Despite the fact that spring officially began on March 20, its arrival seems to have been delayed in many areas around the country. In New Jersey, where I live, snow and freezing temperatures continued well into April, to the dismay of many a stay-at-home parent, desperate for a little sunshine and outside playtime for their cabin-feverish children. (Or, is that just me?)
Nevertheless, I have been sowing seeds in my basement greenhouse, in preparation for warmer days to come. Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and more are inching their way taller each day under the grow lights. My congregation has a community garden and, God willing, these plants will provide fresh vegetables to our gardeners and their families and friends all summer long.
When I water the trays, I imagine the baby plants growing, blossoming, and fruiting. I picture the bountiful harvest to come, and can almost smell the summertime scent of tomatoes, marigolds, and warm, damp earth that wafts through the garden in the early evenings. Vegetables overflow the garden plots, with everyone drowning in zucchini by July. We stock our freezer at home with shredded summer squash and blanched green beans, and fill jar after jar with tomatoes and pickled cucumbers, and blackberry jam from the bushes growing in our backyard.
All that, from a little seed.
It’s a bit of a miracle, how those little dry specks can, with a bit of soil, water, and sunshine, do all that.
As a Director of Christian Education, I’ve often thought of my work within the church as something close to that of a gardener. Planting seeds of the Gospel in the lives of the children and families with whom I work. Watering the seeds of faith planted in Baptism with the living water of Jesus Christ, and encouraging parents to tend their children’s seedling faith with as much—no, so much more!—care than I’ve been giving my basement tomatoes.
I think, perhaps, St. Paul pictured himself as a gardener for the Lord, too. He writes: “I planted, Apollos watered . . . ” (1 Corinthians 3:6 ESV). And I can see St. Paul, traveling throughout the Mediterranean, planting the seeds of the Gospel like a first-century Johnny Appleseed, whistling while he worked.
But laboring in the Lord’s garden is not always carefree and easy. Seeds planted do not always sprout on my schedule, and seedlings watered do not always bear fruit according to my time. That can be hard for a professional church worker, watching kids disengage from the church after Confirmation. It can be hard for lay people, too, as invitations to home Bible study are turned down . . . again. Has it ever been hard for you, working in the garden of the Lord?
Even that passage from 1 Corinthians, in context, tells a bigger story of struggle and frustration, as divisions in the church in Corinth led to arguments over who was more important, Paul or Apollos.
“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. . . . For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building” (1 Corinthians 3:5-9 ESV).
But there’s good news for us in that passage, for professional church workers and lay people alike. Did you hear it?
We may plant, like Paul. We may water, like Apollos. But only God gives the growth. That’s good news for lowly gardeners like you and me!
The miracle contained in the seed, the miracle that causes life to grow from something that looks dried up and dead, is God’s work alone: it’s the miracle of faith in Jesus Christ.
My job as DCE, my task as Christian friend and family member, is to not worry about trying to do God’s job. I can plant, I can water, but only God gives the growth. What a beautiful, bountiful harvest God brings about; according to His schedule, and in His time.
As you plant and water your summer flowers and vegetables this year, you might use your time in the garden to pray. As you dig in the dirt and pull out the weeds, pray that God would provide the opportunity to plant seeds of the Gospel in the lives of your friends and neighbors and coworkers. As you water your tomato plants, pray for the wisdom to know how to water the seeds of faith already growing in your children’s lives and in the lives of your family members.
We are blessed to be counted as God’s fellow workers. Maybe I’ll see you in the garden this summer—planting and watering, and waiting patiently for God’s bountiful harvest.