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Thursday, October 20, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

     Years ago, I saw a poster of an aerial view of a farmer’s field where he had plowed the words “thank you.” It could be read only from the air. That farmer knew Whom to thank, and it wasn’t the Department of Agriculture. Horticultural images turn up a lot in the Bible, and as I garden, I think I start to understand them better. Back when most people were involved in farming, they must have understood things like the parables of Jesus better than we do today.
     Pastor Bill is walking us through the “parables of the Kingdom,” the stories Jesus told to give people an idea of how God operates in the world, for instance in Mark 4: “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seeds upon the soil and goes to bed every night and gets up each day, and the seeds sprout up and grow—how, he himself does not know. The soil produces the plants by itself; first the blades, then the heads, then the mature grain in those heads. And when the crop is ready, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”
     Have I mentioned how miraculous it seems that I can push a seed, a little round woody-looking thing, into the ground and a few days later find a seedling pushing up from the soil? There’s a funny little folk song that turns up sometimes in elementary school music programs. Versions vary, but here’s one:
Oats, peas, beans and barley grow,
Oats, peas, beans and barley grow,
Can you or I or anyone know
How oats, peas, beans and barley grow?

First the farmer sows his seed,
Then he stands and takes his ease,
Stamps his feet and claps his hand
And turns him round to view the land.
If the folk who first sang this weren’t thinking of the parable, then at least they had the same awareness. How and why things grow is mysterious. Once the farmer has prepared the field and planted the seeds, he can clap and stamp all he wants, but it has nothing to do with the growth. That happens automatically. (The phrase translated “by itself” is in the Greek automatos, Pastor Bill informed us.)
     So is Jesus just making a point about agriculture here? Hardly. He did start with “The kingdom of God is like…” He is growing a crop of subjects for His kingdom, people who will know Him and be happy about it. When the crop is mature, it’s time for the harvest, and in goes the sickle. I don’t have much experience with harvest, but I have dug up a few handfuls of peanuts from my miniature field. Most look good, but some are shriveled inside, or even empty. People are that way too. Here’s where it gets scary. Some are wheat; some are weeds that only look like wheat. (See the “wheat and tares” parable, Matthew 13: 24-30.) The good ones He keeps. The rest go into the fire. 

Firstfruits of my modest peanut harvest.
Speaking of peanuts...

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