The Sleeping Gardener

Mark 4:26-34

A riot of bittersweet.

A riot of bittersweet spilled over
the stone wall by our church,
flinging itself on each bare patch of dirt
it could find,
weaving its way through the crevices
in the rock wall,
poking itself through the holes.

On our church clean-up day,
Lisa Laing and Patty Rolfe
worked hard
to clear away this bounty of bittersweet.

Yet it strikes me that Jesus says
that the kin-dom of God is like
this bittersweet plant.
Actually, what Jesus says is that
the realm of God is like a mustard plant,
but, in 1st century Judea,
mustard would grow so rapidly,
and insistently,
it would take up your entire yard.
No one would purposely plant it.

The Connecticut equivalent seems to be: bittersweet.
Certainly this resilient weed
reminds me that
there is something about God’s vision
that insists on life
that resolutely stands for well-being,
that persistently brings healing and wholeness
even to places
that we did not know could be reached.

In the story today,
Jesus tells us that
the invasive plant grows so big and robust
that even the crows and the birds of the air
find a place to nest in it.
Perhaps the voles and the rabbits find a place to rest too.

For the kin-dom of God leaves no one out
not the weeds,
not the birds of the sky
that we so often startle away
with scarecrows,
not the animals
that frequent
our green spaces.

The riot of bittersweet
keeps growing
until all have a home.

For the realm of God,
Jesus tells us,
it likes this invasive plant
that springs up
and is the mightiest
… of all…

I love this image …
the great kin-dom of God is like a shrub,
not a majestic cedar, or a glorious oak,
but a mighty shrub.

Jesus word’s jar me into remembering
that the things I write off – even the bushes –
God declares as worthy and valuable.

Jesus words invite us all to ponder:
What is truly great?
What does greatness look like?

The Lord is our gardener,
but with Jesus’ weed-friendly
it can be a struggle to lean into,
to trust,
Jesus’ gardener wisdom.

After all, I would prefer something more orderly,
delineated and fenced off –
with weeds and voles
on one side
and flowers on the other.

I know that I am not the only one
who struggles with Jesus’ words.

In a weekly column,
called Journey with Jesus,
family minister Debie Thomas,
wrestles with today’s passage.

Debie writes that
her son has been experiencing
chronic migraines,
so bad that he has had
to miss months of school.

She says that she has asked God
many an anguished question:
“Why? For what purpose?
Can you heal? Will this end?

Both of the stories today, she says,
challenge her ideal.
Thomas’ ideal is that she does A and God does B
predictably and always.
She would pray and
God would heal her son immediately.
She would also know exactly what was going on,
at least 95% of the time.
In other words,
each time life gets hard,
clear answers would be provided.
There would also be clear delineations of
who is in, who is out,
who is written off, who is not,
what is great and what is
merely shrubbery.

Debie writes about,
what a surprise it was this week,
to peel open the scriptures,
and to read the story of a gardener
who scatters seed on the ground
and ground and goes off to sleep.
The seed fends for itself
and when the grain is ripe,
the planter harvests it.

It seems counterintuitive to trust
the wisdom of a sleeping garden
after all,
gardens require so much upkeep –
we must water and watch,
tend and treat,
mulch and maneuver

Yet, Jesus’ imagination stretches far beyond her own.
Even in the moments of respite,
as we survey the unwieldiness of the terrain,
Jesus reminds us that the divine is present.
Prone to worry,
Debie talks about
how the image teaches her to trust,
to open her heart, to look around.

Debie stumbles upon the truth that
there are not moments that are holy
and moments that aren’t,
but rather like the bittersweet plant,
the outrageous love of God
seeps into everything,
pours into every part of our lives
and makes each part of us
blessed and whole and lovely.

Debie writes that she is learning, she reports, bit by bit,
to scatter seed no matter the circumstance
and to rest in the haven of God’s grace.

Debie’s words resonated with me
as I went outside this week,
and noted how
spring had snuck up on me,
and, with it,
a multitude of unwanted plants.
This week,
as I was surveying
the wildness of my yard
I found myself considering
the countless hours
that it would take
to get everything in order.
And after all of that,
I know,
the weeds will still persist.
Just the thought of it,
made me weary.

Yet, something surprising happened,
I noticed a green vine poking up
a weed that I had not planted,
and had not yet pulled up.
The vine sprung its way up
the trellis on my garage
and now cascaded itself,
like a waterfall,
over the lawn.
Flower buds
upon flowers buds on it
covered the plant.

And just these week,
those buds began to open, one by one,
until a waterfall of twenty
roses pour itself onto the lawn.

It was a wild rose –
a defiant and persist purveyor of beauty,
offering itself in places of sandy soil
and desolate dirt,
reminding me and, all of us,
even in places of gardeners who sleep,
new life comes.

Even weeds have glorious splendor.

I think this how it is with the kingdom of God.
We think we need to do ABC
to achieve,
to perform,
to succeed,
and certainly our efforts matter.
Yet, in the midst of things done and left undone
the kingdom of God has come,
will come and is coming.
Even in our moments of pure exhaustion,
Jesus comes to us,
offering a bouquet of beauty
that we could never anticipate or create on our own.

This is grace,
a haven of grace
among the brambles of perfectionism,
the bushes of business
and the shrubbery of fear.

Jesus’ words today about a
sleeping garden,
a mysterious soil,
an invasive plant
and a nuisance flock of birds,
stand as an invitation.

These stories invite all of us
to take Jesus as our Gardener,
trusting not on our own planting wisdom,
but on Jesus’
who perhaps does not garden as we would,
but makes smooth the path
so that all people might experience
the fullness of life that is really life,
here and now and evermore. Amen.

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