You visit the earth and water it

This is a sermon written for St James’ church, 9:30am Holy Communion service , inspired by Psalm 65. (My first talk delivered at my home church)

Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Autumn is my favourite time of the year. The low hanging sun, the turning colour of the leaves, a crisp wind which catches our breath, hinting at the winter to come. It’s a season of change, a time to start a new school year, a time to put away the haze of summer, a time where nature puts on a colourful display of God’s creation. As a child I would spend as much time outside as possible when I went to stay with my grandparents. I have fond memories of my late grandfather who was a devoted gardener, always on his knees in the soil regardless of the weather. 

He loved to spend hours in the garden, especially around Autumn. In the mornings I would watch him sweep the multicoloured leaves from all around the paths to make sure my nan would not slip over when she hung out the washing. Through the day he would pull up the weeds that were breaking through the paving or those who had infiltrated his flower beds, he would trim back the holly bushes, and the trees which had become bare. In the evenings as the light began to fade, he would tidy up his pruning with his heavy duty gardening gloves. 

When he wasn’t looking I used to put my hands into his gloves and pretend I was him. I would walk around with the floppy gloves grabbing the yard brush and try to look after his garden as best as I could. The gloves always felt huge, my fingers barely made it past the palm section, his large gentle hands could snap the strongest branches yet still gently dust the soil from a seedling’s new roots. Whilst reading the psalm set for today I thought about my grandfather and how our Heavenly Father tends to us like a devoted gardener.

After giving thanks, the psalm delivers a vivid image of the wonderful strength of our God. “In your strength you set fast the mountains” “you still the raging of the seas, the roaring of the waves” 
In the psalm his almighty power causes people to tremble in awe, the gates of the morning and evening sing his praise. Yet suddenly and ever so gently God visits earth and tends to us like a devoted and faithful gardener.

I imagine when reading this section that God puts his gardening gloves on, examines the work to be done, rolls up his sleeves, and gets stuck in for the day. In the psalm it seems that the watering was the first job to be done, the life giving water which sustains not only the crops but us too.

God provides for us, from the moment we are created, I like to imagine a huge greenhouse where we are lovingly nurtured, protected by his strength and by his endless love. God knows our thoughts, and hears our prayers and when we are weary, or are spiritually dehydrated we are refreshed by his life giving water

The psalm says, “you drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges”, how wonderful it is to know that when we are dried up, so close to cracking, God waters us, smooths out our cracks, softens us and blesses us so we can start to grow again. 

His nurturing love and guidance enables us to not only grow, but to produce fruit. The fruits of the spirit, the outcome of spiritual gardening, which described by Paul in Galatians as Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. 

Not only does God refresh us and heal us through his water, but he provides plentiful growing environments where we are planted throughout our fluctuating life experiences. 

When life is amazing and we feel on top of the world, there is thick grass on the hills, the psalm says they are girded with joy, we can feel the sun on our faces and everything is great. 

When life is constant and enjoyable, flat and colourful like a meadow, the psalm says the meadow is clothed with flocks of sheep, God is providing here too.

When we feel cut off, on the outskirts of society, unable to fit in, still God provides a patch of grass for the possibility of growth. “May the pastures of the wilderness flow with goodness”

Lastly in the psalm, even in the valley there is corn that stands so thick. Being in a valley, where life could be darker, maybe we are out of the sun and stuck in the shadows, God is there providing that opportunity to sustain and nourish us until we climb that mountain and feel the sun on our faces again. 

In all our situations in life, our faithful gardener tends to us. There is spiritual nourishment, his love, his warmth, the sun cultivating and illuminating us. 

But we can’t do this all alone, and god knows this, so he brings us together and we start to grow together as one body, as one church, as one family. It is here where we are inspired by his cultivation and we start to provide the same support structures for those who might be in the wilderness or in the valley. Jesus instructs those who follow him to be like him so others may see him through us. We are Jesus’ hands, feet, eyes, on this earth as described by the famous prayer by St Teresa of Avila.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours, yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the earth, yours are the feet by which he is to go about doing good and yours are the hands by which he is to bless us now.

It doesn’t matter how hard the wind blows this Autumn or how many leaves fall to the floor, like my gentle yet strong grandfather, our Heavenly Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit makes the earth plentiful for us. He tends to us, provides for us, and helps us to thrive in whatever the weather, wherever we are planted, and with whoever we grow with.

Amen

 

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I sent you to gather what you have not worked for

When I think of the harvest I get images of tall wheaty crops stretching back for miles, their floppy tops moving with the breath of the wind with the sky darting inbetween the rows. I think about how plentiful the full field seems, abundant with nature, a real sense of the circle of life from dust the crops grow and when they are harvested to dust they return.

My first experience of plucking wild fruit was only a few years ago. Lovely ripe plump blackberries lined a walkway, their deep red coloured skins so inviting to touch and hold in my hand. It was so satisfying watching the punnet fill up with the crimson jewels, their growing amount increased the possibilities of what I could do with them.

I chose to make a jam for the first time ever. It was lovely watching the sugary fruits come together to make a jar of preserved joy. Reading a piece of scripture brought back the memory of picking and Transforming the fruits into the jam.

“But I tell you, open your eyes! Look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest right now. Even now the one who gathers the crop is getting paid. They are already harvesting the crop for eternal life. So the one who plants and the one who gathers can now be glad together. Here is a true saying. ‘One plants and another gathers.’ I sent you to gather what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work. You have gathered the benefits of their work.” – John 4:35-38

I particularly love the line “I sent you to gather what you have not worked for.” It makes me think of the spiritual seed that is planted in each of us by God’s hand. That seed is cultivated through prayer and worship. This is sometimes done through church, through organised regular services, and other times out of church, a quiet glowing faith that is slowly grown privately, a sense of faithfulness from a growing relationship with God.

Recently I’ve seen two people who I’ve been in contact with who have felt the seedling of their faith starting to grow again and produce fruit. One through the clouds of dementia who’s familiar roots in faith have become a strong support in helping her to move forward. One who’s seed had been in the shadows and is now cultivating and thriving in the sunlight of God’s love.

Here in these situations I witness the power of that phrase “I sent you to gather what you have not worked for”, Seeing the wonder of God’s love intact and still strong in a person just waiting for the right and suitable conditions to blossom again.

I am a witness to this, I have not done the hard work, our heavenly father, the Holy spirit, the living word working hard and relentlessly within all of us. We are sent to gather the fruits to bring them together to make something amazing out of their combined wonder. Jesus takes them and transforms them into newness, a lifetime and beyond of Christian faith.

I hope and pray that I can keep pointing people towards the never-ending love of our God. The seeds have been sewn, the plants are growing, now let us gather the harvest into our Church families and share the fruits of the spirit with all.