Psalm 92: 1-4, Mark 4:26-34
God’s Garden: Planting, Nurturing, Growing

“God’s Garden: Planting, Nurturing, Growing”

Psalm 92: 1-4, Mark 4:26-34 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ June 16, 2024


The theme this Sunday ~ ‘Fathering Sunday’ and the celebration of one of our Grads intertwined with the arrival of summer next week invite us out into the garden as we hear Jesus tell two parables. We consider the planting, the nurturing and the growing that is the way of God. The Markan text calls us to living in a way that is deeply connected with the earth. It also calls us to ponder what wisdom the earth might have to teach us.


Tiffany Davis, a creative writer whose blogs I enjoy following, imagines a conversation that might have occurred between St. Francis and God. The conversation went 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 all stuff I started in Creation? 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, honeybees 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 they went to great lengths to replace them with what they call grass”. Grass? But grass is so boring. Grass is not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds or 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 quickly. 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.” “Oy Vey”


Indeed, we have a lot to learn from God’s creation. Tiffany Davis posits that everything we need to learn about life, we can learn from nature. And, as we have already begun to ponder, the Markan text with parables about planting, nurturing and growing is about far more than just seeds…this scripture is about life. These two parables, of course, follow the very well known parable of the seed and the sower and must be considered in that light. In the seed and sower parable, Jesus describes the Kin-dom of God being like the 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 they 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, rocky soil, or 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. Indeed, the text contrasts the two: ~ 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. They just go about their daily business, seemingly unaware of the growth that occurs, and certainly contributing nothing to its growth. Now, gardeners might interject 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, trust in things unfolding as they should. This is hard! This is the trust that the seed is growing ~ under the muck and mud, under that sun and rain, under conditions good or bad. Trust that growth is occurring. And one day, after the trust and faith, the stalk does rise. The head of the grain is seen, and the gardener returns to harvest the crop.


This Sunday, one area of focus in upon ‘Fathering Sunday’, and as we do so we honour the many who offer their God-given gifts of mentoring, of leadership, of tending to human gardens of others: assisting with the planting, the nurturing and the growth. Certainly, we celebrate the many who are fathers, and grandfathers, and great-grandfathers. But, in addition, we also celebrate ALL those who allow this way of God to be found in their way of living. This morning’s anthem was particularly fitting: “You Raise Me Up”. Who might you name as those who live out their faith in ways that lift others up; in ways that help them grow; in ways that help their light shine? The list is necessarily long and diverse, isn’t it? Indeed, as the African proverb teaches, it takes a village to raise a child. And, for the Kin-dom of God to flourish, it takes the faith expressions of all of us: planting, nurturing, and promoting growth. Where might you be if you weren’t encouraged and loved and lifted up by others? Where might you be if you weren’t included by the larger community? Where might you be if others didn’t take the time to stop, plant, nurture and encourage your growth. Indeed, this parable has many applications as we consider the living of our faith-filled lives.


As we gather on Graduation Sunday, I think this too is a ‘marker’ in life. A harvest time when we think of the various graduations that occur. These are all times of transition. Moments of celebration when we honour 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 growth is evident! 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 family and all 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. Never judging, never giving up…just planting seeds and trusting in God’s faithful growth!


The reading gives us a treat: there is not just one, but two parables! The second parable is that of the mustard seed. What I love about this parable is the profound hope that is kindled within 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 squirt on your hot dog, and I certainly had never seen a mustard seed! But in Israel, they grow everywhere. I will never forget the moment when our tour guide stooped down to a huge mustard plant and plucked a tiny little seed and read that parable. These mustard bushes are a reminder of the profound impact that a tiny little seed can have on its surroundings. The Israelites often felt like little mustard seeds in comparison to the powerful Roman Empire, yet Jesus encouraged them 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. This morning, we celebrate Sumaya’s graduation. And as we do, we consider how she started her life as a tiny gift of love to her family. Kim tells me wonderful stories of Sumaya’s young beginnings and her growth to the young lady she is today! Sumaya graduates and the world needs her God-given gifts! The world needs yours, and yours, and yours. The humble mustard seed is that ever-present reminder that 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 indispensable!


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.