How Does Your Garden Grow?
It’s June, and everything is green. We’re into the growing season, and so everywhere you look, you see the signs of green, green growth.
Oh, you thought I was talking about outside! No, I’m talking about in here, in the church! It’s growing season now, and things are turning green. Notice, we’ve changed to green paraments, on the altar, and on the lectern and pulpit. Green is the color of growth, and that is why it’s the liturgical color for this season after Pentecost and Holy Trinity, the non-festival half of the church year. From now to the end of November, when Advent begins, green will be the primary color you’ll see. This is “ordinary time,” if you will. No big festivals, like Christmas or Easter or Pentecost. Just a time for long, steady growth–growth in Christian faith, growth in the life of discipleship, as individuals and as the church. That’s why this season is sometimes called the long “green meadow.”
The Gospel readings during this season often consist of the teachings of Jesus about life as his disciples, life in the kingdom of God. Today’s lesson is a good example. And, appropriately enough, it is a teaching in the form of a parable about . . . growth. Jesus uses the imagery of a seed being sown and producing growth. This was a common theme in his teachings, because the imagery works so well. Everyone around the world understands the phenomenon of things growing, of life being produced and sustained. Well, I say we all “understand” it, but maybe I should say that everybody has “seen” the growth of a big, beautiful plant coming from the sowing of a small, insignificant seed. I don’t know if anyone fully “understands” how that miracle takes place. And that’s one of the points Jesus makes today with his parable about the mysterious, surprising power of the seed to grow.
Today I want to ask you this question: “How Does Your Garden Grow?” In other words, how does your life as a disciple of Jesus grow? How does our life together as Christ’s church grow? How does your garden grow?
Ah, but there’s where we need to clear things up right away! It’s not “your” garden! It’s not even “our” garden. It’s God’s garden! The garden and the growth and the greening up belong to God! He planted this garden, the kingdom of God, and he’s the one who makes it grow. The growth is not up to us, either in our individual life as Christians or in our life together as church. God will make his garden grow. Now it will happen among us, but we don’t create the growth. Only God can make a tree, and only God can make a garden grow.
Think of it like this. Think of it in terms of the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” The Catechism teaches: “Thy kingdom come. What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.” Yes, the kingdom comes by itself, without anything that we do causing it to happen. But we do want God’s kingdom to come among us.
That’s what we’re talking about when we say, “How does your garden grow?” It is God’s garden, and it grows by itself, without our efforts adding to its power. But at the same time we do want this growing and greening up to happen in our back yard, so to speak.
This is what Jesus is teaching us in his parable about the mysterious growing power of the seed. He says: “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.”
The point that Jesus is making here is that the power to produce a crop is packed into the seed itself. The man who sows the seed doesn’t “do” anything, really. He can sit back and relax, in a sense, because the growing power is all packed into that little tiny seed. It’s really quite mysterious and miraculous! And it draws our attention to that seed that God created and causes to grow, and it draws our attention away from any human effort or contribution on our part.
Gardeners know all about what it takes to produce a beautiful garden: tilling the soil, watering the ground, rain, sunshine, pulling out the weeds, and so on. And that’s all well and good. But sometimes we forget about the most basic thing needed to produce a beautiful flower or vegetable in our garden, and that is the seed! Everything is packed into that seed! There would be no peony or rose, no cucumber or tomato, no plant or growth of any kind, unless there was first the seed!
So look to the seed when you want to know how God’s garden grows. God has packed everything needed for producing beautiful fruit in our lives–he has packed it into the seed that he sows. And the seed is–I’m sure you know–the seed is the word! It is the word of God that produces any life in us. It is God’s word that produces the growth. It is the living, active, powerful, creative word of God, his gospel word, which gives us life and sustains our life. This is true whether we’re talking about our life as individual Christians or our life as the church. God’s word is the seed that we need in order to grow.
Sometimes we think it’s up to us. “I just need to try harder to be a better Christian, by mustering up my will and effort.” “I’m really gonna try hard this time, I know it!” And then we fail and fall backward. We need the word, God’s word of forgiveness in Christ and of new life in the Spirit, in order to grow the garden that is our Christian life. How does your garden grow? By God’s word being planted in the soil of your soul, week after week, day after day, year after year. Word and Sacrament–there is no substitute or shortcut. The gospel seed–that is our need.
And here it is, the seed being planted in you again here this week: The gospel seed, with the power of growth packed into it, is the great good news of Christ Jesus your Savior. He it is, the one teaching you this parable, this same Jesus is the one who gives you life by the word of his death and resurrection. God’s Son came down from heaven, to live and die for you, when you had no life in yourself. He did it all for you, fulfilling the law you broke, dying on the cross for all your sins and transgressions, paying the full price that sets you free. He himself was planted in the ground, buried, like a seed that was sown, that out of his death would come life everlasting–always green, forever green–for all of us. This is the good news, the gospel seed that produces the kingdom of God in our midst. All the power–the life-giving, growing power–comes from God and is packed into the seed that is the gospel. New life, eternal life, life in the Spirit, a life of faith in God and love for others–everything you need is packed into this seed.
God’s garden grows only in one way, and that is through the word. The word rightly preached and taught and sacramented. That is God’s method of church growth, whether in quantity or in quality. Preach the word, truly and faithfully. Let your practice, then, reflect and reinforce your doctrine. Don’t rely or gimmicks or shortcuts to get people in the door and lightly fed. Let God grow his church his way: Through the gospel preached and taught in its truth and purity. Through the sacraments of God rightly administered. There it is. That is church growth God’s way. It’s not always popular. It won’t necessarily produce big numbers in every place. People can reject the word of God that they hear, and they often do. But God will bring life out of the ground, and he will grow his church around the world in his own time and in his own way. Let the word do its work.
The seed is the word, God’s word. It will produce the growth, in us and in the church. The growth in you–it may be gradual, hard to notice from day to day. It may seem like two steps forward, one step back. Thank God, the gospel word is a word of forgiveness, because that is just what we need as faltering, often-failing disciples. I know that’s what I need. My growth seems awfully uncertain and shaky to me. But God is doing his work, just as he will do in you. That is why we always need this gospel word, week after week, because our life is one of rather unspectacular, but instead, gradual, steady growth–growth over the long haul, in faith and in discipleship and in love for God and others.
Jesus is reassuring us that this is his church, the kingdom of God is growing, and it is growing his way: through the faithful proclamation and teaching of God’s word, though Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, Holy Communion. These are the gospel means, this is the gospel seed that he has given us to sow. The growth is up to him. God gives the growth, and it’s all packed into the seed–the lowly, seemingly insignificant seed of God’s word, the message of the cross of Christ, a word which seems so powerless but really is full of life.
This is the long green meadow we’re walking in, starting today. It’s not always easy being green–there are growing pains along the way. But it is June, and everything is green. And God is growing his garden among us.
This message by Rev Charles Henrickson is brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project , You can read more at Charles Henrickson’s blog at the Wittenberg Trail |