A young clergyman arrived at his new parish eager to make a good impression on the community so he adopted the routine of walking around the neighborhood, greeting people wherever he saw them. On about the third day of this activity, he observed a man bending over in a garden beside a house. Perfectly spaced, lush tomato plants, beans, squash, lettuce, and cabbage, all grew in their rows free of any sign of weeds. Three fruit trees stood at the rear of the plot beautifully pruned, and multicolored flowers lined the periphery. The preacher called out, “Hello, there! What’s your name?”
The man stood up. “I’m Homer Jones. And who might you be?”
The preacher flashed a broad smile. “I’m Reverend Smith, the new rector at St. Luke’s”
Mr. Jones nodded. “Nice to know you, Reverend,” and bent back down to continue his work.
Rev. Smith wanted to make more contact than that, however, so he called out again, “Mr. Jones, you and the Lord sure have a beautiful garden here!”
Mr. Jones stared sideways at Rev. Smith. “Thank you, but you should’ve seen it when the Lord had it by himself.”
I know what Mr. Jones meant because the Lord has had OUR garden all by himself. Life basically threw some major curves at us beginning in April and throughout the spring and summer, both Vicki and I were confined largely to the house while Vicki cared for her dying mother and I recuperated from cancer surgery, as well as radiation and chemotherapy. Vicki barely had time to water the hanging plants, while neither one of us spent any time paying careful attention to the garden.
Now, though, we’ve come through a time of bereavement in the ultimate loss of Vicki’s mother, and I’ve recovered, largely, from the worst days of cancer treatment. So, with less demands on our energy and time, we looked again at our garden, and my, oh, my, what the Lord had done with it while he “had it by himself!”
The hydrangea had swollen so thickly that it pushed a pedestal over on which had perched a rather large bird house. The bird house fell into an adjacent holly, breaking some branches and shattering the bird house roof. Lantana had exploded in a kaleidoscope of yellow, orange, and red. Wild flowers in the middle of the raised bed had grown above my head. The butterfly bush had become a butterfly tree. Gardenia bushes, begonia planters, ferns, and hastes proliferated wildly. The espaliered shrub on the trellis I built now obscures the trellis and threatens the garage with the same concealment. The river birch in the back of the yard added perhaps another two feet to its height. And the mint – mint popped up everywhere, along with monkey grass threatening the flagstone walkway.
One of our kids looked out the window on the botanical profusion and said, “It’s a jungle!” Indeed. But the butterflies love the lantana and the butterfly bush/tree. Gold finches have gorged themselves on the wild flower seeds. A very large spider has gorged herself on some of the less fortunate butterflies. Hummingbirds hover. Bees buzz. Geckos grope. In short, since we hadn’t been around to limit things with our pruning, life broke out everywhere! That threw an entirely different light on what the Lord did with the garden “when he had it by himself.” Let the Creator control things and you can count on abundance!
Don’t get me wrong. Just as soon as schedule allows, we’ll weed the garden. I plan to prune the espaliered shrub and take a weed eater to the monkey grass popping up in the middle of the flagstones. But, we can do that pruning, mind you, because the Creator supplied an extravagant Abundance.
We humans, though, have a hard time counting on Abundance because we’re so used to believing in scarcity. In fact, we’ve systematically built what Walter Brueggemann calls a “scarcity system.” In our economic system, the monetary value we assign to things goes up the more scarce they are. A metal isn’t “precious” unless it’s rare. You pay a lot of money to get a Porsche to drive to Hilton Head as opposed to driving a Honda to a state park. So, we strive to get that great job, to get that great salary, to have enough buying power to secure for ourselves “the finer things in life,” as well as afford the insurance, fences, gates, and security systems to keep them safe from pilfering. Which means that this scarcity system is exceptionally good at breeding anxiety and fear.
And yet, nature consistently sends us another message. As the artist Makoto Fujimura says, “Think of God’s Kingdom coming as a heavenly invasion into the ordinary, an infinite abundance injected into our scarcity-marked world.” Fujimura encourages us to have confidence that life will proliferate if we give it a chance. The creation will flourish if you quit messing with it, and a special kind of flourishing will happen when you learn to cooperate with it. So, when you decide to cultivate the “garden” in which you find yourself, dig around, and observe its intricacy, that abundance will energize you in such a way that people will observe “you and the Lord sure have a beautiful garden here!”