Community groups and churches have banded together in many urban communities to garden empty lots in areas abandoned by grocery chains. Community Gardens are now providing access to fresh fruits and vegetables for many poorer residents. Residents are given a small plot to garden. They are given tools, access to seed and water and the teaching that helps them be successful in their gardening. The Gardens provide nutrition and health benefits to underserved people. A good harvest creates an abundance that serves the community in meaningful and important ways. When you consider the implications of this story, Community Gardening teaches us important lessons about the path of discipleship.
Three years ago our Youth attending Sierra Service Project got a first hand experience in Community Gardening. The City of Stockton set aside a large plot of land in one of the poorest parts of town for this life-giving work. This garden became a green and beautiful oasis in an area that had been blighted for years. We met many of the individual gardeners who spoke with pride about their work. Our team was deeply impacted through our work in this garden. God’s Spiritual Gardening
God’s Grace & the Harvest That Awaits
Jesus’ Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) is a beautiful gardening story. The Sower is willing to sow seed in places that wouldn’t make a lot of sense to people who know anything about gardening. Jesus speaks of the different sorts of soil in which the seed is sown. Soils of different quality yielded very different harvests. At harvest time, the most fertile soil in the garden produced a harvest that was exponentially greater than what would be expected. Jesus makes a critical point for disciples in every age: God’s grace is capable of bringing forth extraordinary miracles of grace in the lives of people who have become fertile soil. As we grow in God’s grace we learn to trust in God’s promise of life-giving love and presence. Growth brings strength, peace, hope and love. These gifts anchor us more deeply in our relationship with God.
Discipleship and Community Gardening
A pitfall of this passage is that it represents a two-dimensional image of spiritual formation. It’s as if the individual garden is all that matters. Make no mistake, if we don’t tend to our spiritual life, no one else will. Our individual spiritual formation is vital to growing in grace and love. However we are also in a community of faith; we have neighbors. The relationships with our neighbors are as much a part of our faith as is our relationship with God. Therefore, our own discipleship and faith development must include an element of community gardening. As we invest in the community we are all strengthened in ways that we couldn’t achieve with individual acts of discipline. We tend to the community garden when we invest in our common discipleship. Then, we are all strengthened with an abundance of love and grace that serves the church and the whole community.