They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.
— Jeremiah 31:12
For 11 years, the church yard has been my garden. We have a yard service, and many volunteers have chipped in, but I have brought in hundreds of plants, digging up seedlings at the fence line and bringing them into the center garden, tucking orphaned orchids here and there in the trees, rooting philodendron and sending them climbing the oaks, turning bald spots into gardens and weed patches into mulch beds.
This effort has been random. Rather than looking at a spot and asking, “What kind of plant would look good there?” I find interesting plants and ask, “Gee, I wonder where this might grow?” I do like the garden, but the big hurdle to making it great is all those plants. I love each plant, individually. I love their sprouts and their seeds. A plant might not look good in that spot, but if it’s a plant that can’t be transplanted, I just leave it be.
I love each plant, even those that pop up where they don’t belong; that crowd out other plants; that don’t do well; that do too well; the ugly ones; the hard-to-please ones.
It dawned on me this morning that God might have a similar perspective. The garden’s a mess, and the problem is the plants. But God loves each little plant! God loves the pretty ones, the ugly ones, the hard-to-please ones, the over-achievers, the under-achievers …
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be waisting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
— Luke 13:6-9
In Palm Beach Gardens, we have a love/hate relationship with trees. When the church was built, they designed an opening in the overhang to accommodate a great live oak, because that was easier than getting a permit to cut it down. When they expanded the fellowship hall, another huge oak stood in the way, so they had to transplant it. If it died, they would have to plant a couple dozen more trees. So there was a weekly prayer meeting for that tree!
More recently, we were planning park lighting around a huge, expansive live oak. Then a windstorm hit and a huge, soaring branch was blown out of the tree. Church fathers stood on the ready to come in with leather gloves and chainsaws to clear not just that massive branch, but the rest of the tree as well. I called in the city arborist, hoping that he would help me protect that beautiful tree. He noted the disease that made the limb weak, then said that it was up to us. We could cut the tree down if we wished, or we could leave it standing.
So I called in a tree surgeon buddy I know, who filled the hole in the tree with rubble and cement, and trimmed limbs off of other threatened limbs to lighten their load. That was almost 10 years ago, and the tree still stands, surviving hurricanes and sporting a beautiful healing scar that will one day encase the cement.
Jeremiah said that with God’s blessing and mercy, our lives could be like a watered garden. Jesus said that he would work on the fig tree for another year – but eventually, that tree had to bear fruit or make room for something more productive.
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.”
— John 15:1-2
Jesus is a shepherd who loves every sheep. Jesus is a gardener who loves every plant. Sometimes, he tends to the garden. Sometimes, he tends to the plant.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
— John 20:15-16
The Bible starts with the story of the Garden of Eden. It ends with a restoration of the Garden and the return of the Tree of Life. He is the vine, God is the vinedresser, and we are the branches. Or, God is the owner and Jesus is the gardener. Either way, when Jesus starts digging around to fertilize our lives, or when God starts pruning us to bear more fruit, let it happen. And if you don’t love this garden we’re growing in, remember that God loves each and every plant, the roses and the weeds, and that doesn’t lend itself to an orderly landscape. Lastly, know this: One day, that Garden will be perfect! No one person or plant will crowd another out. Each person or plant will be where they can grow and bear fruit. May our lives become a watered garden that bears fruit. May we all find our place in the restored Garden of Eden.
Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.