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Blessing of rain, blessing of the Word

 

Sunday July 12 – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost/ Lectionary 15 Isaiah 55:10-13 Sermon: July 12, 2020

New Life Lutheran Church, Dripping Springs, Texas

A reading from Isaiah, the 55th chapter: 

 

Is. 55:10  ¶ For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 

Is. 55:11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

  

Is. 55:12  ¶ For you shall go out in joy,

and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

shall burst into song,

and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 

Is. 55:13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,

for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

 

Word of God, word of Life. Thanks be to God. 

 

I’ve been gardening a lot lately. 

Part of it is the move we made out to the country: I’m more in touch with the land in general, and with the garden. 

Part of it is the COVID-19 virus: There are many new or newly-avid gardeners these days. 

I love seeing things grow in the midst of chaos. I love how the garden is chaotic itself- or seems so - but is really just organic and a little wild. 

 

Part of my inspiration for gardening is the New Life garden. And our New Life gardeners: especially Karen, and Jill, and tenders Sara, Al and Jenni. They make it look easy. And they inspire me. This garden inspires me. 

We got a grant from the Southwestern Texas Synod for the materials, and started with two beds. So we wouldn’t fail! And we planted the first beds at our first gardening camp at New Life - four years ago. 

 

All the parts of this story inspire me, and I am in awe of God’s work in this garden. We didn’t know how to approach VBS -vacation Bible school - when I came to New Life in 2012. Some people had tried a partnership with another church for VBS and it was tiring and discouraging for them. Others thought we were “too small.” When we moved out to the land we wonder if we could have camp without running water or AC. And we decided to go with our strengths rather than focus on our weaknesses: we decided to look for God’s abundance and share what we had been given. That was: this land, gifted gardeners, willing hands, and people who knew things about nature. Karen designed our garden. Greg and Stan and Jim and others built the structures, designed rainwater systems. And Julie H put together a camp with talks from our members about what they knew- God’s creation - plants, birds, local wildlife. And it worked, and the camp grew like the garden grew, with yoga and nature art, with peppers and zuchini —and with lots of prayer. 

 

Julie W was the one who first regularly delivered our produce to the Helping Hands Food pantry. We asked the clients if it mattered, at first, if we had just a few tomatoes, and not enough for everyone. They were gracious and generous and said no, they were happy for any amount, and that anyone could be blessed with fresh produce. We asked what they wanted most - what a concept - ask! - and heard tomatoes and peppers, mostly, and we planted. 

At the one-year anniversary of organizing as a congregation, Julie W offered families the opportunity to contribute to glass art for the fence. We added more beds, and more gardeners came to help. Jill had the idea to save plastic produce containers, and she fills them up each week with bounty. We plant, tend, pray, and God produces bounty. 

 

That is God’s promise. It is right here, in our reading from Isaiah today which is one of my favorites: a promise plus a blessing. The promise is that God’s word is like the rain - it accomplishes its purpose. The rain falls and waters the earth and yields fruit: it does not return empty. 

 

That God’s word is that powerful is a tremendous comfort to me - this passage reminds me, as a pastor, that no matter what happens in worship, if the Word is read aloud, and proclaimed to God’s people, it is like rain - it will not return empty. It will water hearts and seeds, and produce fruit. We cannot stop it! We might not even realize it is happening in our own hearts. 

 

This holy scripture is indeed like rain: it falls, returns, falls again. In each reading and hearing, it waters, does its work, and returns to be read again, heard again. In worship, it mingles with our prayers, like rain activates nutrients in soil, and it becomes richer, and softens seeds and hearts and fertilizes communities. 

 

This garden represents so many blessings that have fallen on the New Life community, and watered us. Land, people, prayers, scriptures, talents, treasures, gifts - they are all visible right here. 

God’s word will accomplish God’s will - we cannot stop it the earth from sprouting, but we can have the joy of participating in the gardening. And we have. And we do, and we will. 

 

Like my garden at home, this faith community often surprises me. God surprises me in the way it grows. It can’t be planned. It is a little bit wild. 

Soon, some of those who helped create this garden, and this outdoor church and sanctuary for animals and humans, will have surgeries and cancer treatments. Our prayers will water the operating rooms, the chemo centers, the recovery rooms. Soon, three babies will be born to New Life families. Our prayers will rain down on delivery rooms and new nurseries. Soon new families will join this congregation, to add their talents and gifts to God’s garden. 

 

Soon, as always, there will also be leavings - including mine- and there will be challenges in families, and sad things, too. And our prayers will fall like soothing rain, then, and new things will grow from the hard times, too, which will be like compost and mulch for new growth. The garden never stops teaching us. 


But we have this promise, here in Isaiah, from God, that God’s will and work will be done here:

 

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there until they have watered the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 

  so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,

and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

 

And then this blessing, which we have often used at New Life, which is a testament to God’s first and truest cathedral, the earth. And it is special for us, who worship out in that natural cathedral. It is a promise, for us:

 

¶ For you shall go out in joy,

and be led back in peace;

the mountains and the hills before you

shall burst into song,

and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. 

  Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;

instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;

and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,

for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

 

Amen.

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