“Inch by inch, row by row
Going to make this garden grow.
All it takes is a rake and a hoe,
And a piece of fertile ground.”
When I first read today’s text, I started singing a folk song written by David Mallett called “Garden Song.” The song is about the wonder of growing things, and the cooperation between man, the divine and nature (Yes, I know that the lyrics are sort of new age but the tune is catchy.). After the planting is done, there is little for the farmer to do with regard to the growth of the plant. The song says, “Plant your rows straight and long, temper them with prayer and song.” (not much else you can do)
My father was a nurseryman, and he loved to watch things grow (especially flowers). There is a lot of hard work involved in the beginning: making sure the soil if fertile enough, planting the right seeds at the right time, adding just the right amount of water etc… Then Dad said, “You just sit back and watch the miracle.” There were of course plenty of other things that needed to be done, but he derived a great deal of pleasure from watching God do His part.
The farmer has no need to unravel and solve the mystery of how plants grow. He needs only to plant and harvest. In the wonder of creation, God makes beauty and life spring from a tiny, seemingly dead seed. Speaking of a farmer watching and waiting after planting Jesus said, “the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.”Jesus was of course talking about wheat, the most common seed his audience would have know. It is amazing what yield comes from just one seed that is planted. We really take that for granted when we eat our daily bread.
However, Jesus was not giving a lesson in horticulture or agriculture. What he was really talking about is the kingdom of God, and the way it grows. To further emphasis his point he told the Parable of the Mustard Seed. It is a very, very small seed. Yet from a tiny mustard seed grows a huge plant, which will be large enough for birds to roost in, and rest in its shade. The obvious inference is that the kingdom starts out small and grows ever larger. Looking back through church history to the tiny group of original disciples, it is easy to see the truth of these teachings of Jesus.
The kingdom of God has expanded from an upper room in Jerusalem to every continent and country in the world. There are more Christians than any other religion in the world, and it is growing at twice the pace of any other. It grows despite continued persecution from outside the church, and heresies from within the church. It grows despite the mistakes and moral failures of church leaders. How it grows is a mystery, for we cannot always see the work of the Holy Spirit.
These teachings of Jesus tell us more than the history of growth of the church in our world. They also tell us how the kingdom of God should be growing within each of our lives. Just as we cannot always see the growth of the kingdom in the church, it is also difficult to see it within ourselves. Each of us has had the seed of God’s Word planted in our hearts, and it has been watered by the waters of our baptism. That presence of the kingdom should be growing within each of us, and it should be bearing fruit for harvest. It should become so obvious that the kingdom of God is within us, that others can see it and come to us to roost and find shelter. As Dad would say, “Sit back and watch the miracle.” If we tend the garden, the growth will be phenomenal.
Here is a link to a video of “Garden Song” being sung on The Muppet Show by John Denver.