Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tending the Garden of Our Souls with the Tools of the Church

The Reading is from Matthew 21:33-42
The Lord said this parable, "There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit; and the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first; and they did the same to them. Afterward he sent his son to them, saying 'They will respect my son.' But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.' And they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?" They said to him, "He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons." Jesus said to them, "Have you never read in the scriptures: 'The very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner; this was the Lord's doing, and it was marvelous in our eyes?'"

I spent some time in the garden yesterday. I was planning on digging the whole thing up and calling it quits for the season, but when I started, I noticed new peppers were growing and the eggplant was still producing fruit. Since most of the garden was still producing fruit I decided to let it alone so I could harvest a bit more for the kitchen. Having a garden has been quite an experience this year. Not everything went like I planned. I watched the zucchini all summer. Every morning I saw flowers. I even watched bees going in and out of each flower. But the zucchini didn’t produce a single fruit so I pulled it out and threw it in the compost.

When plants don’t produce fruit in any garden they are removed to make room for other plants that are able to produce. No experienced gardener would waste good soil growing weeds! Of course each climate is different and sometimes we plant things that just won’t produce fruit. Surely we can’t blame a fig tree for not producing fruit in Colorado. But if a fig tree doesn’t produce fruit in South Carolina, something is wrong with that fig tree.

We don’t often talk about people bearing fruit. We’re not trees after all, but God uses this image today to challenge us as Christians. “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their season.” (Matthew 21.41) I don’t think God is talking about figs! So, what fruit are we supposed to produce? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5.22-23)

My dear brothers and sisters, we are called by Christ to produce these fruits “in their seasons.” That means we must use the knowledge of God and each other to understand just what type of fruit we can produce. Just like a fig tree cannot produce fruit in northern climates, we can only produce fruit when the soil of our hearts is fertile with the richness of the Holy Spirit. Each of us has been created by God with certain talents that we are called to use to glorify God.

We glorify God every time we bear fruit just like a garden that produces record crops brings honor to the gardener. We are the garden and God is our gardener. God has planted seeds in each of us and we need to grow and produce that record crop for the Glory of God. Every gardener has tools in his tool shed that he uses to till the soil, prepare the seed beds, control the weeds, fertilize the ground and eventually harvest the fruit. God also has tools is His tool shed that He uses to nurture our growth and control the weeds that distract us from growing. God’s tool shed is the Church and his tools are the Holy sacraments of the Church.

Through the sacraments of the Church, we are nurtured with the grace of God. In the Eucharist (Holy Communion) we are fed with spiritual food, without which we will certainly die. Jesus Christ says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.” (John 6.53-54) Just as a garden cannot live without food and water, we cannot live without Holy Communion.

When a tree has a broken limb, it must be pruned and if the cut is deep enough it must sometimes be covered with special ointments to protect the tree from pests destroying its inner core. We also need to be healed and anointed with Holy Confession and Holy Unction. Through these Sacraments our sins are forgiven by God and we are blessed so the demons cannot easily get into our core and destroy the fruit of the Spirit that has been given to us.

A dedicated gardener works his land constantly pulling weeds, adding water, taking precautions to keep the bugs from eating the fruit. This is a never-ending task to keep a healthy garden. When we don’t give the garden the attention it needs, we end up with over-grown bushes in a field of weeds, and the fruit, if it does come, is small and few.

We also have to work constantly to keep our spiritual health from being overtaking by temptations and sin. The devil never stops trying to convince us to forget about God. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the tools of the Church to help keep us healthy. The Lord commands us to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5.17) Certain demons cannot be driven out “except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17.21) In the ancient Church everyone “had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people.” (Acts 2.44-47) The ancient Church knew the benefits of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Their garden was producing a lot of good fruit. “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2.47)

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5.22-23) So what are we going to do my brothers and sisters in Christ? What are we going to do to tend to our garden so we can produce this good plentiful fruit for God? If we had never planted a garden before we would probably read a book on gardening, so let’s read. Let’s make a commitment to read the Bible every day and ask the Holy Spirit “to guide us into all truth,” (John 16.13) as we read and study His Holy Word. Come to Bible Study and learn about the tools the Church has to offer in our struggle to bear fruit for the glory of God.

Once we begin our journey to heaven, just like in the garden, we simply have to keep using the tools that will help keep us healthy. We must find time to pray every day. We must fast every Wednesday and Friday. We must be charitable to others. And when we do these things, just like in the ancient Church we will produce fruit for the glory of God.

When we really want to learn about gardening we find a good gardener and spend as much time with him as possible. God is our good gardener and we should try to spend as much time with Him as possible and the best way to be with Him is when we receive Holy Communion. When we receive Holy Communion we are as close to God as we can physically be and He will inspire us to bear good fruit. And when we produce the fruits of the Spirit with God’s help we will be worthy of the glory of God.

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