Today we continue our series, Lessons from the Farm on growing in the Christian life. Through the course of these five weeks we are seeking to identify and understand some key principles for growing in our faith, for becoming the people that God wants us to be as we grow in our relationship with God and engage the world around us. To help us do this we are looking at different agricultural metaphors and teachings from the parables of Jesus and the scriptures.
As we began the series two weeks ago we talked about the need that we have to surrender our lives to Christ. As we live day-to-day we often get bogged down in the muck and the mire of life. The reality of the human condition often finds us stuck in the mud and no matter how hard we try to get ourselves unstuck, we simply can’t. Through surrendering to Christ we can experience the freedom that God offers.
Once we have surrendered our lives to Christ a crucial next step is to engage in Christian community. Last week we learned about the act of putting up hay and the reality that it is not a one-person job. Through this conversation we then explored the reality that we need one another as we grow in our faith, we need to be engaged in small group opportunities for fellowship and growth in the church. We need to be engaged for our own sake as well as for the sake of others who need us.
Today then we turn to talk about the third of these principles, the next thing about which we need to be intentional as we grow in our Christian faith; discipline. Sounds exciting doesn’t it! I know discipline is a favorite topic of most of yours… it’s mine too! When you hear the word discipline what do you think of…?
Webster’s defines discipline in a way that I think is helpful for our conversation this morning, “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” And I would add to that our spiritual lives. Discipline is training that can mold or perfect the lives that we seek to live, the lives God calls us to live. And as we talk this morning about the discipline we’re called to exhibit with our lives, we turn to another important lesson from the farm.
Many of you know that our church owns a home on the north side of town for the pastor and her or his family to live in. Last spring after it had been announced that I would be serving here, Francis, my predecessor, and Donna his wife, invited Heather and Hannah and me to the house to look at what would be our new home. While we were there Donna asked what we would like planted in the garden with the idea that she would plant it so it would be ready for us to enjoy once we moved in.
We moved into the house in late June and the garden had already begun coming to life, it was clear that we would soon be enjoying lots of yummy squash and peppers and tomatoes as there were these nice neat rows of developing plants.
As we settled into our new home and our new routines this summer an incredible amount of energy went into unpacking and putting the house together and settling in. We didn’t give the garden the attention that it needed in those first weeks. And then it got really really hot and we continued to be busy with life and settling in and starting my work here. For a couple more weeks we failed to give the garden the attention that it needed. And all of a sudden, early the week of the fair in mid-August, I realized that things were out of control and so I went out and snapped a couple of pictures for you to see…
This one from the side shows the tomato plants under attack…
How much is this just like our spiritual lives? We have the best of intentions, people have planted and tended to seeds in our lives, we have great potential to bear fruit, but if we let things go untended for just a month or so, the weeds can grow up to the point of choking out what we really want to grow.
It takes hard work to get what you want to grow to grow. But you’ve seen a picture of my garden now and so I don’t want you to have to take my word for it. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit with Ben Myers, a member of our congregation who has a great amount of experience farming and here’s what he had to say about this…
(Have to Fertilize Video)
If you’re not willing to put in some hard work, you might as well of not planted it in the first place. It takes hard work to get what we want to grow to grow. It takes discipline.
The flip side of this, though, is that the stuff you don’t want to grow, doesn’t need any help growing – it just takes over! Again, hear what Ben has to teach us about this…
The weeds will take over. And if you let the weeds go, you won’t have any crop. Again, I hope you can see the simple lesson here as it pertains to your soul, to your spiritual life. And so I ask you to think about it this morning, what are the weeds that are growing in the Garden of your soul? What distractions do you face? What takes your energy?
In today’s gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus is again using an agricultural metaphor to teach. The author of Matthew puts it this way… 24He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well.
This parable is often referred to as the parable of the wheat and the tares. The weed that the author of Matthew refers to as a tare is something very similar to what we know of as rye-grass today. When rye-grass, or tares, first start to grow the plants look very similar to wheat. By the time it has grown enough and it is clear that it is not wheat, the rye-grass has wrapped itself around the wheat becoming enmeshed and tangled up with the wheat. The good wheat that is to be harvested and turned into flour or bread is now mixed with a noxious weed. Again, we experience much the same with our spiritual lives. What are your weeds?
I know that for some of you, work-a-holism is a significant weed, things with your job consume more of your time and energy than you would like and then take away from the time that you have for your family, for your friends, for tending to the garden of your soul. Your job is not the key to being who God created you to be. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to do something you are passionate about, it is a part of who God calls you to be, but not to the detriment of other important relationships in your life. When you are old and in need of care, your job won’t be there to help you with the difficult transitions of life, your job won’t visit you in the nursing home or take you to your doctor’s appointments.
I know that for some of you temptation is a significant weed. Maybe you struggle with drugs or alcohol or food issues and wrestle with the temptation to give in on a daily basis. Maybe you have had challenging times in your marriage and have been tempted by a relationship with someone of the opposite sex. Even a seemingly innocent friendship can lead to dangerous places of temptation and before you know it boundaries have been crossed and a weed has grown out of control in your life.
For others of you I imagine you struggle with any variety of weeds: anger, pride, resentment, jealousy, envy. These weeds can creep into our lives and grow to the point where they choke out God’s hopes and plans for us. We must take care of the weeds, sometimes by pulling them, sometimes by getting a spade and digging them out.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement that evolved into what is now our United Methodist Church established three general rules for living the Christian life. These rules can be helpful as we seek to tend to the weeds in our lives and so I want to share them with you this morning. My hope is that they might be for you a simple guide to help you tend to the garden of your soul.
The first of these rules is to do no harm. Don’t yell at or hit your spouse or children would be an obvious and maybe extreme implication of this. On a more subtle level following this admonition to do no harm might mean not succumbing to the temptation to smoke one more cigarette or have one more drink of you are battling addictions. It might mean not eating those things that you know are bad for your system and leave you feeling cruddy. It might mean not beating yourself up emotionally for your perceived shortcomings. It might mean being mindful of how the things that you purchase and consume impact our planet and the people who helped produce and distribute those goods to your home. Do no harm, don’t nurture the weeds in your soul, don’t plant weeds in the souls of others.
The second of these general rules is to do good. This is an extension of the first rule. It is not enough to simply avoid doing bad things, we are also called to actively be involved in doing good things. Care for yourself. Care for God’s creation. Care for others with whom we share God’s creation. Wesley is believed to have said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Actively seek to provide water and fertilizer, to help the good things grow in your life and the lives of others.
The third of these general rules Wesley often referred to as our need to attend to the ordinances of God. In our more 21st century English this can best be summarized as stay in love with God. Stay connected to God as the source of your strength and seek to grow in that relationship. Specifically Wesley encouraged people to do this in six ways:
- Public worship of God
- Ministry of the word (read or expounded)
- The supper of the Lord
- Family and private prayer
- Searching the scriptures
- Fasting or abstinence.
Each of these different techniques can be like carbon dioxide or rain or fertilizer or sunlight for the gardens of our soul. Stay in Love with God.
Ten words. Do no harm. Do Good. Stay in Love with God.
As we close this morning I want you to again hear these words from 2nd Peter. Hear them as words of challenge and words of encouragement.
“5For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, 6and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, 7and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. 8For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins.
It takes hard work for us to tend to the gardens of our soul, and while this might go without saying, it is incredibly important work. The degree to which we are tending to our connection with God makes a huge difference in so many aspects of our lives. And so this morning I want to leave you with this challenge, to do the hard work, to tend to your spiritual life so that you don’t end up looking something like this (picture).