The gardening season is almost here. Many of you, like me, have probably been pouring over those gorgeous seed catalogues planning what you will plant this year, deciding which spot in the yard will undergo some transformation with a new garden added or an old one renewed and expanded. Of course, if you are like me, as soon as the garden shops begin to fill with the plants, and bushes and trees, you can spend many contemplative hours browsing among the plants already smelling their full bloom fragrance and tasting their harvest freshness, envisioning the mature landscape in years to come. If you are like me, I always get carried away with what I envision and how beautiful it will be when completed. I tend to block out the effort it will entail. It messes with my dream. Who can identify? Even when I lived in an apartment or condo, somehow containers and window boxes began to crowd out the space for sitting on the tiny decks or porches!! And once those plants were delivered, or I got home from farmer's market with a trunk full of soon-to-bloom plants, I would come to my senses and see all the work I had just committed myself to. The digging, the spading, the hauling of bags of fertilizer and other things to turn my gravelly yard into growable soil. Then I would have to crawl around on my knees to do the planting and will likely have an achy back for a few days. And just as the new growth begins to show, the rabbits appear. Last year I quite counting after 27 entered my bunny relocation program. Of course the weeding, debugging, watering and hoeing are all necessary tasks to achieve the end results that were in my mind. Once done, it is still always a few years before the new or the renewed garden begins to even slightly resemble my imagined garden or the glossy photos in catalogues or magazines at the supermarket checkout. A garden becomes a glorious garden very slowly.
Well, that's how we grow a simple garden, but how do we grow a Jesus centered community?
In the reading from Acts today, Luke makes planting and growing a church sound a whole lot easier than planning, planting and growing a garden. It is almost like a la la vision! People welcomed the message, came to be baptized and many joined the community. The new members devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to community fellowship, to breaking of bread together and to their prayers. And they were so impressed by the signs and wonders done by the apostles they were full of awe. This community of new believers supported it by holding all their possessions in common for the good of all, selling off their personal property and giving the proceeds to all who had needs. They hung out at the temple together a lot, day after day. They broke bread at their homes, remembering Jesus when they did so, with glad and generous hearts and praising God all the while. Everyone thought well of them apparently, because they enjoyed others' good will, according to Luke. And their numbers grew every day.
Wow! That's quite the garden of Eden that the emerging community became.
Luke's portrait in the Acts of the apostles paints the glorious picture of the ideal community, like I do of the garden in my imagination as I stroll the aisles of garden centers each spring. Luke doesn't say anything about the toil, the disagreements, the personality differences, the varieties of view points that lead to controversy and conflict. We will hear of that later from Paul! Luke doesn't say anything about the back breaking work involved in growing, harvesting and grinding of the wheat and making and baking of the bread used for the breaking! Somebody was doing that chore, as well as growing those grapes, caring for the vineyards and getting that wine made. Luke gives us the seed catalogue version of the new Christian community that was being grown.
For the next seven weeks that we wait with the early community for Pentecost to arrive, we will hear Luke in the Acts of the apostles tell us in each of the first readings how the Jesus community grew, its struggles with what was required of it.
And in all the Gospel readings that we will hear over the course of the Easter season that prepares us for Pentecost, the minds and hearts of the apostles were being prepared for the arrival of the Spirit. But before the full bloom of the community comes the doubt, but then the doubter, Thomas, comes to believe and proclaims Jesus, "My lord and my God."
Over the next seven weeks of preparation for Pentecost, we will hear of slow hearts that don't believe, burning hearts that began to recognize that Jesus still lived, moments when the believers were cut to the heart, we will hear of troubled hearts, and finally on the eve of Pentecost, we will hear of the believer's heart that explodes with fire of the emerging Holy Spirit from within, which has been grown in them. Like those early believers, we are not the gardeners after all. We are the garden, each being prepared in this Easter season for the release the Holy Spirit within each of us on the day of Pentecost.
We are being made ready not to receive the Spirit from on high, but to recognize the Spirit that already lives within us. Amen.