Gardening with God
A few of you who are keen gardeners know that it is best to keep me away from plants. But this parable, of the seed that grows without interference from the sower, is comforting to me, because it assures me that God’s providence does not depend upon my expertise to bring forth its bounty. God will provide for God’s creation: from the birds of the air to the hungry souls lined up before the farmer’s stall.
Still, God does invite our participation in that providence. Someone has to sow the seed.
When Gareth and I moved into our first home together, it was September. It was harvest-time. We inherited from the previous owners of our house a garden full of produce. There was spinach and chard, marrows and peas. I particularly remember the cherry tomatoes, because I could walk out into the garden every morning before work and pick a tub of them, newly ripened, to take for my mid-morning snack. It was a true gift: sustenance and delight for which I had done nothing, and which was now mine to enjoy. In fact, there was so much deliciousness that I had plenty to share around the office.
It felt like manna from heaven. But someone had to do the planting. Someone had already tended that garden. The fruit, for all it felt like a free gift to me, did not come from nothing.
This is the tension within this pair of parables. It is only by God’s gracious provision that creation produces within itself shelter for the birds, food for the hungry, growth for the seed, awakening for the earth; and yet God graciously partners with us to nurture the soil, to spread the germ, to discover, to harvest, to share the gifts of the Creator.
Think for a moment about who it was that planted the seed of the gospel within your imagination. Was it a parent or a loved one? A teacher or a writer, the author or illustrator of a beloved book? Did it feel as though it fell like manna from heaven?
Who nurtured that seed? Was it the same one who planted it? Was it left to grow in secret, in the welcoming darkness of your soul, or drawn out into the light in camp songs and bonfires?
Did the person who first told you that God loves you as deeply and profoundly as God loves anything, anyone whom God has made – does that person know the fruit that their planting has brought forth, in you, in this community that is blessed by your presence to enlarge it and enliven it?
The seed can be so small. A simple gesture of love, welcome, acceptance. The refusal to deny the image of God in another, any other. A word of affirmation, of absolution: God loves you. God wants to be near you. God knows you, inside and out; and God loves you.
God loves you enough that, in order to become our way, our truth, our life, Jesus was born as the smallest of humans, and lived among us, and was crucified as the least valued of men, and was buried, and from that planting brought forth a whole new life.
Nothing we can do can change that progression of creation, engagement, reconciliation, redemption, resurrection: like a seed it roots and sprouts and grows without our interference.
But we can harvest its fruits, and its seeds, and we can spread them.
At the end of the first parable, the farmer harvests the grain so that it can become food. At the end of the second, the mustard bush not only seasons the food that the farmer has gathered in, and makes poultices to relieves all kinds of ailments; but it provides shade and shelter even for the birds of the air.
There is so much more that we can do with the Gospel when we share it.
The good news comes from God alone; but God graciously partners with us, to tend and to nurture the good news among us, to provide sustenance to those hungry for a good word, and healing for those parched of love, and shelter for those hurting for a safe place, and bounty for those in need of celebration.
As much as God loves us, God also loves the sparrow, and invites us to take notice, and to love them, too, growing and spreading and stretching ourselves to provide them rest.
And still, and always, we return to the Word that God has given to us; to the great things that God has done for us, out of God’s great love for us. Hot as mustard and sheltering as a familiar tree; nurturing, healing, and homely; greater than we may imagine, and small enough to walk among us: such is God’s love for you. No exceptions.