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Love is Life

Sermons

How Does Your Garden Grow?

April 10, 2005

Bible Reading

I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.

"Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?

"Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard: I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briars and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it."

The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are the garden of his delight. And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

(Isaiah 5:1-7)

Then Jesus told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, but found none. He said to the vinedresser, 'For three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down! Why should it use up the ground?'

"'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and put on manure. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"

(Luke 13:6-9)

Reading from Swedenborg

In the Bible, "seed" means truth, "field" means doctrine, and "garden" means wisdom. (True Christian Religion #350)

Sermon

The growth of the church occurs first and foremost within the individual. It keeps pace with the growth of the mind into the image of God. To help us understand and cooperate with this inner process of growth, it is described in a wide variety of ways in Scripture. Isaiah and Luke both employ the image of a vineyard to describe the condition of the church--that is, the condition of the spiritual consciousness of humanity, and of each of us. The comparison of the mind to a garden can be found in a wide variety of traditions, and is quite common in Scripture. For instance, we can think of the numerous references to seeds, flowers, and fruits; the promised land as a place filled with gardens of flowers, vegetables, fruits, and grains; there are the hazards of weeds, locusts, and drought, and the joy of harvest and new life.

The growth process found in nature corresponds to the growth process of the mind. The mind can be compared to a garden because both flow from the creative impulse of the same God, whose mark is on all that exists. The mind is compared to a garden because both are diverse, interconnected entities, capable of ongoing growth leading to nourishment and beauty.

In a more specific sense, Biblical references to "fields" represent the church as to goodness, love, and charity. The things produced by the field, such as wheat and corn, provide sustenance and nourishment to the body just as God's love and goodness provide sustenance and nourishment to the soul. Biblical references to "vineyards" represent the church as to truth, understanding, reason, and thought. Wine, the produce of the vineyard, represents the enlightenment and inspiration provided by God's truth within our minds: in vino veritas! Finally, Biblical references to "gardens" represent the joy and delight of the heavenly life--a life in which what we love and what we believe are the same. Flowers, the produce of the garden, represent the beauty that results from a marriage of our will and understanding, in which our experience of peace and enlightenment increases without end.

In the Bible, "seed" means truth, "field" means doctrine, and "garden" means wisdom.

The outer world provides us with experiences and facts--forms that are capable of receiving and containing love and truth from God. Our doctrine (the teaching we learn about the Lord) is like a receptacle or field: a plane in which God's living truth and insight, the seed, can be planted and grow within us. The garden, or growth and new life that results, is called wisdom. This is a new level of understanding, above memory knowledge and the mere ability to reason. The garden represents a mind that has come alive to its spiritual potential, and sees deeper within the affairs of life, making everything come alive with meaning and purpose.

The sun supplies the necessary resources for growth: heat and light. In the same way, God's love and wisdom, in their infinity, supply everything we need for our spiritual growth. Our experiences, our understanding, and the things we love all provide the raw material for this growth. But we must subject ourselves to the heat and light of God's presence. This is not always pleasant, but it is always good in the long run. It is this heat and light, God's love and wisdom, that we need to gain meaning and purpose from both small and large things in our life. This is what vivifies and activates all of the elements of our mind, just as the sun's heat and light vivifies and activates all of the elements of nature.

Divine truth may be multiplied to infinity, because the Lord is Divine truth itself, or truth in its infinity, and he draws all people to himself. But as angels and people are finite, they can follow the current of the attraction only according to their measure, although the force of the attraction persists to infinity. (True Christian Religion #350)

The love and truth of our lives is always flowing in from God, and seeking to flow back. Getting this flow going is equivalent to growing the mind--our inner, spiritual garden. God supplies the needed resources and does the growing; we are to tend the garden, each according to our ability. In fact, it is only when we try to direct or manage or control the rate and quality of growth that we go wrong.

A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, but found none.

The Lord has called us into being, created us in the image of God, and yearns to see us grow and develop into our full potential: a being created to know truth and share love, in freedom and according to reason, and this to eternity. This is the church, the kingdom of heaven on earth, God's love and truth experienced in a living way. The fig tree and its fruit represent the delight we feel from outward acts of kindness and charity. This is one of the fruits of spiritual growth.

He said to the vinedresser, "For three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down! Why should it use up the ground?"

We are the vinedresser; and it is the voice of conscience--our spiritual nature--that calls us to account for the quality of our inner life. The fig tree must bear fruit. Spiritual truths must lead to an active life of charity, or else they are dissipated like the fog by the light of dawn. The "fruits worthy of repentance" are nothing but actions that are consistent with a new, spiritual way of thinking about and understanding life.

We fail to bear these fruits in our lives because within each of us are weeds and thorns that choke and kill our spiritual growth. These weeds are the fears and illusions we live with, our pride and greed, our doubts and our lack of integrity. These things distort and corrupt the truths we know, turning them into rationalizations that support us in our fear and pride. They make spiritual death possible. They lead us to neglect our spiritual gifts, leaving them open to waste and deterioration, as pictured in Isaiah, or to their complete loss, as described in our New Testament parable.

"Sir," the man replied, "leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and put on manure."

We are the vinedresser. The Lord is always eager to grant our requests, to accept our confession, to renew our relationship, to bring us back home. In the Lord's infinite divine mercy, every opportunity is given to be made whole, for "the force of the attraction persists to infinity."

The manure represents the temptation struggles that are essential for spiritual growth. It represents the inflow of the hells, a living perception of the falsity and evil, the illusions and ill will, that dwell deep within us and prevent us from turning to God. These are aspects of the self that must be faced and overcome if we are to open ourselves up to God's inflowing presence. There is no growth without manure, no regeneration with temptations.

"If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down."

Still, our spiritual freedom is real and genuine, making the loss of our soul an equally real possibility. While the Lord provides every means necessary to grow in freedom--the love and truth that we need--it is always up to us to make use of them. It is always up to us to bring the truth we are gifted with into the actual circumstances of our lives, in loving and charitable acts. Failing this, even the truth we possess becomes like falsity, and ultimately works against us. The failure to apply what we know to our lives leads to the "cutting down" of our belief system; rendering useless whatever truth we do know. To say the Lord will "cut it down" is simply to say that, in the light of divine truth, falsity cannot stand.

Our minds, like a garden, can grow to infinity . . . or the garden can become a wasteland. God's truth is always pouring in, and we are always free to receive it or to reject it, each in our own particular way. The decision to receive it and be affected by it is itself the act of repentance; it is turning to the Lord, as plants turn toward the sun. While nature turns to the sun instinctively, we are called to turn to God in freedom. Our freedom to choose for or against God is always supported and inspired by God's presence. But it can never be coerced, regardless of God's infinite attraction or effort to save and free us.

How does the garden of our mind grow? We are the vinedresser, the steward of the vineyard. In our freedom, we are given a sense of ownership of the mind. Repentance is seen in tending to our spiritual duties by making proper use of what is given to us: our freedom and rationality. Being good stewards of the garden of the mind means ensuring that growth continues . . . and increases to infinity. It means turning over the soil, looking within ourselves, uncovering and examining those motives, intentions, and beliefs that do not nourish or protect us. It means taking the necessary doze of fertilizer, and confronting, with the Lord's help, those inner foes and demons that keep us captive to lower things.

Our garden, like all gardens, grows by the grace of God. Let us do our part in promoting this growth, for in it lies our own joy and happiness to eternity.

Prayer

Creator God, you have planted in our minds many seeds of truth. We have enjoyed these as they have grown into the refreshing thoughts among which our minds stroll each day. Help us, then, to tend our inner gardens not just through the springtime of new concepts and new growth, but through the summer of heat and struggle, and into the fall of fruitful lives in your service. Amen.

Rev. Robert McCluskey