Read Romans 11:1-18
Since moving to our current home, I have become much more involved in the landscaping choices and maintenance. My participation is on the simpler side of these activities. My partner does the harder work in terms of planting and major pruning. I am more of a visionary and trimmer of small plants. I also assumed the responsibility of keeping plants outdoors hydrated. As I have become more active in landscaping there is much which I have learned but there is also a greater awareness of how much more I need to learn. I am clearly not at the point where I could graft any of our plants or control the pollination of any. I do have a rudimentary understanding of both however. I greatly enjoy the success which we have had with our landscaping. Now if I could just figure out how to get some of our plants to grow faster.
I share this information regarding landscaping at our house because in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he is using plant husbandry as an image when discussing Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s letter to the Romans is an apologetic in regard to Jesus for the Roman Jews primarily and the non-Jewish (Gentile) Roman believers secondarily. His intent is to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. At this point in the letter, Paul is explaining the relationships between Jewish and Gentile believers. He indicates that while there is a majority of Jews who have rejected Jesus as the Messiah, God has never rejected the Jews. The Jews who have not rejected Jesus are a remnant who God has saved by grace. The rejection which others have made opened access to the Gentiles. Through their rejection, the Gentiles have been brought into God’s fold, ingrafted to the tree of life. Paul also states that the Jews who have rejected Jesus will always be given the opportunity to rejoin God’s tree. Then he gives a warning to the Gentile believer. He warns that the Gentile believers should never consider themselves superior to the Jews who rejected Jesus. All are supported by God, the source of life.
This passage speaks to all of us about relating to one another. Whether we are considering the Christian-Jewish relationship or any relationship between Christians and non-Christians, including atheists or agnostics, we are to view others as equal branches on God’s tree. The first branch of the tree were the Hebrew people and then God chose to engraft other branches of the human race. This truth must inform and guide our words and actions as we engage in a highly diversified humanity, a humanity in which every branch is a creation of God.
26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”Mark 4:26-29 (NIV)
A characteristic of a great story teller is being able to connect with people using imagery with which the receiver can relate. If a reader or listener is unable to connect elements of the story to their own life or experiences they are familiar with, they will become bored and disinterested in the story being told. A much repeated piece of advice to speakers, writers, and communicators is “know your audience.” By following this advice, the one sharing a message can personalize the message which leads to a more effective deliverance.
Jesus was a tremendous story teller. The Gospels contain evidence of this fact in the many recounts of stories which Jesus used to communicate all types of concepts and life lessons. Today we read one of Jesus’s stories. His audience was very familiar with the growth cycle and processes of plants. Jesus is providing images to explain the essence of the kingdom of God. The image of seed being scattered on the ground and becoming a mature plant creates the sense of mystery regarding growth within the kingdom. Jesus also tells the listener that a time will come when the plants will be harvested because they have reached full maturity. The listener understands that there will be a growth of the individuals in the kingdom and a time will come when a gathering will take place.
This story which Jesus uses to explain God’s kingdom provides imagery which allows us to see ourselves in the kingdom. We are the plants which begin as seeds. Our growth in the kingdom is not of our own doing but solely reliant upon God. There is mystery in how God causes this to happen. We grow up and mature within the kingdom. Then we await our gathering up by the Lord once we have fully matured.
In our home we have a few houseplants. We are fortunate in this house to have windows to the south and windows to the east which provide excellent locations for some of our plants. Every few weeks, I have to turn the plants at least forty-five degrees. The reason for needing to turn the plants is that they tend to grow towards the window so by turning them I am able to keep them pretty evened out. Of course, the reason they grow toward the window is due to the fact that they are growing toward the source of the sunlight. If you remember from your basic biology class, plants need sunshine in order to trigger photosynthesis which allows the plant to grow.
You may be wondering why I have attempted to give a brief lesson regarding plants and photosynthesis. My reason is that while adjusting the plants the other day, I thought about how they reach for the sunlight. How they must have the sunlight for their survival. These thoughts caused me to ponder how I have a similar need. I am the type of person who does not do well on consecutive days of cloudy skies. After a few days, I notice shifts in my attitude and a reduction of my energy level. I am a person who needs regular days of sunlight.
I also began to consider how this applies to my faith. I have a need to feel a connection to God. When I sense this connection, my attitude is more of a positive attitude. Feeling surrounded by the Spirit of God, I experience a movement forward in my life. When going through a dark time in my life, my natural instinct is to reach out toward the Lord. Like the plant reaches toward the sunlight, I reach toward God so that I may receive what I need to survive and grow.
Between the impact of COVID-19 and the call for racial justice, there seems to me a greater need for us to reach out. A need for us to reach out to one another. A need for us to reach out to God. There we will find that life-giving source which will sustain us and help us to grow.