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Edward F. Markquart

Growing to Enormous Proportions

Confirmation     Philippians 1:3-11

(On the Communion altar were four huge pumpkins, seventy pounds each.  There was also a miniature pumpkin, smaller than an apple, and a less-than-average-sized pumpkin on that same table, but no one noticed these smaller pumpkins until they were used in the sermon.  The four gigantic pumpkins dominated the visual scene for this sermon.  Also, it is beneficial to watch the video of this sermon after reading it.  The video demonstrates the effectiveness of having learned the sermon so well, the sermon then lives inside of the preacher and flows naturally as it is preached without notes.  The video will begin in the middle of page two, with the Biblical text and illustration of the giant pumpkins.)

Welcome to our confirmation service today.  We are pleased that you are here.

Today is a very special day for the twenty young people who are being confirmed. These are wonderful young people of faith.  If you had been present this past Sunday night and heard their papers, “My Relationship with Jesus Christ,” would have been inspired and moved by their stories. These are incredible Christians.

These confirmands will remember today.  It is not many special days in life that a person remembers.  Perhaps we remember our high school graduation day, our college graduation day, our wedding day, and many people remember this their confirmation day. Today is one of those sacred days that you young people will remember.

Confirmation day is not only a special day for you confirmands, but is special for all of you as parents and grandparents, godparents, step parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends.  This is a special day in the life of your family, or you are here because it is a sacred day.  We welcome all family and friends on this sacred occasion.

Today is not only special for each confirmand and their family and friends, it is also special for the members of our congregation.  Jason gave the opening prayer and shared with you confirmands how much you meant to him as a youth advisor.  Buck read the Scriptures and said how his life has been touched when sharing so many retreats with you.  Rob and Beth will give communion today and recall their years with you as your Sunday School teachers.  An overwhelming number of the congregation are interconnected with your lives, and those people are here to be with you.  They helped you grow up and mature.

Yesterday, a young woman dropped by the church.  I couldn’t immediately remember her name.  She was an active youth in our parish some eight to ten years ago, and I searched my brain for her name and then finally asked her, “Tell me your name.”  “Kathy.”  And so many of the memories of her came flooding back.  “O yes, you were a girl back then and now you have become a young woman.  Do you remember the afternoon when you were a little girl and your father died, and we were together at your home?”  “Yes, I remember.”  “Do you remember years later when we were in the hospital and your mother died of that brain tumor.”  “Yes, how vividly I remember.”  “How are you doing after all those deep scars?”  “Better, I am doing much better now.” “How are your aunt and uncle, the ones that took care of you so many years ago?”  “They are doing fine. But how are the Sorensons doing?  You remember that I lived with them for a while.”  “O yes, they are doing just fine.” Kathy said, “You know, everything has changed around here.  The only thing that is the same is the old white school bus.  I remember going to Toppenish and Mexico in that bus.  What great memories.  I am glad the bus hasn’t changed.”  She smiled and continued, “Do you remember the children’s sermon you gave twenty years ago and I was in it. You were asking what would a child prefer, candy or bread, and I chose bread in order to mess you up.  Do you remember that?”  She laughed.  We laughed and remembered. Kathy had a legacy of memories, of so many memories, about her mom and dad and the bus and the church and the children’s sermons and the Sorensons.  Kathy had a legacy of memories and so do you kids today. You kids have hundreds of positive memories of your life here at Grace Lutheran Church that you will remember until your dying day. You, too, have a legacy.

This is also a great day for Pastor O’Neal and myself.  Both Pastor O’Neal and I have a special affection for you.  We truly love you and you know that.  When I think about it, I baptized many of you. I baptized some of you where you were infants; others I baptized when you were older.  The years went by and I prepared you for your first communion.  You were actually pretty nice then.  And then something happened between fifth grade and seventh grade, and some of you became somewhat squirrelly and some of you became very squirrelly.  You know who you are. You were absolutely wonderful. And then we had five years together at Camp Lutherwood.  Then, we had three years at Camp Norwester together.  We have so many grand memories together, a legacy of memories.  When I pause to think about it, I was there that day when some of your mothers and fathers were confirmed.  I then married some of your mothers and fathers.  This means I knew many of you before you were born. So today is a very special day for me as a person and as a pastor who loves you.

What kind of sermon should I preach to you confirmands today?  What Biblical text should I chose for you?  I chose a passage from Philippians that says, “I am certain that God, who has begun this good work in you, will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ.”  God has just started on you; you have only fifteen years under your belt; life has just begun for you. “God, who has begun this work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ.  I pray that your love would abound more and more, your love would overflow more and more.” I like the word, abound, more than overflow because the word, abound, has a bounce to it.  “I pray that your love would abound more and more, together with wisdom and understanding, so you would be able to chose what is best.  And when you are able to chose what is best, you will be holy and blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

For a sermon illustration today, I was trying to think of something that was abounding, something that was abounding in growth, and I thought of giant pumpkins that are gracing our altar today. Four giant pumpkins sitting on our altar.  They are huge honkers.

I called Jack Trefino, who is an old fashioned Italian farmer down there in Fife and he sells all kinds of vegetable from his farm, including pumpkins. I called Jack and asked him if I could borrow some pumpkins.  I explained what I needed.  I didn’t know Jack, but he agreed over the telephone to lend me the pumpkins.  So I drove down to his family farm near Fife, and discovered that this farm had been in his family for generations.  I again explained to Jack the thesis of my sermon:  “That the love of God grows really big inside, so I don’t want a little pumpkin but a big one.  I want the biggest pumpkin that that is available.”  So I was taken over to the side of the barn, and there were the biggest honkers of pumpkins you have ever seen.  He called to some Hispanic muscular men to load these gigantic pumpkins into my van.

“Jack,” I said, “I really appreciate these pumpkins but I also need a sermon.  Would you tell me how you grew such a big pumpkin as this?”  “Sure, he said.”

“First, you gotta get the special seed, the giant pumpkin seed.  You can’t have just any pumpkin seed to get this giant pumpkin.  You gotta have a seed, a hybrid seed, that will produce such a gigantic pumpkin as this. It is a seed that comes from one of these giant pumpkins, not a seed from a miniature pumpkin.  The seed must come from a giant pumpkin itself.”  “Good,” I said, “I’ll get these giant pumpkin seeds, plant them and a miracle happens. Up comes a giant pumpkin, right?”

“No, no, no.  You have to have more than the special seed.”  The farmer chose his language carefully, “You have to lay a good foundation of fertilizer, and you can’t put the seed in the hot manure or you will burn it.  You put the seed on the foundation of the fertilizer.”  “Great,” I said, “I know how to do it.  The special seed on a foundation of fertilizer, not in the foundation or it will burn. I’ll do it.  Is that all?”

“No, no, no. There is more.  After you have the special seed and lay it on the foundation of fertilizer, you then cover the whole thing with a mound of dirt.  You put light, airy dirt mounded over that seed. Not dense heavy dirt, but light, airy dirt, so it can breathe.”  “Oh, I got it.  The seed, the foundation, the airy dirt, and I have the miracle, right?”

“No, no, no.  There is more. You have to cultivate for fifteen feet all the way around that seed and the seed will draw energy from all that soil, fifteen feet around.  If you don’t have that thirty foot diameter of soil, you won’t get a gigantic pumpkin.”  “It’s easy. I’ve got it:  the special seed, the foundation of fertilizer, the airy dirt mound, the thirty feet in diameter of soil for energy.  Do I have it all?”

“No, no, no.  There is more.  You have got to fertilize all that soil in the thirty-foot circle around the pumpkin with really good nutrients, so that the pumpkin has plenty of power to draw from.  No fertilizer, no energetic soil.” “Anything more?”

“Rain and sunshine.  Rain and sunshine will help grow that plant.”

 “And one more thing.  You have to prune off those extra shoots. You have to prune those extra shoots that won’t be contributing to the growth of your pumpkin.  You don’t want energy going in those extra shoots, so you prune them off and leave some several primary shoots that the big pumpkin will draw energy from. The giant pumpkin cannot draw energy from one shoot but several shoots.”

I said, “Is that all I have to do in order to grow a gigantic pumpkin?” And he said, “Yep. That’s all. That’s what you have to do to grow a giant pumpkin.”

It is God’s desire for the love inside of you to grow to enormous proportions, for God’s love to abound and abound. It is God’s desire and design, that by the time you die, his love inside of you will have grown to enormous proportions. God wants the love in your heart to grow enormously, and this growth will please God.  As the Bible says, “God who has begun this good work inside of you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ.”  “You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might.”  God’s vision for you heart is not just to grow a little bit of love. God wants the love to grow big and strong within you: love for your parents, love for your family, love for the hurting and suffering of the world, love for God.

So how does God’s love grow to enormous proportions inside of you?  Let us learn from the Bible, the Italian farmer, and the art of growing pumpkins. Let us work with the analogy and apply it to our lives.

First, you need the Jesus seed.  If you don’t have the Jesus seed in you, you are going to get the wrong kind of love. There are other kinds of “love seeds” available to you.  You can see a “love seed” on television or in the movies or in love songs on the radio.  There are all kinds of “love seeds” available to you, but these are not the Jesus seed.  If you plant one of these “love seeds” from television or the movies or the radio love songs, you will end up with a love that looks like this. Small, infantile, puny. Here is a miniature pumpkin in my hand; and it is grown from a seed, but not the special seed needed for giant pumpkins. It is the wrong kind of seed and it grows just a little bitty pumpkin.  It is a pumpkin all right, but a little one, even smaller than an orange or an apple. You gotta have the right seed, the Jesus seed, to start with.

Second, you take the Jesus seed and you have to put it on a good foundation.  For me, the good foundation is the quality of intimate family love that you find with a father, a mother, a stepfather, a stepmother, a grandparent, an aunt or an uncle or people at church. You need to have people who truly love you.  Inevitably and sadly, your life will get all messed up and screwed up and fouled up, and you will come back and you will need those people who truly and unconditionally love you. They are there for you in the tough times of your life, when you hit the bottom.  We all need that kind of love, that accepts you just the way you are.  You need that kind of love from a mother or father, stepmother or stepfather.  It is the foundation and you can’t grow gigantic love without the right foundation of unconditional love.  These people love you no matter what.  For some kids, they find that quality of love in the church and the loving friendships in the church. 

Third, I need a little mound of airy, light dirt above the seed and foundation.  That mound of light, airy dirt is prayer.  We pray for the Holy Spirit to come and live inside of us.  God wants us to love him with all our hearts, and all our souls and all our might.  God doesn’t want us to love just our parents, just our friends, just our buddies.  God wants us to love God, with everything we have inside.  To love God.  Tthat happens when the Holy Spirit lives inside of us.  God wants the love in us to grow and grow, but there will be no growth without the Spirit of prayer.  Being still before God.  Quietness. Prayer.  Meditation. Conversation. Intercession. You have to have that mound of light dirt to get a gigantic pumpkin.

Fourth.  Shoots or runners from that pumpkin grow out three, four, five feet from the plant, and these shoots begin to draw power and energy for the big pumpkin.  These shoots that draw energy symbolize the relationships we have with other people.  For me, these are small group relationships.  There are small groups of people who give you energy for the faith. You cannot grow this kind of gigantic love without significant peer relationships with other people from whom you draw strength and energy.  For example, I am working with a group of men and the book, JESUS; CEO.  The title is really a “come on;” the real title is, “Jesus, the Noble Leader.”  It is a book about leadership.  We could have a lecture on leadership for these men in a large room, and it would be boring.  But if we break the larger group into smaller groups of twelve or less and the men talk with each other, they begin to draw strength from each other and begin sharing with each other. One man talks and other men listen and there is an exchange of energy between them.  … Originally, the churches of Jesus Christ were very small and people met in a living room.  The original churches didn’t seat 500 or 1000 people, but twelve. The early churches were always in a home, in a living room, around a table.  The reason that the early church was so explosive in its growth in the first three centuries is because the first disciple drew incredible spiritual energy from each other through small worship and prayer groups.  Small groups in the church weren’t necessarily organized.  Small groups are often informal such as all the small groups after church, people talking and listening, sharing, and giving and taking energy from one another.  My mother grew up in a small group; it was her eleven brothers and sisters in her home.  The principle is this:  for enormous growth of love, we need to be part of a peer fellowship. You cannot grow this size of pumpkin on the altar unless you are connected to various supplies of energy that you receive from different small groups of people in and around the church.

Fifth, the roots go out and reach out even further where you give yourself in love. The roots go out further and you are stretched out in your love.  I hope all of you kids go to Toppenish next year and work in the Spanish church over them.  I see Pastor Dan is with us today, from our mission in Toppenish.  Our kids have gone over to Toppenish and given of themselves; but what happens when you give yourself to another?  The energy comes back.  There is enormous energy that comes back into you when you give of yourself to another, when you give your love away.  Many of our kids have gone down to Mexico and worked in the orphanage there.  As a young person from our church goes down to Mexico and holds a little orphan on his or her lap, what happens?  The loving energy flows from our young person, but do you think loving energy flows back? You better believe it.  When you give yourself in love to other people, the energy will flow back.  That is just the way it is.

Another example.  I was here at church last night to lift the pumpkins up onto the altar.  The AA group, Two-fers, were also here, Christian couples who are part of Alcoholics Anonymous.  These men helped me lift the pumpkins onto the altar; one person cannot do the job. I was talking to Carl about the sermon and he chimed in: “It’s not only in Toppenish.  It is not only in Mexico.  It is when you are standing in the grocery line, and the person in front of you in the line has a brief momentary problem with their cart, and you help them in the grocery line, you give and you receive energy.  As you give yourself to that person in the grocery line, energy comes back to you.” Carl was right.

You plant the Jesus seed, a really special seed. You lay it on a good foundation; you put a layer of light dirt on the seed; it germinates; it grows and draws energy from other shoots; and then it reaches out further and draws more energy.  As the pumpkin grows and grows, the love of God inside of you grows and grows and grows and grows.  What a grand miracle to behold. These pumpkins on the altar preach such powerful sermons just by looking at them.

So let’s imagine that we meet one another again in fifteen years.  You have moved away and we haven’t seen each other for quite some time.  You want to bring me up to date about your life.  Please don’t tell me about the new big car that you now own, the bright shiny new Lexus.  Please don’t tell me about your big job and all the people who are now working for you.  Please don’t tell me about your big degree, how educated you have become in all these years. These are all fine and interesting.  Rather, I want to know, during the past fifteen years of life, how has that Jesus seed grown in you, that Jesus seed that was planted in your baptism, and it has taken root, and the love of God inside of you has grown and grown and grown, to such enormous proportions.  That is what I will want to know. How has the love of God grown in you?

The work that God has begun in you, may God bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ. May the love of Jesus Christ abound in you more and more and more, so that you can make those choices that are wisest and best.  If you have that kind of love inside of you, you then will make those crucial choices that are best and you will continue to grow in goodness until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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