“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden,
her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.” ~Isaiah 51:3~
Look at the Facebook page of Frontera Wesley, our campus ministry in the South District, and you’ll see pictures of college students planting a community garden together between the Campus Christian Center and First United Methodist Church of Tucson, just off Park Avenue. With shovels and laughter and joy, some young people planted seeds of faith that will one day soon be a living testimony of God’s abundance and goodness to the University of Arizona community walking past.
When my wife Felida and I moved into our new house in Vail, we had a new back yard full of nothing but dirt, an empty canvas of possibility for a willing gardener. But we lack the time and energy, the passion and commitment to plant and tend a garden, so we did the exact opposite. We hired a company to put down synthetic grass and landscape fabric and rock, creating a wonderful area for our two dogs to run and play in but no plants for us to tend, no lawn for us to mow, and hopefully few weeds for us to pull. It works well for us, and yet I’m aware of the missed opportunity of what could’ve grown in that space.
There’s something to that, isn’t there? Human beings have a long relationship with the soil, dating back to Cain, the tiller of the ground in Genesis Chapter 4. My own ancestors tended the soil in Nebraska, raised crops in Mississippi and the Carolinas, perhaps farmed in England and Ireland and Bohemia. But sometimes we’d rather not get our hands in the soil, and so we hire others to do our dirty work for us.
Tomorrow, Feb. 17th, is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Season of Lent, a forty day period of spiritual preparation when we face our own mortality, acknowledge our own brokenness, cooperate with God in pulling out the weeds and planting seeds of faith. We sift through the dirt in which we’ve been mucking about, realizing the ways we’ve dishonored God and harmed our neighbors and done the very things we do not want to do. We do this remembering that Cain spilled his own brother’s blood into the soil and that we are more like Cain than we’d like to admit.
And yet we have the choice to sanitize or overlook the Season of Lent, to forego the business of pulling weeds and planting flowers, to hire landscapers who’ll cover the soil with fabric and artificial turf and rock so we don’t have to acknowledge or deal with what lies beneath. (Though despite our best efforts, the weeds will find their way through eventually.)
My new work as District Superintendent can be dominated by administrative concerns, so removed from the rhythms of worship and local church ministry that twice I have forgotten about Ash Wednesday and asked my clergy colleagues to schedule meetings that night. They have had to gently remind me that Ash Wednesday is not about meetings but about ashes and dust and mortality and pulling weeds and planting seeds.
And so I want to remind you of the Community Garden planted by the college students of Frontera Wesley. Community because it’s not a solitary endeavor of an individual behind a block wall in a back yard, but a community effort of people coming together, planting seeds, with no walls, for all who walk past to enjoy. A garden where soil must be tended, weeds pulled, seeds watered, all so that flowers and plants, faith and hope, love and joy will grow.
Maybe this Season of Lent can be like that. A season of coming together and sifting the soil through our fingers together, of finding the broken pieces of what has been shattered in our life together, of pulling out what doesn’t belong and what doesn’t give life, of planting and raising flowers that bloom in the diversity and creative goodness of God’s green earth.
When we cooperate with God in acknowledging our brokenness and seeking a better way of living life together, the wastelands become a garden of the Lord, with joy and gladness in abundance. And so I invite all of us to observe a Holy Season of Lent together.
Thanks for listening –
P.S. Feb. 21st is Campus Ministry Sunday in the Desert Southwest Conference. Please contribute to our ministries with college students by supporting the special offering at your local church or sending your donation to Randy Bowman at the Desert Southwest Conference.