Last fall my family moved into a new house, our first in Delaware. Since we moved in November and the growing season was well over, we have been enjoying getting to know our yard these past few weeks. Each weekend we are outdoors, digging, pruning and planting, discovering horticultural treasures.
I like to garden. Theoretically. I like to look at gardening books. I like to pick out plants. But that’s not really gardening. Real gardening is dirty, hard work that has a lot to teach us about ourselves, one another, and the world. That’s probably why it was one of Jesus’ favorite metaphors. And I’ve been thinking a lot about them recently.
I don’t know every plant, but I know the ones I like. So, I’ve gotten excited when I think I find them. Look! Peonies! But nope, when it got a little bigger I saw it was something else entirely. A lilac bush! I was right about that one. And we have these things that look for all the world like the beginning of zinnias, except they are a rhizome and zinnias grow from seed. Jesus has a parable about this. A farmer’s enemy sows weeds in his field and when the plants are small, it’s impossible to tell which is the wheat and which the weeds. The farmer tells his helpers to let all the plants grow together until they are big enough to sort the food from the fakes. Sometimes we have to give things, and people, a little time and patience to grow, lest in our zeal to root out the bad, we also destroy what is good. (Matthew 13:24-30)
In front of our house there were four huge bushes. Some type of evergreen (bushes aren’t my thing) that had been there probably since the house was built in the late 1960s. When my husband cut them down, they left a wonderfully bare space (although we still have to dig out the stumps, but that’s a different article for another day). This area is bare earth, but the earth that’s there is not necessarily good for other plants. It’s mostly clay, like much of central Ohio. Jesus reminds us that plants grow best in good soil. And if we don’t take the time and energy to plant in good soil, we shouldn’t be surprised when things don’t grow. The good things of God will grow in us when we have honest and good hearts that patiently endure, remembering that gardening is a long endeavor. (Luke 8:4-15)
And that lilac bush in my backyard? That gorgeous old-fashioned lilac, which is huge and sprawling? Once it’s done blooming, we are going to cut it back. It needs to be pruned. Not because it’s a bad plant, but because it’s a good plant, and with some intentional shaping, it will be even better. Unless you’re a gardener, it seems counter-intuitive to cut back a healthy plant. But Jesus reminds us: branches that are pruned bear even more fruit. Pruning is not a comfortable process. Yet it is necessary. We can approach our trials and troubles as opportunities for growth. Thankfully, Jesus also reminds us that being pruned isn’t the same as being cut off. Branches that stay attached to the vine, especially as they are pruned, will be healthy and whole and grow back even stronger. Jesus is the vine; we are the branches. He is with us as we experience the pruning effects of sickness, grief, and loss. We are not alone. (John 15:1-5)
Rev. Beth Gedert is the pastor of Zion United Church of Christ, an LGBTQ-affirming congregation committed to doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. You can reach her by email at email@example.com.