Most every year of the past two decades I have renewed my decision to plant a vegetable garden. My current space is a fairly good-size one.
My favorite step of the gardening process is preparing the soil and planting the seeds or seedlings.
Cultivation of the land and gardening are woven through the Biblical story.
Genesis 2 says that God “planted” a garden. God didn’t speak it into being in this case but knelt in the ground and literally molded it out of the mud and dirt. The Lord even formed man from the earth. The Hebrew word (‘adam) means “to be red” referring to the ruddy color of human skin. There also seems to be some word-play in the Holy Scriptures as the Hebrew word (‘adamah) means “earth.”
So it appears that humans have fundamentally connected to the soil from the beginning.
Is it significant that God planted a garden for humans to live in—a garden that we were commanded to cultivate — instead of a self-sustained wilderness or a prosperous city? You can decide for yourself, but a quote from George Bernard Shaw comes to mind: “The best place to find God is in a garden. You can dig for him there.”
Notwithstanding Shaw’s personal theology, the garden has seemingly unending lessons to teach us about the character of God and what it means to be a person of faith. Do you sometimes struggle to connect to the story of God through morning devotions? Perhaps one reason people are moving away from Christianity is because we have divorced our faith from the glory of God revealed through the natural world. Nothing makes me more aware of this than working in the garden.
I read about the death and resurrection of Christ in the Bible, but I experience it every time I plant a seed and watch it burst into life.
I read about the faithfulness of God to Israel, but I experience it every time I watch the rain fall and nourish the seeds I have planted.
I read about the miracle of the fish and the loaves, but I experience a miracle every time I am overwhelmed by the generosity of God’s harvest.
I mentioned earlier that my favorite part of gardening is preparation and planting. Like others, I’m not too crazy about the weeding throughout the growing season, but I do a fairly good job with it.
Most interestingly, the area where I fall short is the harvesting. After putting forth all that labor, I often neglect to pick the vegetables in a timely manner. Fortunately, my lovely wife steps in to rescue me by checking the garden and picking the vegetables and fruit at the optimal time so I can enjoy eating them.
The Bible often uses the words “sowing” and “reaping” — sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically. Since those words are rarely used today, and carry other baggage for a new generation (think “grim reaper” tattoos), I’ll quote the New Living Translation, where, in the fourth chapter of John, Jesus tells his disciples “You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.”
Jesus is referring to all the previous “planting and cultivation” done by previous prophets, such as John the Baptist. His disciples need not wait to begin harvesting souls for the Lord, because others have planted and nurtured seeds of faith in people. They just need to be gathered in now.
Today we need both planters and harvesters in God’s kingdom on earth. The metaphor clearly points to the important task of mission for modern-day disciples of Christ. Some of us prefer planting and some harvesting. Sometimes we are called to do both.
The literal process of getting one’s hands dirty in that patch of soil behind the house can also remind us of our connectedness with the Creator and his creation.
Sensing his closeness gives us the courage and determination to carry out our mission of making disciples, thereby fulfilling the will of our Father in heaven.
Larry Gember is pastor of St. James Lutheran Church in Greenfield. This weekly column is written by local clergy members.