Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Gospel Growth- Speaking to the Soul, May 3, 2016

Matthew 13:18-23 

I walked outside into our backyard garden yesterday, and was amazed at how quickly all the hostas and ferns had suddenly unfurled and covered the wakening landscape. The Jacob’s ladders have elfin, white flowers hanging from their leaves like wee bells that sway in the slightest breeze. The red buds have shed a carpet of faded delicate fuchsia blossoms all across the landscape like confetti, and in their place on the branches are diminutive, heart-shaped leaves that flutter in the wind like tiny toddler hands clumsily clapping their delight. 

There’s growth, and anticipation, and hope in each new sprout from the ground. Dutch iris with their feet in puddles left from Monday’s rain prepare to surge into bloom, but not yet, not yet. A woodpecker has discovered that a pine in the common ground beyond the fence is filled with insects, and has already worked a pattern of holes all over the rough bark like the brogues on a pair of wingtip shoes or tatted lace, hammering a spiraling, pointillist tale of his search for sustenance, his drumroll also warning me that this tree may not be long for this world. But still, this is the way of things, and this is where I go to feel what poet Wendell Berry calls “the peace of wild things.” This is where things grow mostly despite me rather than because of me, at this point. 

Being a gardener is a humbling enterprise, at least the way we do it. Long ago our family surrendered the idea of a manicured, orderly system of plantings. We just couldn’t keep that up. Instead, we hopefully hacked holes into the clay that was all we had left after years of erosion, poked in a few bargain plants that supposedly could handle all the shade and poor soil, and hoped for the best. 

A few years ago, this was just a barren hillside. There were plants that were placed carefully in their spots who lasted a season, maybe two, before feebly subsiding without a trace. Yet each spring, something amazing starts to happen. This year it’s the ferns and the groundcover—some of them are naturalizing, declaring their independence and asserting title to their own spots where once it seemed nothing could grow. Now the plants were claiming the hillside for their own, finding the good soil and the perfect light by themselves. Just as in Jesus’s Parable of the Sower that we read in Matthew, a balance has been achieved between the soil and the seed, sunlight and shade, boggy areas and dry areas. There is more than simply science or even art involved in how hearts, sometimes hardened from abuse or neglect, can nonetheless be transformed into the foundation for new growth in Christ. 

I often think Jesus would have recognized this landscape—after all, most of the land of Palestine was also hilly and marginal, and coaxing life from the rocky soil and uneven precipitation was far more likely to fail than to succeed. His listeners understood this far better than most of us do, as our knowledge and care of the land has become more and more marginalized in our daily experience. 

Yet to be a gardener or a farmer is to trade in hope, and to refuse to give up even when the odds for abundant growth seem long, indeed. But Jesus encourages us to plant anyway, yes—but also to be willing to receive the gospel in faithfulness, in response to the promise that the gospel will bear fruit in those who receive it in a spirit of compassion and joy. 

Who knows where the gospel will go, where it will take root and flourish? Yet we must be willing to proclaim it in our words and deeds just as the Sower scatters seed. We can learn from the garden that one can’t simply will new growth into being, nor will it follow our schedule. But the garden also suggests that the life that Christ has borne into the world can take root in the most unlikely of spots, and that all hearts potentially remain fertile fields for the flowering of grace that seeks to bear fruit in all of us. Jesus as Lord of Creation reminds us that transformation is not simply a precise, orderly blueprint. Rather, grace breaks through and out in the most unexpected places within us, bringing us to new life in Christ.

This was first published at Episcopal Cafe's Speaking to the Soul, May 3, 2016.

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