“Gardening teaches me a lot about God’s ways, and the pattern of new life out of death”
It was such a special birthday when my son presented me with the gift of a beautiful lemon tree.
It looked so full of health and its leaves were deep green and glossy.
I loved the tree. I also loved that, for my sake, he had ventured into the foreign and somewhat intimidating territory of a nursery, knowing at any minute a horticulturalist could approach him and ask him personal questions about his gardening habits.
As I looked at this beautiful gold and green tree, I imagined myself going into the garden over the years, each time reminded of him, and so I was keen to get it in the ground.
However, soon after planting, there were signs of trouble.
The leaves began to yellow, they lost their glossiness. I asked myself “have I overwatered? Perhaps I’ve underwatered. Perhaps I’ve overfed it. Perhaps I’ve underfed it, and it’s starving in the ground!”
I spent many hours googling care of lemon trees and as many dollars in gardening stores.
Interestingly at that time, the story from Luke’s Gospel (Ch.13) about the unfruitful fig tree came up on the lectionary.
“Give it a bit longer,” the gardener said. “I’ll dig around it, put down some manure. Maybe we’ll get figs, but if we don’t, we will cut it down.”
“Give it a bit longer,” he said, and so I made my last desperate attempt.
I dug it up, checked the roots, and replanted with better soil and some gravel for drainage, but still it ailed. So I made the painful call, pulled it out and put it on the compost.
This experience often reminds me of what a brutal activity gardening can be. Yes there is the fertilising, the enriching, the planting.
How hard it is though, to prune the luxuriant growth of the vines to just two bare canes, to cut my flourishing raspberries to the ground, and how hard it is to believe that these hard decisions to let go, will result in fast and extravagant new growth.
As always, gardening teaches me a lot about God’s ways, and the pattern of new life out of death.
Jesus saw this in wheatfields, fruit trees and vineyards. So if there are divine principles observable in Creation, can these also be applied to the Church?
Does that same creative voice call us to nurture the Church, to plant, but also to cut back and pull out, even when what must go has special meaning for us?
Are there signs that we may have neglected this critical task as “gardeners” of the Church?
What might we see, for example, in places of church storage?
Backdrops of musicals that happened long ago, dusty Christmas decorations made by children now adults, a framed certificate of thanks from a church group who visited in 1966, even platforms for Sunday School anniversaries.
We see churches built for another age, manses designed for a Minister and his five children, ways of worship designed for a different church culture and time.
And we hang on to it, sometimes fight for it, because it has meant something important at the time. It reminds us of people we love, leaders of the past, times of luxuriant growth, our parents’ wedding.
All this can burden us, but worst of all, it can blind us to the changing season, as we hang on to an understanding of a world that no longer matches the reality.
In the midst of this overgrowth, Creation’s voice asks us how long we can keep investing in its crippling amounts of energy and money, when it may have long stopped producing figs.
May we have the courage to make these days a time of sorting the garden we have been entrusted with, and may we have the wisdom to know what to conserve, what to prune, and what to pull out with grateful hearts.
Rev Rose Broadstock is Presbytery Minister, Southern Region of Victoria