“The Lazy Gardener” ~ Graduation Sunday
Mark 4:26-34 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ June 10, 2018
Our text this morning invites us out into the garden as we consider sowing, growing, and reaping. It calls us to a lifestyle that is deeply connected with the earth. In her blog “10 life skills from the garden”, Tiffany Davis imagines a conversation between St. Francis ~ the patron Saint of animals and God. Their conversation goes like this: “Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there? What happened to the dandelions, the violets, thistles and stuff I started eons ago? I created a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan with plants which grow in any type of soil, withstanding drought and multiplying with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles. “Well…you see God, it's the tribes that settled here. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers "weeds" and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with what they call grass”. “Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees. It's temperamental with summer heat and winter cold. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there? “Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing their grass and poisoning any other plants that crop up”. “The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy”. “Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week”. “They cut it? Do they bale it like hay?” “Not exactly, Lord. Most of them collect it up in bags”. “They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?” “No Sir. Just the opposite. They pay to throw it away”. “Now let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?” “Yes, Sir”. “These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work”. “Well…actually, when the grass stops growing, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it”. “What nonsense! At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life”. “You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have changed that as well. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away”. “Oh my…What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?” “Well God, after throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves. And where do they get this mulch?” “Well God, actually, they cut your down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.” “Enough. I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts up here in heaven. What movie have they scheduled for us tonight?" "Dumb and Dumber", Lord. It's a really stupid movie about.....” “Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.”
So…we clearly have a lot to learn from God’s creation. Just like Robert Fulghum’s “Everything I Needed To Learn, I learned in Kindergarten” book, Tiffany Davis posits that everything we need to learn about life, we can learn from nature. And, as we have already likely pondered, this text about seeds, sowing, growth, and reaping is about far more than just seeds, sowing, growth, and reaping. It is about life. These two parables, of course, follow after the better-known parable of the seed and the sower and must be considered in that light. In that parable, many will recall that Jesus describes the Kin-dom of God being akin to a sower who generously spreads seed everywhere. The seed is thrown amidst the path where people walk and trample its growth; it is spread amidst the rocky ground where the thorns choke out their early growth; it is spread onto the areas with shallow soil where their roots cannot take; and some of the seeds also find their way into deep rich soil where the seeds ultimately sprout and grow. The good news in this parable is that in the Kin-dom of God, the seeds are generously thrown, and thrown and thrown. No differentiation or judgement is made between fertile ground, and rocky soil, and a heavily travelled path. The seeds are sown generously and graciously by the sower.
As we come to the second parable in this chapter ~ the parable of the seed growing in secret, we continue with the image of sowing. Except this time, the sower has human capacities like you and I ~ the gardener is unaware of the growth that is occurring ~ they are not like the wise and overly generous sower of the first parable. The text begins: ‘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”. What is interesting here is that once the seed is sown, the gardener’s job (for a time) is over. He / she just goes about their daily business: “rising and sleeping”, seemingly unaware of the growth that is happening, and certainly contributing nothing to its growth. Gardeners might protest here ~ but what about the watering, the weeding, the plowing that needs to occur to foster the growth? Interestingly, the text does not wish to highlight this part of the gardener’s activity. Certainly it goes on ~ and many a gardener has the sore knees and back to prove it. But the point of the parable is to point us to the time of sacred trust. Once the seed is carefully, lovingly planted, we have to trust that the seed will grow in the way God designed, in the way God hoped, in the way God dreamed. We must trust, and be ~ for a time ~ the lazy gardener, doing nothing other than trusting. There is a trust that the seed is growing ~ under that muck and mud, growing under that sun and rain, growing under conditions good or bad. Growing. And one day the stalk will rise, the head of the grain will be seen and the gardener will come once again with the sickle and harvest the crop.
I don’t know how many of you were following the Stanley Cup finals, but it was a fun journey for my family to take in. I particularly loved watching the facial expressions of the parents on Thursday night as their kids ~ these elite hockey players ~ hoisted the cup over their heads in victory. I was imagining the countless morning practices these parents took their children to; the countless hours spent sitting in cold hockey arenas sipping bad coffee and watching their young boys practice. All that, to finally see it all come to fruition and the harvest come home. When these young men came to the peak of their careers and hoisted the cup. It brought tears to their eyes and was truly beautiful for us all to behold. The stalk rising, the grain being in full bloom, the harvest coming to fruition. Now when will this happen in Vancouver! (But alas, that is another conversation)
As we gather on Graduation Sunday, I think this too is also a ‘marker’ in life. A harvest time when we think of the various graduations that we have high school or college or university or in the RCMP and the like, these are all transitional times. Moments of celebration when we celebrate the good seeds that were planted; when we celebrate all the factors that have contributed; when we celebrate God’s faithfulness as certificates are awarded and moments of time are recorded. Today, we not only celebrate the graduates who will shape our world’s future, we also celebrate the gardeners ~ those who have faithfully planted the seed, who have prepared the soil, who have provided space for growth. We think of parents and grandparents and all the extended family. We think of Sunday school teachers and youth group leaders; we think of sports coaches and teachers and guidance counsellors and the list goes on and on. All those active gardeners who patiently, lovingly, wisely planted seeds. And we also celebrate God’s grace and provision ~ for we know that after the work of planting, loving and guiding is done, we must TRUST and give things over to God knowing that God will guide; God will shape; God will provide for each of those little seeds growing in secret. Sometimes we must be the ‘lazy gardener’.
There is a final parable to be considered amidst the other two. And that is the parable of the mustard seed. What I love about this parable is the profound hope that is kindled within it this tiny little mustard seed. Jesus 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.’ Prior to visiting Israel, my understanding of Mustard was that yellow liquid you squirted on your hot dog. But in Israel, my tour guide stooped down to a mustard plant and plucked a tiny little seed and read that parable for us. These mustard bushes grow wild in the Holy Land and they became a reminder of the profound impact that a tiny little seed can have on its surroundings. These tiny, weak Israelites felt like little mustard seeds in comparison to the powerful Roman Empire, yet Jesus countered saying that “your Kin-dom…the Kin-dom of God is going to be even greater than the Roman Kingdom!” History records some of the great people that have shaped the world and we all know the names. Yet the mustard seed is a reminder of the countless many difference makers who have offered their lives in service of God’s Kin-dom of peace, love and justice. They may not hoist Stanley Cups or receive humanitarian awards, yet the humble mustard seed is that ever-present reminder that you and you and I ~ each of our lives truly matter. Our lives matter to our family; our lives matter to our community, to the world, and to the unfolding of God’s Kin-dom. In fact, each of our ‘mustard seed lives’ are indespensible!
Thanks be to God for the sowing, the growing, and the harvest. May God’s Kin-dom of love, peace and justice continue to unfold in the gardens of our lives.