The Bible tells us that life began in a garden. When God created the heavens and earth, it was created to be a garden where everything fit together with such perfection that when God finished his work he looked at it all and said this is very good. But clearly when we look around today we don’t see everything as very good. We see violence, division, abuse and injustice. We see poverty and needless starvation as some people work to grab hold of all power not caring that others are cast out into the dark. Life is not the way God intended it to be and we learned that this is because of sin – we miss the mark. Instead of listening to God and doing what he asks us to do, we listen to the voice of the serpent which tells us to ignore the voice and the will of God and take hold of what we want in life – no matter what.
Adam and Eve did this and they were driven from the garden. Paradise was lost, but deep inside of them was an image of life in the garden and a desire to return. We still long to experience the life God created us for. We still long to live in the garden of God. In the Old Testament this idea of living in the garden of God was talked about as the Promised Land – a land that God would give to his people where they would be blessed and then in turn be a blessing. The Promised Land was to be a place of joy, gladness and thanksgiving where justice, righteousness and salvation were experienced by all. It was to be a place where God’s people would do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.
While Israel finally settled and became a nation in the physical land God gave them, they never fully embraced the life that God wanted for them so when Jesus arrived, he lived in what we know as the Promised Land but like the prophets before him he had to keep calling people to live the kind of life that God wanted them to experience. Jesus’ first and in many ways his only message was a simple one, repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.
The word repent is the word metanoia which means to change your mind. I used to think this way – I now think this way. I used to see the world this way – I now see the world this way. I used to live this way – I now live this way. Repentance means we literally turn and see, think and act differently. Jesus didn’t call people to change their location, he called them to change their heart and life because the garden wasn’t a place on a map it was an attitude of the heart that gave direction to one’s life.
What made Jesus different from the prophets before him was that he didn’t just preach about the Promised Land or the Kingdom of God and he didn’t just teach about the kind of life God wanted us to live – he lived it out fully in his own life. Jesus was the very embodiment of the kingdom of God in this world. In fact, when Jesus preached, the kingdom of God is at hand, in many ways he really meant it was at hand – at their hand – within their grasp because it was right there in Jesus. In Jesus we see the actual life God wants for all of us. In Jesus we see the life wants each of us to experience and live out. In Jesus we see the promise God made to Abraham fulfilled. Jesus was blessed by God and he lived a life that was constantly a blessing to others.
There are 118 reference in Jesus’ teaching to the Kingdom of God, but there are so many more examples of this kingdom pouring forth from Jesus’ life into our world. Luke 8:22-25. Here is Jesus calming a storm and the disciples are so amazed at his power that they ask themselves, who is this? He commands even the winds and the water and they obey him. Jesus’ life is filled with power over all the forces of nature. He calmed the storms, walked on water and turned water to wine, but it doesn’t end there.
Luke 8:26-39. Here Jesus drives demons out of a man who had been possessed for many years. Everyone else had given up on the man and he lived among the tombs – in many ways he was dead, the walking dead – but Jesus drove out the demons and restored his life. Jesus then restored a girl’s life. A girl of 12 had died and when Jesus arrived at the house the people were weeping but Jesus simply said, don’t be afraid; just believe and she will be healed. The girl was healed. She was raised from the dead. One again the power of God’s kingdom was coming through Jesus.
The garden was to be a place of life and healing and power and Jesus gives us a glimpse of this kingdom in all that he did. The garden was also to be a place of forgiveness, grace and love and Jesus always offered grace and mercy to those in need. Jesus welcomed outcasts, forgave sinners, called everyone to new life and created a community of all those who had been redeemed by the love and grace and power of God. This is what the kingdom of God is all about. This is what life in the Promised Land was all about and Jesus’ own life shows us how it is possible in the here and now.
So the Kingdom of God was seen in Jesus, but Jesus also taught us about this kingdom and invited us to live according to its values and principles and much of Jesus’ teaching used images of a garden. The garden images shouldn’t surprise us because most of the people in Jesus’ day were still very much tied to the land so they knew all about seeds and plants and gardens, but it is also important to see that when Jesus called us to embrace the kingdom of God it was an invitation to live once again in the garden of God.
Again, let’s look at Luke 8. Before we see the power of God’s kingdom in his life, Jesus told a story about a sower going out to sow seeds. The sower is Jesus and what he is doing is the work of God. Jesus is planting a garden. Luke 8:5-8.
So through Jesus, God is once again planting a garden and now we are the soil. Here, the garden God wants to create isn’t in some plot of ground, it is in our hearts and lives. God wants us to experience life in his garden and so he gives us the seed, the potential to experience this life. It is now up to us to decide what to do with it. We can disregard the seed, we can allow the seed to find a home but then turn away from it when hardships come, we can even experience the life God wants for us but then turn away from it when the worries of life hit home, or we can allow that seed to really take root in our lives and create something special.
What I love about this parable is that it is telling us that the kingdom of God can still be experienced, the garden of God can still grow but it will only grow in us if we are willing to allow that to happen. We have to be willing to receive all that God has for us. We have to be willing to nurture and care for the life and faith God gives us and we have to be willing to work to bring in a harvest.
So the kingdom of God is a garden that God wants to plant and create in us. It is a life God wants us to experience but it is also a way of life that God wants us to work for in this world. In Matthew 20 and 21 Jesus tells two parables about the kingdom of God that again use images of a vineyard or a garden. In each of them, God is seen as the owner of the land who creates a garden and then calls people to work in it. Matthew 20:1-2 and Matthew 21:33-34.
We are the workers being called into the garden to work. We are the tenants God has given his garden to and so we are not only to live in the garden or experience the blessing of it – we are to work in it and through that work be a blessing to others. The work we are to do is simply to do what we see in Jesus and follow his teaching.
Like Jesus we are to offer grace and forgiveness. We are to work for justice and make sure those who are in need are cared for. We are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty. We are to share the love and grace and power of God with others. We don’t work to receive the gift of life – we are called to work to bring this gift of life to others. Life in the garden of God is a free gift and once we really let it sink into our lives and allow it to change our thinking, living and loving we will give ourselves to make it grow in the world.
While life in the garden is a gift given by God, we are all here because someone else gave themselves to work for God’s kingdom. I am here because Mrs. Mack, my youth choir director, told us we could be an active part of the life and worship of the church and she helped us do just that. I am here because Mrs. Barrett was patient with me in Sunday School. I am here because the Fosters and Robinsons committed themselves to spending every Sunday night with us as youth group leaders and opened their homes and hearts to us for years. I am here because my parents showed me that faith was important through prayer at the dinner table and a commitment to worship and to serving in the church and community. I am because a group of guys in college invited met to a bible study and patiently answered all my questions and showed me how living for Jesus could be a blessing and not a burden. I am here because these people and so many more were willing to work for the Kingdom of God.
It’s now our time. Generations of people have cared for and worked in the garden so we could experience the kingdom of God and the life God has for us – now it is our time to change our thinking, our loving and our living and work to help people experience more of the life God has for us. Today we are the ones being called to go work in the fields and we are the tenant who have been given the garden. Jesus said that he is the vine and God is the gardener and we are the branches and we are to bear much fruit. Our lives need to bear much fruit which means we need to give ourselves to working in the vineyard.
So what work can we do? How can we help people see and experience life in the garden? How can we change our thinking, our living and our loving so that our desire is to work in and for the Kingdom of God. As you leave today we want to give you a pack of seeds to plant. These seeds are to be a reminder to us that we are each called to work in the garden of God. Plant them in a place where when you see them grow you will be reminded to work for God’s kingdom. As you plant them, share with us on facebook where you are planting them and how you want to work for the Kingdom of God and how you want to help others experience life in the garden.
The Garden and the Kingdom of God
1. Read these parables about the kingdom of God. What do you learn about the values of God’s kingdom and the work we are called to do?
• Luke 8:1-15, 13:18-21, 20:9-19
• Matthew 13:1-52, 20:1-16, 21:32-46
2. Where do we see the kingdom of God in the life of Jesus?
• Luke 8:22-56, 13:10-17
• Matthew 14:13-36
What does the life of Jesus tell us about the life that God wants for all of us and for our world?
3. In what ways are you experiencing the kingdom of God?
4. Where do you need to experience the power of God’s kingdom in your life?
5. How can you work to bring the Kingdom of God into this world? How can you give yourself to the work of the church so that others can experience life in the garden?
6. Plant the seed pack given today in a place that will remind you to always be working and living and loving in a way that will bring God’s grace and power into our world. Share your planting of these seeds with us on facebook.