."
So his grandfather's legacy, he concludes, "is a life that shows we can have it both ways: we can be appreciative of each human being's worth, even our enemies; and yet we can still act strongly in support of what we see as right and true. All it takes is courage--lots of courage."
And so as we prepare to participate in this
morning's Flower Communion service let us
remember Norbet Capek, along with Jesus and
Buddha, and let us be thankful for this religious
fellowship which treasures our individuality and
supports us in the spiritual quest which has no
end. Let us hold the secret of the flowers in our
hands and be grateful for the gift of life.
First Parish Unitarian Universalist