‘gardening with God…’
June 17, 2018
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
I think the parables of Jesus are perhaps a bit more distant from us today because our frame of reference is so very different than it was for those who listened as Jesus spoke to them. The people who gathered to listen to Jesus were grounded in an agrarian lifestyle; their life was very much tied into the cycles of the seasons and the vagaries of weather patterns. They knew of tools and farming equipment, they knew of proper and improper plowing and tilling techniques. And as such the agricultural references that Jesus frequently used in his teachings easily resonated with those there with him…they knew what Jesus was trying to tell them probably more so than many today who have not had extensive interaction or experience with agriculture or the unique perspective that working the land has to offer.
And as many of Jesus’ more cryptic teachings, his parables, leaned heavily on such agricultural imagery and understandings they can be just a little more difficult to appreciate today. And for many reasons I suppose, if I had my way I would insist that everyone spend considerable time out working in a garden, out tending the land, out letting the soil of the good earth sift through your hands in order to encounter firsthand the experience of trying to be a part of Creation’s natural tendencies to grow and to produce bountiful harvests…not always of the things you may have hoped to grow mind you…in fact more often than not there seem to be far more weeds and bugs than are really necessary, but nonetheless, working a garden is good for the ‘all’ of you…good for your body, good for your mind, and especially good for your soul.
And as I read through our gospel reading for today and the story of what seemed to be a very determined journey of a seed I was struck by the sense that Jesus seemed to be saying that the Kingdom or ‘kindom’ of God he was proclaiming seemed to have an energy of its own. As if it was going to come to be whether or not we put our best efforts into it. This was interesting to me for I had never before tied the life-producing qualities that are built into Creation with the intention of God to bring about a day in which the promises of peace and goodness for all are brought to fruition. In my reading of the parable it seemed as if Jesus was hinting that the Good News of God’s kingdom was going to happen of its own accord due to the work of the Spirit throughout the life of humanity… ‘as if someone would scatter seed…and would sleep and rise…and the seed would sprout and grow…and he does not know how’.
In other words, I have always felt that there was a particular quality and quantity of human effort that was needed to establish the conditions under which the ‘kindom’ of God could then emerge…and to some extent I still feel that way. However, Jesus’ equating of the natural life forces within Creation with the emergence or presence of the ‘kindom’ amongst us was striking in that it seemed to shift the responsibility for the end result of a day of true peace and presence at least into the realm of a partnership between humanity and the divine. Which in some ways I suppose lends credence to the old maxim that ‘God’s will, will in fact be done’…
In any case the fact that Jesus so often proclaimed that the ‘Kingdom of God was amongst us’ seems just a bit more plausible if in fact there is a measure of divine work participating in its emergence along with our best efforts. If in fact the ‘kindom’ of God is a normal part of the process or an outgrowth of Creation then that truly is good news…for then our proclamation of the faith can echo that of Jesus as we search out, find, and then affirm that there is evidence all around us of the goodness of our God’s mercy and grace-filled intention. Indeed ‘Good News’ such as this has the potential of discouraging us from losing heart or despairing despite what we see all around us or hear reported in the news.
We must remember that in the first story of Creation in the beginning of Genesis, each day’s work was proclaimed as ‘good’ by God prior to the start of the next day. Each day the story tells us, God surveyed what had been wrought and proclaimed that it was ‘good’. And then on the sixth day, after everything had been made, after the work of bringing Creation into being was completed, God looked around and proclaimed that ‘indeed, it was all good’…implying that everything that had been made was in the fullness of its creative potential and balance across all of Creation…everything in its place and everything participating in the balance and harmony of the created order.
And that ‘original state’ of Creation was truly prolific in producing seed and fruit and in begetting life from life…and it has continued on to this present moment in its creative work and fruitfulness. And by the same token, the Spirit of God that was there in the beginning, that ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ of God that breathed life into the frame of humanity, that same wind that ‘hovered over the primeval waters of Creation’ still swirls all around us producing fruits of goodness and grace whose sole purpose is to reveal the wonder of God’s love and care amongst us.
There is evidence all around us that speaks of this divine and wondrous activity in the garden of Creation in which we dwell. However I think that all too often we forget to look for it, all too often we do not open our eyes to the possibility that the Spirit of God is busily producing fruits of love and compassion right before our eyes. But it is there just the same…just like the feel of newly tilled soil sifting softly through your hands, just like the hard and toilsome work of pulling out unwanted weeds and then being sure to water on a dry and dusty day…the Spirit of God is ever tending the garden of creation…and the garden of your soul…working to produce not only fruit that nourishes your soul but fruit that is beautiful and lovely in its own right.
These fruits of the Spirit that are all around us include such things as the warm afterglow that follows doing something good and gracious for another just because it was something you felt drawn to do…or the joy of offering small little acts of self-less service for someone on need be it a hug or a kind word, a smile or just taking a moment to stop and listen. The grace of the fruit of God’s Spirit is felt whenever we take the time to fellowship together, to share coffee and bagels or perhaps share a meal at one another’s home…it is that warm feeling that can be felt during family times together or even in the joking around and true joy of a ‘Grab-n-go Chicken Bar-b-q’…all of these good and holy moments are evidence of the ‘kindom of God’ amongst us.
In the second parable in our reading Jesus spoke of how tiny the mustard seed was…and believe me there are seeds I have planted that were too small to see individually…they needed to be planted literally in faith that the small black smudge in the seed packet was in fact a thousand seeds! But in truth even those seeds grew up to bear abundant fruit and vegetables, multiplying that original tiny seed hundreds if not thousands of times over. And I think Jesus mentioned the mustard seed as a kernel seed for the ‘kindom’ because it does not take much for the force of love to gain a foothold and to begin to grow into a moment or an act of grace. The ‘kindom’ that is all around us, the ‘kindom’ that is growing in the garden of Creation and in the garden of each of our souls does not need huge moments or big splashy words or acts to make a profound difference in someone’s life.
In fact I think from our reading today the case can be made that often it is the smallest of acts, the littlest things we do or say, seemingly the most insignificant things we may undertake that can generate a world of good in the life of another. Every ‘mustard seed moment’ that we choose to lift up and let grow within our soul at the impulse of the Spirit, will surely bear fruit that is hundreds if not thousands of times larger than the effort we first put into it.
These small acts of love and compassion which we allow ourselves to be immersed in are in fact the ‘seeds’ of God’s blessed community…the seeds which grow into and become our life together as the family of God. It is the partnership of the Spirit of God’s love and a willing human heart that is the energy that begins to fulfil the promise of God’s ‘kindom’…a promise that is built into the Creation itself through the activity of the Spirit.
In other words we have the distinct privilege of being co-creators of the Day of our Lord every time we allow ourselves to be used of God, every time we allow ourselves to be swept up in the Spirit’s natural inclination and intention of ushering in the fullness of God’s love and promise…for there is most surely a bend or an arc towards that promised Day of our Lord , that day of peace and goodness for all resident within every seed and within every soul… and we have but to allow ourselves to be a part of it.
Every time we see, hear, speak, or act to share the goodness of our God we are forming and building up the blessing of community that is God’s greatest gift…and God’s greatest desire for humankind. At the end of that sixth day of Creation, ‘indeed, it is all good’ was the proclamation that mutually beneficial and life-giving community was the gifted impulse undergirding all of Creation. And it is a garden of God’s desire that is still growing and still producing fruit all around us. And it is a garden as well that we have been asked to tend in faith…a fertile garden in which God’s community of grace has taken root and a garden in which we have been blessed with the opportunity to ‘grow’ alongside of our Lord.
There is a beauty and an order in Creation that will not be denied, and to the extent that we are able to tap into that energy and witness the Glory of God in the Glory of Creation we will be that much the richer for it. Small seeds, little things, the smallest acts of grace and kindness…it is happening all around us.
So, take the time, make the time to get down on your knees and get grounded in the goodness of the Spirit’s work throughout Creation…for if you do so you will be one who sees the ‘kindom’, one who feels the goodness of the ‘kindom’…and who is therefore able to be the ‘smile and the joy of God’ as you share the good news of hope and promise…not from a place of ‘wishing for it to be true’, but rather from a place of having seen and heard yourself of the glory of our God.
…and while you are at it…try and spend some time in a real garden…for there is something truly magical and spiritually wondrous about ‘re-touching’ Creation…about holding once again in your hand some of the stardust out of which you were created…