“But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” — Matthew 13:23 (NIV)
One of the nicer parts of our family’s recent vacation “up home” in Northern Maine was our first meal this year of new potatoes and fresh peas; which, when prepared and served together is one of the greatest of all summer delicacies. Even given that we had to forego the traditional slathering of cream and butter that makes such a dish complete (a healthier lifestyle does require some sacrifice, after all!), I have to tell you that for me the taste of garden fresh vegetables is more than sufficient to renew one’s sense of awe over God’s creation – and it’s not even time yet for beans and sweet corn!
I’ve mentioned here before that I am, to say the very least, “horticulturally challenged,” one of those people about whom that old adage that “if you can’t cultivate a garden, cultivate friends with gardens” was written! It’s not that we haven’t tried; in fact, early in our marriage Lisa and I made a memorable, if feeble, attempt at growing our own little vegetable garden. I say “feeble” because, quite honestly, from start to finish the whole effort was pretty much a disaster. A lot of what we planted either never sprouted at all or got choked by weeds; most of what did grow ended up feeding the neighborhood raccoons; and our harvest of fresh peas, when shelled, all fit rather nicely in a paper cup!
What added insult to injury, however, was an elderly neighbor who had an entire back yard garden that bordered ours. And this garden was a work of art; I mean, everything was planted in straight, long rows, each plant and vegetable clearly delineated and marked with every possible vegetable represented. It was something the likes of which you’d see in “Country Living” magazine or on a Martha Stewart television show! I must confess that I hated that garden, because every time I looked at it, all it did was remind me of how truly pathetic our garden was! And what was worse, when I complimented my neighbor on what a “fine” garden he had, he’d look over at ours and say, not unkindly, but gently and effectively, “Well, you get out of a garden what you put into it.”
I have to tell you that in the years since, I’ve always remembered that garden as something of a parable for my own spiritual growth, with my neighbor’s words a clear reminder that “you get out of your faith garden what you put into it.” To sow the seeds of faith does require true effort on our parts, but the good news is that it’s not even so much a matter of sweat and toil in the hot sun as much as it is about being attentive and devoted to our spiritual growth, and then letting God in God’s amazing, graceful way do the rest.
Summer’s a good time to be working on faith’s garden. For me, this time of the year has always lent itself to plenty of opportunities for rest, relaxation and family time (as well as the aforementioned feasts of farm stand produce!), but over the years I’ve also found it to be an important season both for sowing the seeds of faith and for tilling the soil in which they grow; such an essential task and yet one that is so easily neglected in the midst of life’s other demands and challenges. But speaking personally, I need to tend the garden; I need time set aside for prayer and study; I need to go to the well and draw up a cup of living water. In order for my faith to flourish, I am going to need the kind of nourishment that can come only from the spiritual food that God gives.
I suspect the same is true for all of us. It is all too easy, after all, for any of us to let the rocks, weeds and thorns of life get out of hand and choke us out of living faithfully; too tempting, perhaps, to let our nourishment be derived from the shallow soil of whatever the world has to offer at the moment. In the end, it takes a strong and abundant faith, with roots extending deep into the soil of God’s Word, for us to live and thrive in this life, growing and flourishing as the kind of people that our Lord has always intended us to be.
So let us make our gardens grow! This summer, let us devote ourselves, as I so often say in worship, to being “attentive to the Word of God.” Let us read scripture in more than just a cursory fashion; let’s seek out the kind of materials and resources (and, might I add, the kind of entertainment) that will enrich our faith instead of belittle it; and let’s set aside time for prayer and meditation (and, oh yes; did I mention that one of the best things that we can ever do for our spiritual garden is to come to church and worship the Lord? See you on Sunday!).
Granted, this kind of gardening requires commitment and a fair amount of effort, but as my old neighbor used to say, what you get from a garden depends in good part what you put into it. Keep at it; you might just be surprised by what will sprout up in the process, maybe even a “hundred-fold harvest.”
Thanks be to God who by grace gives us the harvest, and who will bless us in the gardening!
c. 2013 Rev. Michael W. Lowry