Crystal’s grandma, Mary Jeselnik Melanson, was born in 1924 and died this year in April. She was almost 99 years old and taught Crystal many life lessons - 1st being work ethic. She cooked and baked and sewed, but mostly loved to spend her time and energy in the garden, planting vegetables and tending to her flower beds. She put Crystal to work when she visited, asking her to weed and clear the flower beds. Crystal spent a lot of time tending gardens growing up and working hard to provide the proper care they needed to prosper. What she learned was that, in order to create a bountiful harvest for the spring and fall, there was a lot of work that was required.
First you have to weed, till, and plant, but then you have to actually continuously care for them – making sure they have enough water and the right amount and quality of fertilizer and you have to repeatedly weed their beds to ensure their nutrients isn’t being stolen. Without humans, these fruits and veggies would not be as prosperous or nutritious. And without fruits and veggies, our bodies would not be as healthy or lively as they are when we eat a balanced diet.
The plants provide nourishment for our bodies, but first, we have to provide intentional care to make sure they survive and thrive the harsh summers and winters. Crystal points out that our spiritual lives are much like tending a garden. Sometimes we are intentional in our faith where we in turn “bloom” and “bare fruits” and sometimes we are more neglectful in our faith where our “fruits” might begin to wilt.
This is the same for most aspects of our lives – relationships, work, health, and hobbies might begin to dwindle if we don’t constantly work to be intentional in these areas. And burnout is really easy to fall into these days when it feels like there are endless amounts of weeds that creep in and try to steal our energies.
But Crystal reminds us that as United Methodists, we believe in a conscious faith and intentional commitment. We believe that God loves all human beings and that Jesus Christ is the fullest expression of God’s love. We see His love in Christ’s teachings, in His death, and in His resurrection. We believe in putting love into action. Christ challenges us to listen to His word and intentionally live them out daily.
Christian action is the willingness to respond to the needs around you with your gifts that God gave you. And to do so, you need a firm faith in Him by intentionally nurturing your relationship with God. She says “we are the boots on the ground and we need spiritual nourishment to do the work.” God has the water, he has the tools, he has the nourishment for the plants – all He needs is a pair of hands.
But unlike the plants she tended growing up, we get to choose whether we accept God’s love. It’s up to us to allow Jesus to use our gifts to create a life full of love and obedience. She notes, “We get out what we put in.” And while we each have an individual relationship with God, we also need our church communities to help us learn and keep us on track.
We must invest in each other. In Adam Hamilton’s book, “Revival,” about John Wesley’s journey to spiritual revival which was the foundation for how he created the United Methodist Church, there is a story about a wonderfully faithful woman named Susanna Wesley, John Wesley’s mother. Her husband, Samuel Wesley was a pastor at St. Andrews Church in Epworth, England for about 40 years. Susanna led family devotions every Sunday evening. Now one time Samuel had to take a trip to London and the associate pastor was filling in, Mr. Inman. Mr. Inman was a little dull and monotone in speech and often lost the congregants’ attention. So, they began attending Susanna’s devotions instead. And eventually, more of the congregation was attending Susanna’s devotions than they were attending church, which made Mr. Inman a bit jealous. He wrote to Samuel to ask for him to confront Susanna on the “issue,” which he did. He asked his wife to put a stop to her teachings, especially since it was considered “scandalous” for a woman to be leading a church. Susanna responded by defending her teachings and made the case that if they do decide to make her stop teaching, they must do so by ordering her. She would not, on her own accord, stop her teachings because it would then be on her conscience. She said “send me your positive command in such full and express terms that may absolve me from all guilt and punishment for neglecting this opportunity of doing good when you and I should appear before the great and awful tribunal of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And Samuel did not respond. Susanna gave her children the gift of asking about their faith, their hopes, and their dreams each week.
Most of us are as devoted to our loved ones as Susanna was with her children. But, Crystal asks, how much are we devoted to our relationship with Christ? Do we give Him the same commitment that He gives us? Or, do we, more often than we’d like to admit, take Him for granted?
The scripture reading for this sermon was from Ephesians 3: 14-20. It says, “My response is to get down on my knees before the Father… I ask Him to strengthen you by His spirit – not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength – that Christ will live I you as you open the door and invite Him in.” We have to make the intentional choice to open the door and invite Christ in.
Now when we talk about His salvation, we must remember the great cost that came with it. It’s an awesome gift we were given, but it’s not a one-time event. It provides hope and comfort to His children, knowing that God’s love for us is greater than anything we could ever say or do. Crystal points out that it is likely the only gift without strings that we will ever truly be given. Jesus chose suffering and death so that He could show us how greatly He loves us. But the problem is, it’s too great for us to humanly fathom. We have to realize, though, that a devoted relationship with God is not going to work if we try to “keep it at arm’s length.” It’s something we have to consciously work on every day – she says, we have to “trust what we cannot see.” And without Him constantly in our face, like everything else in our lives, it’s very easy to put our relationship with Him at the bottom of our priorities. The Christian life is full of hope and promise, but God never said it would be easy.
Peace is not the passive quality of not being bothered, it’s the active life of participating in God’s work in His creation. The peace the world gives us is a sort of cheap version of restoration that comes with a price. The peace Christ gives is where you can find that true restoration with no strings attached – where you can find true joy and love. Seeking peace in Christ is where we will be able to have it all together with Him, which in turn will be where we find it all together with ourselves and with others.
Again, our beliefs as United Methodists is in conscious faith, intentional commitment, putting our faith and love into action. Now, Jesus calls is to be His hands and feet by acting out of faith and love every day – tending to His garden. Not is He asking for us to continue His work, He said we’re going to do work even greater than Him. He wants us to do greater works than He ever could do!
Now, when God tells us to ask for anything and it will be granted, He doesn’t mean a new car. What He means is to ask for things in His name in accordance with His will. And to do this, we must seek a relationship with Christ, we can’t do it without Him. And when you think about it, God is really putting a lot of faith in us. God created us but gave us the free will to choose Him. God doesn’t want puppets. He wants us to follow the tangible example of Christ so that we can not only do works that He himself did, but to do works even greater than Him. He knows we’re not perfect, He knows we are going to forget to water the garden and yet He still chose to give us the ultimate gift of grace and forgiveness because He loves us just that much. Are we putting as much faith in God as He is in us?
Are we stuck in neutral because we know it’s comfortable? Or are we actively nurturing our relationship with Jesus? Are we pushing ourselves to make Jesus proud?
Throughout the New Testament, we see the Israelites pledge their devotion and then gradually they fall away, but then Christ comes and they call out for His guidance and once more they find peace in Him, but then again they fall away. This is very similar to our individual relationships with God, but what is so beautiful is that, God will never give up on us and He is already waiting for us at the door, whether we have it open or closed to show us the way home.
On Crystal’s favorite comfort show, “Home Improvement,” the main character, Tim Taylor who has a local cable TV show called “Tool Time” about tools. In this show inside a show, Tim Taylor has a project working on an old Ford Roadster that he works to restore. But his favorite part is not that he gets to work on a car, something he is very passionate about, but he gets to work on it with his sons. And not only does he restore the car to its original function, but he makes it better than new. And not only does he make it better than new, but he gets to make memories with his boys and teaches them all he knows about working on cars. When we willingly step into a life with Christ, does he not make us better than new?
When maintaining anything, you have to persistently intentionally care for it. With cars, you have to change the oil, you have to rotate the tires, you have to check the tire pressure. But like Tim and his boys, God teaches us as we walk together through this life. We can all agree that having someone to walk through life with makes it much sweeter. The lyrics to the 1960’s hit by Marvin Gaye and Kim Westin embody the importance of having others to share life with. “One can have a dream baby, two can have a dream so real. One can wish upon a star, two can make that wish come true. One can stand alone in the dark, two can make the light shine through. One can have a broken heart, living in misery. Two can really ease the pain, like a perfect remedy. It takes two, baby.” God wants that for us. God wants you to choose Him to be one of your people. But just like any relationship, it takes conscious effort and work.
He set the world right through the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus was sacrificed in front of the entire world to clear our world of sin. He managed to get us out of the mess we got ourselves into and restored us to where He always wanted us to be. But the question is: are you ready to tend the garden? God can do more for us than one can ever imagine – not by pushing us around, but by working within us.