Below is the text of a sermon I gave on the third day of creation. What I’ve come to love most about this third day is the image of the “tender plants”. The “tender plants” represent our first efforts to produce something good and true in our life. Relatively speaking these first efforts aren’t that impressive; there is still a LOT of ego and selfishness mixed in with our efforts. But, the Lord still loves these tender plants! He sees the good in our first efforts and works to nourish that goodness.
The Tender Plant
Sermon by Rev. Matthew Genzlinger
Last week we saw that the first day of creation represents a beginning stage in our own regeneration when we first begin to realize that goodness and truth are something transcended. We recognize that from ourselves we don’t know what true goodness is; and with this acknowledgment comes the epiphany that the Lord exists and that everything good and true comes from Him – Let there be light! On the second day of creation is says that a distinction was made between waters below an expanse and waters above an expanse. And we were taught that this distinction represents a realization on our part that we have an external man and an internal man. The waters below the expanse represent the more secular facts that we absorb through input from our physical senses; while the waters above the expanse represent all of the genuine goodness and truth that comes to us from the Lord alone through our internal man. Now we move on to the third day of creation which begins with God saying, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place.” (Genesis 1:9)
If you read the Scriptures with any regularity, it will soon become very evident that water is usually used as a symbol for truth. On the wall in our foyer, as you enter into the sanctuary, you’ll find the Lord’s words from the book of Revelation: “I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.” (Revelation 21:6) And in the Old Testament we read verses such as this one from Isaiah: “The earth will be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9)
Knowing that in the Scriptures the Lord uses water to represent truth, we can begin to see that the third day of creation represents a time when we begin to gather together truth or knowledge from the Lord. We’ve realized that the Lord exists and that all good and true things come from Him; and so now we’re ready to spend time gathering into our memory all of the wonderful things the Lord has to teach us.
One of the simple things that is striking about this idea of gathering knowledge together, is just how important it is to do this. Imagine for a minute that you wanted to build your dream home. Money, location, time – none of these things were an obstacle. You could build whatever size and style home you wanted, anywhere in the world. As excited as you might be to begin building this beautiful dwelling place for you and your family right away; it would be absolutely vital that you start by collecting good quality materials with which to build. Regardless of how badly you wanted your dream home to exist and be finished, the quality of the final product would very much depend on what kind of materials you gathered together before the building process even began. The same thing can be said of our own regeneration. Gathering knowledge from the Lord about what is good and true certainly isn’t the ultimate goal in life. But it is important, and we need to realize that. When we take the time to learn from the Lord, it’s like we’re gathering up the tools and the materials that we’re going to need if we want to allow the Lord to create us anew. This is why going to church, reading the Word, studying the heavenly doctrines is so important. When we do these things we are gathering the waters together into one place.
Once these waters have been gathered together, the third day of creation also sees the first appearance of real growth: “Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the tender plant, the plant bearing its seed, and the fruit tree making the fruit that holds its seed, each in the way of its kind”; and it was so.” (Genesis 1:11) Now I’d like just read again part of the passage from the book, Secrets of Heaven, that describes what is meant by these three progressive degrees of growth we see in day three: “When the earth (a person) is so well prepared as to be able to accept heavenly seed from the Lord and to produce good and truth in some degree, that is the time when the Lord first causes the sprouting of something tender, called the tender plant or grass. Next He stimulates something more useful that reseeds itself – the plant bearing its seed. Finally He germinates something good, which reproduces fruitfully – the tree making the fruit that holds its seed, each of these in the way of its kind.” (AC 29) So in general we see that these three types of vegetation represent three progressively better ways that we start bringing the Lord’s goodness and truth into our lives. We’ve gathered together some waters, some knowledge from the Lord about what is good and true, and now we’re making an effort to actually use this knowledge to produce something good. We’re beginning to repent, to shun evils as sins, and to look to the Lord in doing something that is useful.
It’s interesting, as a little aside, to note that this progression through three kinds of vegetation is also spoken of in one of the parables the Lord told in the gospel of Mark: “The kingdom of God is like one who tosses seed into the earth and sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; how it happens, the person does not know. For the earth brings forth fruit of herself, first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” (Mark 4:26-28)
There’s a lot to reflect on when it comes to these types of vegetation created on the third day, but I would like to invite you to focus for a minute on the description of the very first thing that grew – the tender plant. The reason that a tender plant is used as a description of our first efforts to produce something good, is because our first efforts are often not very fruitful. We may do some useful things that resemble what is good; but on the third day of creation we still have a long way to go before we are created anew and are living a genuinely good life. As one of the passages we read pointed out, the “tender plants” that we first produce are often small and relatively lifeless because we still have a lot of arrogance and ego involved in our efforts.
Now because this is true – because our initial efforts are not that impressive – we might be tempted to look down on these tender plants and ridicule them, focusing on how small and insignificant they seem. But what I would invite you to reflect on today, is the fact that even thou our first efforts are relatively feeble, the Lord still loves these tender plants. The Lord sees the good in them and He sees the potential in what they can become. This is important for two reason. First, it gives us permission to be a little bit more gentle with ourselves.
As we go through the life long process called regeneration, there are certainly going to be times when we need to be hard on ourselves. Times when we need to admit that we’re not living up to the Lord’s standards and we might need to give ourselves a spiritual slap in the face. However, it’s also true that there are many times when we end up being too hard on ourselves. Perhaps we don’t feel like we’ve done a good enough job raising our children; or we feel like we haven’t really contributed to the world in any meaningful or useful way. There are many times when the hells can make us feel like complete failures because of mistakes we’ve made in the past or because we just don’t see much worth in the life that we’re living. At times like this, it can be very useful to just remember that we are on a long journey, and just because our lives aren’t perfect doesn’t mean that we’re not progressing or that the Lord has somehow given up on us. They might not always seem that impressive, but we all have tender plants, bits of spiritual life, that the Lord loves and is always working to foster. We need to recognize these little bits of goodness in our own lives and see that they are part of the Lord’s creation.
Now the other, in some ways more important reason we need to reflect on these tender plants, is because of how they can help us change the way we view other people. As I was studying and reflecting on this beautiful image of the tender plant, I couldn’t help but reflect on how often we fail to see the beauty of these tender plants in the world around us, and specifically in other people. As finite and rather judgmental human being, we are so good at finding other people’s imperfections. We’re professionals when it comes to noticing and picking out people’s weaknesses. And yet we fail to look for the good that does exist in others, even if it is relatively small and tender. We’re told that angels have from the Lord this wonderful willingness and desire to look for what is good in other people, no matter how small it may be. They actually overlook people’s faults and their evils, and instead they focus on what is of some value. This is something that we can all think about. Instead of looking at people and seeing a lack of perfection, or a lack of something better; the Lord would have us notice the tender plants that do exist, to appreciate them, and then do everything we can to support them and to help them grow into something even better.
So today, I would invite you to go home, reread the third day of creation, and reflect on what an important step this is in our regeneration or spiritual rebirth. It’s not as grand and as exciting as the days to come, but it is a vital step. Gathering waters together into one place. We need to make the effort to learn and to gather together as much knowledge as we can from the Lord. This pool of knowledge will act as an important source of guidance from which the Lord can draw as we continue our journey. And then just try. Take a first step and try to use what you’ve learned to produce something good. It won’t be perfect, there will still be a lot of ego in our efforts, what we produce will be small and tender. But that’s okay. As a beginning, as a first try, in the Lord’s eyes it will still be good. We’ll see next week that if we continue in our sincere efforts those tender plants will give way to the creation of great light in the sky, to living creation, such a birds and mammals and eventual to a human being created in the image an likeness of God. Reading from the book of Genesis: “Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the tender plant, the plant bearing its seed, and the fruit tree making the fruit that holds its seed, each in the way of its kind”; and it was so. And the earth produced the tender plant, the plant bearing its seed in the way of its kind, and the tree making the fruit that held its seed in the way of its kind. And God saw that it was good.” Amen.
Secrets of Heaven 27: “When we learn that we have an internal man and an external man, and that truth and goodness come from the internal man – or rather from the Lord by way of the internal man into the external man, even though this is contrary to appearances – this information, this knowledge of truth and goodness, is stored away in our memory. The knowledge takes its place among the facts we have learned (scientifica), because anything instilled in the memory of the external man, weather natural, spiritual, or celestial lodges there as a fact (scientificum), and from there the Lord draws on it. This knowledge is the ‘waters gathered into one place’ and named seas.”
Secrets of Heaven 29: “When the earth (a person) is so well prepared as to be able to accept heavenly seed from the Lord and to produce good and truth in some degree, that is the time when the Lord first causes the sprouting of something tender, called the tender plant or grass. Next He stimulates something more useful that reseeds itself – the plant bearing its seed. Finally He germinates something good, which reproduces fruitfully – the tree making the fruit that holds its seed, each of these in the way of its kind. During regeneration we naturally suppose at first that the good we do and the truth we speak come from ourselves, when the reality is that all good and truth come from the Lord. If we imagine they come from ourselves, then, we are not yet in possession of the life of true faith, although we can receive it later. We cannot believe yet that they come from the Lord, because we are being prepared to receive the life of faith. This stage is represented in the story by things that have no living soul. Animate creatures represent the stage of living faith to come….This is the third step in our regeneration and the stage at which we repent.”
Secrets of Heaven 9339: “The life of hell with a person cannot be destroyed suddenly; for if it were destroyed suddenly the person too would perish. Nor can the life of heaven be implanted suddenly, for if this were implanted suddenly the person would again perish. There are thousands and thousands of hidden ways, scarcely a single one of which is known to mankind, by which the Lord leads a person from the life of hell to the life of heaven….Therefore, to enable heaven to come into being in a person, it is necessary for him to receive Divine Truth in the good he has from the Lord. This can be brought into effect only gradually.”