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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lessons from grass, and green

Green* is one of the most common English surnames, and it was used in Scotland, too. People were named Green because they lived near a village green, or because they wore clothes of this color.

Green is the color of emeralds, jade, and growing grass. Green is the color most commonly associated with nature and the environmental movement, Ireland, spring, hope, greed, envy, youth, inexperience, health, sickness, Islam, Saint Patrick's Day, and money. In formal churches, Green symbolizes Ordinary Time (as opposed to Lent, Advent, and other special times), and Christian growth.

The word green comes from the Middle English and Old English word grene, which, like the German word grün, has the same root as the words grass and grow. The first recorded use of the word as a color term in Old English dates to about 14 centuries ago. A word for the color green was apparently invented several times, by different language speakers. In ancient Greek, chloros was the word for yellowish, pale green.

There are over 40 places where the Bible uses the word, green. Most of them are in the sense of "green plant," or related to that use. In some translations, Esther 1:6 uses green as a fabric color. Job 8:16 and 15:32 use green to refer to a favored person. One of the most familiar uses is in Psalm 23, where David says that he has laid down in green pastures. Here’s how Jeremiah described a righteous person, in 17:7 Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
and whose confidence is in God.
8 For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters,
who spreads out its roots by the river,
and shall not fear when heat comes,
but its leaf shall be green;
and shall not be careful in the year of drought,
neither shall cease from yielding fruit. So, someone who trusts God is compared to a green tree – growing, alive, and fertile.

Here’s another passage:
Psalm 92:12 The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.
He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
13 They are planted in the Lord’s house.
They will flourish in our God’s courts.
14 They will still produce fruit in old age.
They will be full of sap and green, Lesson 1: We can, and should, still be fruitful for God, and others, for all of our lives, including in our old age. Fruit? Probably two things: winning others to a relationship with Christ; showing the fruits of the Spirit, from Galatians 5:22-3, which are joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As I said, and as you can see all around us at this time of year, green is the color of plants, and of growth. Did you know that we wouldn't be here without green plants? They make food for us, and for animals. Every item of food on that table out there originated as a mostly green plant, whether it’s lettuce, tomatoes, sweet tea, butter, rolls, chicken, roast beef, ham or red velvet cake. Everything with calories in it, that you can buy at Ingles, Walmart, Bilo, Publix, or wherever you shop, started out as green plant material. Calories have a bad name, because some of us take in more of them than we should, but we need calories. Without green plants, there’d be no calories available in food.

The process that uses light energy to make food is photosynthesis, which is carried out by the chlorophylls in green plants. Remember the Greek word for light green? Chloros.

What makes plants green? Chlorophyll, which is a green pigment, named for chloros. What's a pigment? A pigment is a chemical that absorbs some colors, and reflects others, or just lets them go through. Why are leaves green? Because they absorb some of the sun’s light, and reflect, or transmit, green. Blue and red light, are mostly absorbed by chlorophyll**. The plants use the energy in that blue and red light to make food. Lesson 2: We need to be like pigments. We need to absorb the light that God makes available to us, through the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and through other godly people. We also need to reflect that light, so that others can profit from it.

This amazing system of capturing sunlight, and getting food from it, is one of the many things that we don’t thank God enough for.

Now, I’d like to change my subject a little, from green to grass. If I did a good job, and you were paying attention, you noticed that green and grass are closely related words, and no wonder. Grass is green, usually. A lot of what’s green is grass. There are about 60 references to grass in the Bible, beginning in Genesis 1, where grass is described as part of God’s good creation.

Based on other scripture, such as Psalm 104, God didn’t describe His creation as good just because it was and is good for humans. We’re far from discovering all of the galaxies, stars, and even planets in the universe. The ones yet discovered, and even most of those we know about, don’t seem to do us much good. But they can still be for God’s glory, even though we have never seen them. Has Pluto or Neptune ever helped you? Has a galaxy hundreds of light-years away ever helped you? Yet they are part of God’s good creation. We think that there are many types of living things that we haven’t discovered yet. If most of them disappeared today, it wouldn’t affect our lives. But they are still for God’s glory, too. What God has allowed to exist in the universe is good primarily because of God, not because it is good for humans.

What about grass?
In Matthew 6:30, Jesus said that grass exists today, but is just thrown into the oven tomorrow, apparently as cheap fuel. Lesson 3: We aren’t special, either. We attendees at this Green reunion are no better than people named Black, or Smith, or whatever.

We aren’t special even if we are rich, or well educated, or talented, or popular, we aren’t anything special:
James 1:11 For the sun arises with the scorching wind, and withers the grass, and the flower in it falls, and the beauty of its appearance perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in his pursuits.

Daniel told Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of the most powerful kingdom of his day, that he wasn’t anything special: Daniel 4:25b you shall be driven from men, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field, and you shall be made to eat grass as oxen, and shall be wet with the dew of the sky, and seven times shall pass over you; until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever he will.

Lesson 4: even though we aren’t any more special than anyone else, God cares for us! Matthew 6:30: But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he much more clothe you, you of little faith? The God who clothes the grass in its beautiful green can clothe, and feed, and shelter, and heal us. We should never forget that.

Lesson 5: we are here for a purpose: 1 Kings 18:5 Ahab said to Obadiah, “Go through the land, to all the springs of water, and to all the brooks. Perhaps we may find grass and save the horses and mules alive, that we not lose all the animals.”

Grass does many things. One thing it does is provide food for grazing animals, and us. (You and I can’t really digest grass very well.) Plants of this type have always been important to humans. They have been grown as food for domesticated animals, and for other uses, for about 6,000 years. The most important food crops are the grains of grasses such as wheat, rice and barley. Remember the village green that the Green name may have come from? That was a place for the animals to graze.

We have a purpose, too. It’s not to provide food for animals. It’s a higher purpose. We are to be part of a new creation, begun as Christ’s kingdom. That means that we who believe on Christ as savior are not just given an escape route from hell. We are part of a kingdom that is working worldwide, to bring men and women, boys and girls, to abundant, infectious life in Christ. How well am I carrying out God’s purpose in me? How well are you?

Lesson 6: we need to stay connected. Grass that’s not connected to water dies. Grass that’s not connect to soil can’t get enough minerals. Grass that’s not connected to light stops making food for itself. We must continue to be connected to God, to a good church, to godly people.

Lesson 7: we shouldn’t let being clipped get us down. When Ahab and Obadiah were looking for grass to feed their animals, or when David was lying down in green pastures, they weren’t expecting the animals to eat the grass down to the roots. They expected it to be grazed, or clipped, and grow back.

My wife thinks I’m too old, or too feeble, or not competent enough to mow our grass. So we hire someone to do it. But guess what? He comes every two weeks, and Faye just asked him to come more often. Why? Because grass grows back when cut or clipped. So should we. There are going to be troubles and trials. Perhaps some of you had some just getting here. It’s not God’s plan that we won’t have troubles. But it is God’s plan that we can remain cheerful and obedient and loving when they come. We got an e-mail, last week, from a man whose wife has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Most of the letter was things he was thankful for, concerning this experience.

Most of you don’t know [Jane Green's] father. He lost his wife to a heart attack, over 25 years ago. He hasn’t been able to hear anything less than a loud yell for years. He has trouble walking. I can’t imagine what any of these problems would be like. No wife, not able to carry on a normal conversation, or listen to the TV or the radio, not able to get around. I suppose his family has seen him grumpy, or even angry or depressed. But I never have. He’s always shown a remarkably good attitude, in spite of his circumstances. He’s stood up to clipping!

Lesson 8: There’s hope, even if we aren’t anything special, even if we have been clipped. There’s God!

Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers,
the flower fades;
but the word of our God stands forever.” And, thank God, we can stand forever, too!

*This post is modified slightly from a devotional talk given to the Green family, which my wife is related to, on April 27, 2013. Thanks for reading!

**(Added May 23, 2013) National Public Radio has posted a story, with photo, on "pinkhouses," a high-tech way to grow plants efficiently indoors. The pink is because these structures use only red and blue light, and the result looks pink. The red and blue light are the only colors necessary for photosynthesis.

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