So, I have a milestone birthday coming up.
I’ll let you figure out if its 30 or 40 or 50.
I’m not making a very big deal out of it.
In many ways age is just a number
And I’ve never worried too much about such things.
I also know that, once you pass a certain age,
focusing too much on it becomes counterproductive.
Besides, just as Royals fans roll their eyes when Yankees or Tigers players
complain about the paltry number of all star votes their guys are getting
I’m well aware that at least SOME of you have already hit the
milestone birthday I’m facing at the end of the month
and you’d be right to roll your eyes at me too
if I acted like it was some BIG accomplishment, or curse.
It truth, its not a big deal,
even if I have noticed, like we all do, a bit more gray
a bit thinner hair
a bit more wrinkling around the eyes when I smile in the mirror.
About a decade ago, the seemingly ageless singer and performer Paul Simon
released his eleventh studio album, called Surprise.
Simon was once a mainstay of American popular music.
First with Art Garfunkle, and then on his own,
Simon’s music in some way helped shape and define three decades
or more, of culture in this country.
This new album didn’t have the financial success that his previous records did.
No Kodachrome or Still Crazy after All These Years
or Bridge over Troubled Water
or Fifty Ways to Leave your Lover here.
In many ways, even though he was still going, Simon’s album release of Surprise
was the work of one who’s prime moment had come and had gone
not quite Slip Sliding Away, but mature, reflective.
So its possible you missed what I think is one of Simon’s best songs in a while
this song called “Outrageous”
where he reflects about this phenomenon of wistfulness
looking back about what we once had
and wondering if we’re relevant anymore…
Some of the lyrics go like this:
Its outrageous. I can’t stop thinking ‘bout the things I’m thinking of…
And I’m tired. Nine hundred sit-ups a day.
I’m painting my hair the color of mud, [the] color of mud, okay?
I’m tired, tired.
Anybody care what I say?
I’m painting my hair the color of mud.
Who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?
Tell me, who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?
Tell me! …
God will. Like [God] waters the flowers on your windowsill.
Take me. I’m an ordinary player in the key of C.
And my will was broken by my pride and my vanity.
Who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?
God will. Like [God] waters the flowers on your windowsill.
Well, I think that’s just breathtaking.
Simon, an “ordinary player” in the key of C
broken by pride and vanity, loved, LOVED by God
nourished by the waters of God’s care.
And its not just something for us who are feeling-our-age to ponder.
My Friend Andy once suggested this song for confirmation Sunday,
because he discussed it with
His High School bible study class when it came out.
That class thought Simon’s song has something to say
about a society and mass media that often sends the message
that being busy and staying active and youthful
is THE ONLY THING that leads
to success, fulfillment, and even happiness.
I dare say that those are pressures that adults and youth alike can relate to.
We talked about how this contradicts messages in scripture that …
it is important to be still and know God is God,
that God is in control and not us. …
Nothing in scripture says life is about individual achievement
or that you have to look good doing your thing to be successful.
But we turn on our TVs or pick up a magazine
and immediately see that the best looking and most successful people
get the most acclaim—
actors and actresses,
sports figures, politicians,
models, media reporters,
and wealthy self-help gurus. …
But when the looks and charm begin to go
and when life gets REAL and GRITTY,
who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?
Well, probably not the E! News channel or Clarion
or the makers of the Vegematic 9000…
But… “God will. Like he waters the flowers on the windowsill.”
It’s a comforting and powerful thought
that no matter how awful our looks get
–no matter if we have pimples the size of volcanoes,
bad hair, changes in our voice, uncomfortable growth spurts,
ulcers on our lips, gray in our hair, creaks in our walk,
wrinkled skin, blurred vision—
God will love us.
NO MATTER how awful our day gets
and NO MATTER how irritated we are
about the things that happen to us or others, God will love us.
NO MATTER how ordinary or extraordinary we are, God will love us.
God will love us, no matter what.
God will provide what we need: water us, nurture us, love us
and we are a beautiful part of God’s garden.
I know many of you love yard work, but I confess that its not my favorite.
We like to pretend, but Brook and I really don’t know
what the heck we’re doing when we go outside to work on our yard.
Okay. I don’t know what I’m doing. Brook, she fares much better than I do.
Once, in High School, under my guidance, our family lawnmower
turned a garden hose into something looking like spaghetti,
And somehow I’m the one that gets to play with the gas-powered equipment.
Anyway, we’ve tried to get our yard ready for the summer,
and we’ve had a little success.
I’ve learned how to miss cutting down most of the Hostas
as I mow around the bend in the back of our house.
We sometimes put down something to stop those weeds
from growing in the grass.
And with Brook’s guidance we’ve trimmed down some bushes and trees.
Those bushes and trees, they needed the work.
They had grown every which way,
getting tangled in other plants and turning back in on themselves.
They badly needed pruning, and they got it.
They already are looking happier and healthier.
Gardening, tending to plants and soil and weeds and water
its hard work. And in some way’s its nurturing, healing work.
And there’s something about the natural world,
the world of seed and dirt and sun and water
that God wants us to stop and pay attention to.
Have you noticed? Jesus talks about nature a lot. A lot.
And partially that’s because he was talking to a people
who worked outside, on the land,
close to it in a way many of us here in the city aren’t any more.
They would have understood, deep in their bones
the images Jesus used, the time it took for plants to grow
and the patience required to wait for the good things of the earth
And sometimes, Jesus suggests, just those things remind us of the Kingdom of God.
Today’s scripture reading is just one of many
that use images from nature to try to teach us
about God’s love for us and for the world.
We actually read two parables today,
one affirming the MYSTERY of life, how things grow, how things mature
you feed it, you water it, you protect it, and it grows
and produces good things, food to eat
flowers to enjoy
fibers to use to make things. Amazing.
But it happens on God’s time.
Even if just scattered, rather than planted, rather than tended,
even if just scattered, God can help it grow.
And then another parable about the lowly mustard seed.
So tiny, the mustard seed. Like dust, almost.
And really, I like mustard on my brat like the next guy,
but its not as nourishing as an apple
not as juicy as an orange,
not as pretty as a magnolia
so perhaps even I would be fine
in the grand scheme of things,
without the mustard seed.
But not God! God takes EVEN the mustard seed
and makes it grow into a mighty bush
shelter for the birds
and a testimony to God’s great love of them.
–It’s a testimony to the fact that even if human beings look down on something
it may not be so with God.
–It’s a witness to the idea that God can take the most seemingly insignificant things
and make use of them, carefully, lovingly
to do something amazing in God’s world.
–It’s a caution for us to not dismiss anything, anyone
because WE think they might not be of any use, really
because maybe God has a use after all. And in fact God probably does…
–It’s a statement that you and I, even we, have meaning and purpose
in God’s Garden, no matter how small we might feel
or no matter how past-our-prime we might perceive ourselves to be.
Scripture is FULL of these gardening images.
In John, Jesus says, “God removes every branch…that bears no fruit.
Every branch that bears fruit
God prunes to make it bear more fruit.”
John’s Gospel pictures God doing something like that, to us.
God as a gardener—think about what that calls to mind:
the divine presence, tenderly trimming the tangles of our lives,
pruning the errant growth,
clipping back the confused and twisted areas of our hearts,
lovingly mulching over the places where we hurt
so that health and hope might grow in us.
God IS OUR GARDENER.
There are days I’d really really like to feel God doing that in my life.
Or notice that one of the very first images in scripture is what?
The garden, with Adam and Eve.
And one of the final images of Jesus is in the garden,
praying alone while his disciples sleep soundly.
Is it significant that Jesus was mistaken for a gardener
by the women outside the tomb on Easter morning….
The Bible begins in a garden, and ends in a city,
but even that holy city has, at its heart, a garden:
trees planted by the river that flows with the water of life,
and the leaves on those trees are for the healing of the nations.
The Hebrew prophets imagined that in the final consummation
of the justice of God on earth, we all will be planted like a garden.
So God says through the prophet Amos:
I will restore the fortunes of my people…,
and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine…
I will plant them upon their land, and they shall never again be plucked up.
God as OUR GARDENER. Watering and pruning and cultivating…
Listen to how Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message presents
that reading from John about pruning:
I am the real vine and my Father in the Farmer.
[God] cuts off every branch that doesn’t bear grapes.
And every branch that is grape-bearing [God] prunes back
so that it will bear even more…
I am the Vine, you are the branches.
When you’re joined in me and I with you,
the relation intimate and organic,
the harvest is sure to be abundant.
Separated, you can’t produce a thing.
God the Farmer, God the Gardner,
tending to those areas of our lives that need tending to
working to bring forth the most fertile parts
through Jesus the real vine.
But there’s something else going on here, too.
Notice the grafting imagery,
Jesus is the Vine, we are the branches, and Joined with Christ,
joined INTO Christ, we’ve got a relation with God that is,
as Peterson puts it: intimate and organic.
Now, ORGANIC here doesn’t mean free of pesticides.
it doesn’t mean grapes that were grown on a small family farm somewhere.
Organic means alive, living, vivacious, thriving.
The grapes God is growing in us through Jesus the true vine are organic grapes.
Real. Vital. True.
More true perhaps than anything else.
More lasting than our looks or our faults
or our questions of our significance.
Sometimes, organic plants don’t look as good to us, on the outside
but they are so so good on the inside…
You could say, God Grows Organic Wine…
What are we to make of all these things this morning?
I don’t know, maybe we need to let the image sit with us a bit,
to plant the idea in our spirit rather than seek for a quick and ready answer.
The world of the garden doesn’t operate so quickly
that it can be worked out in a twenty minute sermon.
The garden is not a place to rush.
You can’t speed your way through weeding.
You can’t rush your way through watering.
You have to take your time.
But with time, and with patience, good things grow: flowers and food bursts forth.
Some of it may be good for us.
Some of it may mean nothing to us, but everything to the birds
who make the mustard bush their home.
Some of it we may not understand, but we trust that God does.
And, perhaps most significantly,
I think it is good for us to pause and give God thanks
for the beauty of the earth and for our place within it.
Through us, in us, God is growing organic wine.
God is still watering us:
No matter how rotten our week was.
No matter how lonely we’re feeling.
No matter what our grades were on the final exam.
No matter the diagnosis we receive
No matter the hurt we feel
No matter our worries about whether
our churches will thrive or be forgotten
No matter what.
Who will love each of us, long, long after our looks are gone?
God will. Like God waters the flowers on the windowsill…
Thanks be to God…
 Lyrics from Paul Simon, “Outrageous” on Surprise, Warner Brothers, May 9, 2006.
 Amos 9:14-15