One of my biggest disappointments about moving in the middle of the summer is that I didn’t have a chance to put in a garden.
Transporting peas and tomatoes and peppers and squash across the state just doesn’t work very well… not that I had time to plant and weed and care for a garden this year.
What excites me about our new home, however, is a brand new, blank slate in which to plant. I’ve already started identifying plants and pulling weeds and figuring out what might go where.
I don’t know about you, but growing up, I learned from my grandmother how to plant in straight rows. She had two gardens and each neat and proper row would be filled with cabbage or radishes or carrots. Each row was tilled and labeled and watered faithfully.
In the middle of winter, when it is cold and dreary, I will pull out my seed catalogue and start plotting out my garden. I’ll make detailed maps of just where I want the herbs and beans and turnips to go. But instead of rows, I’ll plan out my space by squares – one tomato plant per square foot, two cucumbers in another – all nicely grouped together with companion plants and herbs and flowers designed to keep the bugs away.
My garden will be very well planned.
Whether they are in rows or squares or containers on the patio, the ideal garden or field or bed of flowers has order it… at least, that’s what we have been told.
Jesus describes an entirely different method of planting. A farmer goes out and scatters some seed. He scoops up handfuls of the stuff and starts tossing it around wherever he goes. On the road, in the rocks, among the weeds, EVERYWHERE!
His bag is full of the stuff and he isn’t cautious about where it might fall. There might even be different kinds of seeds all mixed up together.
I imagine seeds scatter across the ground, fall into the water, land amongst flowers, and some even get stuck in people’s hair.
Rev. Maidstone Mulenga is a leader in the Baltimore- Washington Conference. I heard him preach on this text last summer and he used a word to describe this farmer I had never thought of before: prodigal.
Most of us are familiar with the story of the prodigal son… the one who is selfish and indulgent and throws away his father’s inheritance on a lavish lifestyle.
Dictionary.com defines the word prodigal as “wastefully or recklessly extravagant.”
Seed scattered everywhere, even among soil and rocks and places where they will never grow – that sure seems wasteful, doesn’t it?
I know I couldn’t afford to plan a garden that way.
It would cost a lot for number of seeds and bulbs it would take to recklessly cover every inch of my yard (driveway, beds, and yard included!) with flowers and fruits and vegetables… in the hopes that some might take root.
I also feel like I don’t have time to do that kind of extravagant planting. After all, what if the broccoli started growing near the strawberries? The strawberries will use up all of the nitrogen and phosphorous in the soil and the broccoli won’t grow well. And what do you do when beans and potatoes, which need different amounts of water, start to take root in the same neighborhood?
Planting so willy-nilly means extra time watering, weeding, sorting, and nurturing.
Planning and carefully choosing our plants seems to make so much more sense.
But, Jesus has a very different message for us in the gospel for today.
Because this is not a story about seeds and gardens. It is about the word of God and how it takes root in our lives.
This is a story about the reckless and wasteful, extravagantly abundant, ridiculously lavish good news:
Our God is a prodigal farmer and this whole creation is his garden.
Our God abundantly and lavishly showers all of creation with love and grace, peace and mercy.
The good news is for everyone!
It isn’t carefully placed only in the lives of those who are going to be the most receptive… God sends the Word into every place and circumstance.
No, not everyone’s going to respond.
But the good news keeps coming, anyway. The love of God continues to be poured out. The seeds of peace and mercy are planted over and over and over again.
Some of our lives are a testament to that.
You might have started out dry and parched with a life full of rocky obstacles that kept you from embracing God’s love, but eventually, God’s mercy took root as the rocks were cleared away.
Or maybe, you were on the journey of faith, like the seed scattered on the road, but others stole away that good news through hypocrisy or abuse and turned you away from the church. If you are here today… eventually God’s word found a way back into your life.
Maybe the thorns of this world – like wealth or poverty, Sunday morning soccer games or busy schedules – took up so much of your time that there wasn’t much room left for God’s love to bloom. But you know what? God keeps scattering seeds of grace in your life anyway.
Each one of us is here today because at one point, a seed of faith was planted in our lives. It might have been yesterday or 90 years ago… but God’s word was shared with you.
You are here, in this room, because of a reckless, wild, lavishly abundant farmer.
But you are also here, because someone, somewhere along the way, decided to answer the call of Jesus and become a worker in that field.
Think for just a minute about which person first invited or brought you to church.
Who first planted the love of God in your heart?
Can you picture their face?
Can you remember their name?
80% of people who walk through the doors as a first time visitor do so because someone personally invited them to come.
I’ve only been here a week, but already I’m enjoying the gorgeous flowers and plants that are growing all around this building. I had lunch outside my office on the bench and as I watched the flowers and insects, I also started looking around the neighborhood at the homes just outside of our doorstep.
And I got to thinking about how this neighborhood is part of the garden that God has given to the people of Immanuel United Methodist Church to tend.
And each one of us, as individuals, has a garden to tend as well, in our workplaces, schools, on the golf course and around the block.
The question is, will we be as wild and reckless and extravagant in how we plant that garden as God has been in our lives?
It has been estimated the average United Methodist will invite someone to church once every 37 years. Now, that is some very careful garden planning.
I think we hesitate to invite people, because we aren’t sure how the invitation will be received.
Am I going to be yelled at?
Will they continually tell us no?
Are they too busy?
And we can even wonder if that person will really be welcomed in the church.
But you know what, this parable reminds us that it doesn’t matter what the response of the person is.
The point is to keep sowing those seeds.
We are called to serve in the great garden of
the Kingdom of God.
We are charged to be wild and reckless and to share God’s love with everyone we meet, in every corner of the garden.
And in some people, in some lives, those seeds of love and grace and mercy find them at just the right time and the new life that we and they are going to experience is going to be amazing.
But if we never sow the seeds…
If we never share the invitation…
If we never take the risk…
Then this garden will never grow.
This is a church that has everything it needs in order to grow wildly for the kingdom of God. We are full of good people and bountiful gifts. This is rich soil for discipleship and faith and community.
And I just can’t WAIT to see what God is planting next.