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Reaping What We Sow – Earth Day

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Galatians 6:1-10 The Message

I usually read and preach from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which is the version in your pews, and is a good, reliable, scholarly translation. But this morning I will read our scripture from The Message, which is neither scholarly nor a direct translation but rather a paraphrase.  But this particular passage is so well-done that I think it comes alive in a unique way.

Galatians 6:1-10 according to The Message:

Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out.  Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed.  Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law.  If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself.  Don’t compare yourself with others.  Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.

Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.

Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest.  The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds.  All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds!  But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit.  Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.

This passage of scripture has several themes, but perhaps the most obvious is you reap what you sow. The words in this paraphrase are “What a person plants, he will harvest,” but “you reap whatever you sow” is in the NRSV translation.  It’s a familiar phrase.  When I googled it, the first thing I saw was someone asking the question: “Is ‘you reap what you sow’ biblical?” Indeed it is.  The phrase occurs here in Galatians, and also in 2 Corinthians where we are told that if we sow sparingly, we will reap sparingly.  The same metaphor occurs in the First Testament as well.  Proverbs 22 says “Those who plant injustice will harvest disaster,” and Hosea 10 declares, “You have planted wickedness, you have reaped evil.”  It is a common concept, a common warning.  Watch out: you reap what you sow.

On this Earth Day, we are aware of just how true this statement is for our planet. We have sown air pollution, and we are reaping increased rates of asthma, respiratory illness, and cancer.  We have sown plastics, and we are reaping the harvest of dead sea creatures, stomachs bursting with what they thought was food.  We have sown pesticides, and we are reaping poisoned water, food, and land.  Most importantly, we have sown greed, and we are reaping exploitation.  We are reaping what we sowed.

There is a spoken word style of poem called “Dear Future Generation” that is addressed to people in the future,             and it is an apology for the artist’s imagined view of what has happened to the earth.  At one point he says: “I’m sorry that we put profit above people, greed over need, the rule of gold above the golden rule.  I’m sorry we used nature as a credit card with no spending limit, over drafting animals to extinction, stealing your chance to ever see their uniqueness, or become friends with them.  Sorry we poisoned the oceans so much that you can’t even swim in them.  But most of all, I’m sorry about our mindset, ’cause we had the nerve to call this destruction, Progress….I’m sorry future generation, I’m sorry that our footprints became a sinkhole and not a garden.  I’m sorry that we paid so much attention to ISIS, and very little how fast the ice is melting in the arctic.  I’m sorry we doomed you and I’m sorry we didn’t find another planet in time to move to.”

We reaped what we sowed . . . or at least others will. Our children and grandchildren will reap what we sowed.  They will pay the price for every negative action we take and every positive action we decide is too inconvenient.  We as a planet will reap what we sow, even if we personally are not alive to see it.

There are things we can do—steps big and small that we can take to limit our impact on the earth.  Carole Scheffler and others on the Social Witness Team have gathered excellent resources for us, and I encourage you to take a look.

But there are many ways to make a difference. A friend shared with me the story of Dan Barker and the Home Gardening Project.  Between 1983 and 1996, Dan built 1400 vegetable gardens in Portland Oregon, mostly for people who couldn’t afford to start a garden themselves.  He would bring in everything they needed—raised-bed frame, trellises, cages, seeds, starts, instruction, even the soil—then build the bed right on top of the people’s lawns.  With each garden, he met were people who were in tough situations.  An old woman nursing her stroke-victim husband.  A young mother, with several hungry children to feed.  A poor woman who voluntarily cared for five abandoned children, all born with spina bifida or other congenital defects.  Dan met a lot of struggling people and heard a lot of hard stories.

One he says he’ll never forget was a woman named Blossie. “On the phone, Blossie told Dan she was alone, on Social Security and crack-addicted kids routinely broke into her house.  She heard about the program, and she said she’d love a garden.  She sounded very tired and rapidly aging, like many of the other 150 callers Dan responded to that spring.  She was slow to answer the door when he arrived.  It was a struggle for her to wheel herself backward with one hand and pull the door open with the other.  First he saw the wheelchair, then her eyes – eyes that looked to have absorbed more pain than a combat surgeon’s.  Her face and hands were swollen.  She had tried to cover her knees with a tattered towel, but he could see the white bandages caked with splotches of dried blood.  Then he noticed the wheelchair again – quite clearly–because she had no calves or feet to obstruct the view.  She’d just had her legs amputated, after a lifetime of aggravating her diabetes with poor diet and bad habits.  She told him she wanted a vegetable garden to help improve what remained of her health.  She wanted a garden so she would have a reason to go outside, get a little exercise and have something to care for besides the little terrier at her side…Blossie’s need seemed critical, so Dan bumped her up on his waiting list and told her he’d be by in two days with her garden on the back of his truck….

When he returned, he built Blossie’s garden in the sunny strip behind her back door, with easy access from the ramp that [he arranged to have built for her for free.] Dan built the three frames of her garden double high, so she could easily reach it from her chair.  He also supplied her with some tools he picked up at Goodwill, the handles cut to half-length.

“I know you want to get started as soon as you can,” Dan said, handing her the seed packages and tray of starts. She took them into her lap like a Christmas present, her eyes lighting up in hope.  Suddenly she wasn’t listening anymore; she was ahead of herself, in the future, picking delicious tomatoes and basil for her summer salad, perhaps her only meal that day.  She didn’t seem to hear him say that he’d be happy to send someone around [the next day] to plant if she didn’t feel like she had the energy to do it herself.  The thought of needing such help didn’t seem to cross her mind.  She looked up and pointed to the old laundry sink out by the bushes.  Would he mind filling that up with dirt, too?  She wanted to grow some flowers, ‘just for pretties, you know.’

Months later, while monitoring the gardens that August, Dan stopped in to see her. He expected to find her as he first had, housebound, in pain, hungry for some human contact, especially contact that wouldn’t hurt her.  Dan was surprised by noise – the chatter and laughter of women coming from the backyard.  He peeked over the back gate.  Blossie was holding court from her wheelchair over six other aged women.  She spotted Dan looking in and ordered him front and center – right that minute!  She was exuberant, talking a mile a minute, her hands waving like a girl’s.  The ladies were all talking about the garden.  Blossie introduced him.  Dan offered the women free gardens, since they seemed to like Blossie’s so much.  They made appreciative sounds but all said no.  Then one of them explained, “We already have a garden – this one.  You see, we all live down at the housing project, the nine-story one.  There isn’t anything but a parking lot around it, no place for a garden.”  Blossie had called one of them weeks before, asking for some help and companionship.  Pretty soon all six of these residents were coming down twice a week to help Blossie with her garden.  The garden, amazingly, was able to produce enough food for all of them to share.

People are always asking, ‘What is the purpose of life?’ Dan’s answer: That’s easy.  Relieve suffering.  Create beauty.  Make gardens.”[1]  One vegetable garden can grow not just food, but friendship.

The poet I quoted early, who wrote to a future generation, stops his poem mid-sentence, announcing that he refuses to apologize because he refuses to believe that his imagined barren landscape of a future is the only option. He calls for us to change, to change ourselves and the story. He says:

We are the root, we are the foundation, this generation, it is up to us to take care of this planet. It is our only home, we must globally warm our hearts and change the climate of our souls and realize that we are not apart from nature, we are a part of nature.  And to betray nature is to betray us, to save nature, is to save us.

 

We reap what we sow. It’s not just a warning.  It’s an inspiration.

Plant a garden.

Plant a seed of hope.

You will reap what you sow.

Plant mercy.

Plant a seed of kindness.

You will reap what you sow.

Plant love.

Sow love.

You will reap what you sow.

 

[1] Story from Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul.

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