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Delivered at the United Church of Jaffrey.
June 17th, 2018
Mark 4:26-36 / Excerpt from Walden by Henry David Thoreau
The Garlic Patch Update
Allow me to begin my remarks this morning with my Garlic patch update.
Think of this like one of those segments on a newscast — like the weather update, or an election update… except that I am updating you on my garlic patch.
Those of you who read my Pathfinder messages may remember the first segment of my garlic patch series — which took place back in December of 2017 when, in an attempt to overcome a fit of writer’s block, I resorted to some “tactical procrastination” (otherwise known as yard work) and ended up finding a nice metaphor for our church life in what might otherwise be considered the humble setting of my garlic patch.
Of course, the whole notion of a “garlic patch update” is absurd, because garlic is about the slowest thing going.
According to Edward C. Smith, the author of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, an ardent keeper of raised beds, like myself, should:
“plant garlic cloves in the fall, about a month before the soil freezes…” and harvest in “late summer when the bottom two or three leaves have turned yellow”
We cannot measure the progress of my garlic patch in any way that makes it seem stimulating.
The “Garlic update” has none of the melodrama of a daytime soap opera like “Days of our Lives” or “The Young and the Restless”
It has none of the cultural buzz that gathers around the latest viral youtube video or binge-worthy Netflix series.
In fact, I better be careful because in all our UCJ literature I promise that my sermons are not nap time, and I may already be trying your patience with all this talk of garlic…
So the update!
The indomitable fellows popped their heads above ground in April, long before the last snowfall of the winter, when there was, as yet, nary a green thing anywhere in sight.
I have two rows.
You will all be pleased to know that my garlic patch is coming along splendidly.
All but one of them are over a foot tall!
And as of yet… no yellow leaves… so, we’re on track.
Maybe its because I am in the throes of raising two adolescent boys, but it seems to me that we, as a culture, are obsessed with speed.
And I’m not only talking about physical speed — that is, moving from moving from point A to point B as quickly as possible…
This emphasis on speed has become a kind of cultural second nature to us.
We call it “efficiency.”
All our technology is built to make things more and more efficient.
The more efficient we are — the more we get done.
So “efficiency” is good, right?
Who would argue with that?!
Whenever I throw my dirty clothes into my fancy LG brand washing machine and walk away to do something else, while it efficiently does its thing, I think about the six months that I lived in Sri Lanka.
I lived in a village.
The only way to do laundry was by hand.
One of the ladies in the village taught me how to do it — I rubbed each item with a bar of laundry soap, rinsed it in a bucket, poured out the soapy water and rinsed it again… and again… and again… and then, finally slapped the garment against a stone about twenty times to get the water out.
I suppose that stone slapping was what we would call a “spin-cycle.”
Each article of clothing took forever!
The next time I had to do laundry, to carried it into town and paid someone else to do it for me.
Looking back, I have mixed feelings about it all.
I didn’t really like washing everything by hand…
But I am aware that I gave in quite easily, and let my American wallet take away the bothersome inefficiency.
I am keenly aware that, if I was spending my entire day washing clothes by hand, I would not be able to do the other things that I want to do, like think, and write, and play music or make dinner.
Surely efficiency is my friend.
Or is it?
Jesus, as usual, has some interesting input.
The gospel lesson for this morning Jesus tries to help us to understand the Kingdom of Heaven…
How does he do this?
He does not talk about glorious mansions.
He does not talk about streets paved with gold.
He does not talk about clouds and harps and angels with wings.
We tend to think of heaven as a kind of celestial place — an airy, light filled, spiritual place.
But this is not how Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus’ description of the kingdom of heaven sounds a little bit like my garlic patch update.
“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.”
Isn’t that interesting!
Not a fluffy cloud or a pearly gate in sight.
Where did all that imagery come from anyway?
Jesus himself — who we understand to be as intimately acquainted with these matters as anyone could possibly be — describes the Kingdom of Heaven, not as a place but as a process — the mysterious process of a seed growing into a plant.
Lest we somehow miss the point, Jesus doubles down on this notion that the Kingdom of Heaven is a process.
He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
Traditional interpretations of this teaching place the emphasis on the product — on the difference between the small seed and the large bush.
But I recommend the value, this morning, of focusing on the process by which the small mustard seed becomes the imposing bush.
Like my garlic patch — that is planted in early fall, and not harvested until late summer the following year — the Kingdom of Heaven will not be rushed!
The kingdom of heaven is not a done deal.
It is in the process of becoming.
And this becoming is not happening in some far away celestial paradise.
Its happening all around us.
We are in the midst of this miracle.
But do we have eyes to see it?
Attention and prayer
I believe that all the emphasis that our culture places on efficiency, makes it hard for us to be a part of the process.
Thats what efficiency is — in a way — it removes the necessity of our contribution to the process of getting something done.
So, to use the example I used earlier — efficiency means I don’t have to slap my shirts against a rock to get them dry.
Instead I just stick my shirts in the dryer and go do something else.
But the kingdom of heaven, is attentive to the process.
It is intentional about understanding what is involved with this miracle called life.
I would call this attentiveness a kind of prayer.
Attention is a kind of prayer.
A heightened awareness that their is a completely astonishing miracle at work around us at all times.
This is why I love the passage that I read earlier from Thoreau’s Walden.
This perfect attention to the miracle of the pond and of the stars is, to my mind, a glorious expression of a prayerful wonder of the process of mysterious life.
Sometimes, after staying in a village parlor till the family had all retired, I have returned to the woods, and, partly with a view to the next day’s dinner, spent the hours of midnight fishing from a boat by moonlight, serenaded by owls and foxes, and hearing, from time to time, the creaking note of some unknown bird close at hand. These experiences were very memorable and valuable to me — anchored in forty feet of water, and twenty or thirty rods from the shore, surrounded sometimes by thousands of small perch and shiners, dimpling the surface with their tails in the moonlight, and communicating by a long flaxen line with mysterious nocturnal fishes which had their dwelling forty feet below, or sometimes dragging sixty feet of line about the pond as I drifted in the gentle night breeze, now and then feeling a slight vibration along it, indicative of some life prowling about its extremity, of dull uncertain blundering purpose there, and slow to make up its mind. At length you slowly raise, pulling hand over hand, some horned pout squeaking and squirming to the upper air. It was very queer, especially in dark nights, when your thoughts had wandered to vast and cosmogonal themes in other spheres, to feel this faint jerk, which came to interrupt your dreams and link you to Nature again. It seemed as if I might next cast my line upward into the air, as well as downward into this element, which was scarcely more dense. Thus I caught two fishes as it were with one hook.