Anyone who has been to my farm knows that while I am a shepherd, I am not a gardener. It’s not that I don’t try. I wish I had a way with plants. I wish I could imagine where flowers could be planted and how they might unfold through the summer. I wish I had an eye for landscape design and a knack for helping seeds grow. I even wish I was simply better at weeding. Alas, I am not. I grow some strawberries some zucchini and some tomatoes when I’m lucky. Anything more than that it’s pretty much beyond me.
But I do admire gardeners. There are things that gardeners know how to do that I admire from afar.
My congregation knows me as a shepherd pastor. I am the one ever ready with a sheep metaphor. But this week my sermon focused on “A Time to Plant,” and I was taken out of my comfort zone. Still, though I am not a gardener, I am a preacher. I know enough to recognize a powerful metaphor when I see one. And while literal gardening and its attendant spirituality might be beyond me, the metaphors of gardening and their attendant spirituality do seem within my capacity to grasp. I love reflecting on what gardeners know. And gardeners know a great deal about hope and something about mystery.
Which leads me back to my sermon. When I started this blog a decade ago, I thought of it as a place to put all the sermons and sermon illustrations I did not have time to preach. Through the years the blog has kept my sermons from being twenty to thirty minutes long- something I’m sure my congregation is grateful for.
The text I am preaching on this Sunday is from the book of Ecclesiastes, has some things to say about gardening. (It’s Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 if you’d like to take a look). One point the writer makes is this: “Whoever observes the wind will not sow; and whoever regards the clouds will not reap.”
In other words, gardeners know that they can’t base their decisions only on the immediate circumstances they find themselves in. It is often too hot, or too cold, or too windy, or too dry, or too wet in the moment. Gardeners take the long view. And don’t we need a long view right now?
We know that the deepest kind of hope, the hope that can sustain us, is not based on our own immediate situation. This has been a hard week. On top of a hard month. On top of a hard year and a half. I feel exhausted by all the news that surrounds me. But my hope goes deeper than my exhaustion and despair. My hope is grounded in the love of God, and I trust that soil.
And that brings up the other piece of wisdom the gardener knows. We are surrounded by mystery. The Ecclesiastes preacher says it this way: “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle; . . . for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.”
The ever-clever Eugene Peterson translates that verse this way in The Message: “You never know from moment to moment how your work will turn out in the end.”
That’s the mystery of our lives. So much of what we do, we do on faith. We do not see immediate results. We have to trust the mystery of the seed.
So this is what the gardener knows: the ground of hope and the depth of mystery. As it turns out, this is something the shepherd knows too. And the preacher. And any spiritual pilgrim.
So in this hard time, gardener or shepherd or pilgrim that you are, may you know those gifts as well.