3rd February 2021 Canvey Methodist Church Bible Studies

Canvey Methodist Church Bible Study Tuesday 2nd February 2021 

 

Theme: My Father is the gardener. 

 

1) It all started in a garden 

 

Whilst enjoying our exercise walk this week, Cathy and I passed a man in his front garden who was on his knees and busily clearing weeds from a flowerbed with a trowel.

Perhaps nothing unusual in this sight for those of us blessed to have a garden or a flower box or two to tend. However, what was unusual about this sight was that this horticultural activity was taking place at the end of January and, just after a period of torrential rain that had lifted the ambient water table to barely a couple of inches below the soil surface! I therefore remarked to Cathy that I hoped that this gentleman was kneeling on something waterproof in these weed clearing endeavours otherwise he would rise to find his clothes soaked through. I also noted that he risked leaving two knee indentations in the ground as a witness to his gardening efforts! He was clearly someone passionate about his garden and maybe would also have agreed with the saying that, “you are closer to God’s heart in a garden than any place on earth”. It was penned by the author Dorothy Frances Gurney in the following poem.

 

Kiss of the sun for pardon.

Song of the birds for mirth.

You’re closer to God’s heart in a garden

Than any place on earth.”

 

–  Dorothy Frances Gurney

 

For the first human beings this saying was really true because the story of love between Almighty God and humanity started off in a garden. Only this was not just any old garden laid out by the likes of English landscape artist, “Capability Brown” or even the renowned “Royal Horticultural Society”, this was the real deal; a glimpse of heaven on earth, a place of fruitful, lush abundance and safety, laid down by Almighty God Himself! This was a garden in which God walked with humanity, a place in which to flourish, and, interestingly also to tend. 

 

First Reading 

Genesis 2 New International Version (NIV)

 

2 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

 

2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

 

Adam and Eve

4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

 

5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth[a] and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams[b] came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the Lord God formed a man[c] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

 

8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin[d] and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush.[e] 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

 

2). In God’s Garden Today - Our lives carefully tended by God.

 

Have you ever noticed that a growing toddler never has to be taught to say “No” or “Shan’t” or “Won’t”. Rebellion seems to come naturally to both infant and adult people in one way or another. Even, when like our forebears in the garden of Eden, everything was handed to them by God “on  plate” with just one simple rule to follow about not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, humanity just could not bring themselves to resist the temptation of doing just that, and sadly, things went downhill from there. Weeds grew, animals became “red in tooth and claw”, family jealousy led to murder and humanity was banished from the “Perfect Garden” to fend for themselves by the sweat of their brow in the cold world outside!

Thankfully, throughout Holy Scripture, we find the golden thread of God’s continued love and care for people. Humanity might, in so many ways, have turned its back on God, but by prophets, kings and priests, God kept faith with humanity. Through Noah, a covenant of love was sealed with a rainbow, through Moses, a covenant of law was given on tablets of stone, and then in a crescendo of divine incarnation and sacrifice God sent His only Son, Jesus into the physical world to seal a new covenant of Grace and forgiveness with humanity. This though did not come cheaply but rather at a great price. This new covenant was only to be made possible through the obedience of Jesus to death, the blood he shed on the cross for us, and through His glorious resurrection to life again. This selfless act of redemption opened up the glories of heaven to all who put their trust in Jesus.

How is this relationship possible? Well, here we find Jesus “back in the garden”, using the humble grapevine as an illustration of how you and I can grow in grace and to receive strength and wisdom to serve in his kingdom. In this picture, even the knocks and setbacks of life can, in God's good hands, be used to prune and strengthen us.  

 

Second Reading 

John 15 New International Version (NIV)

 

The Vine and the Branches

15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

 

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

 

9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

 

Footnotes:

 

a.John 15:2 The Greek for he prunes also means he cleans.

b.John 15:20 John 13:16



 

3). God’s Gardening Tips about Planting the Seeds of His Kingdom- Frustrations and Encouragements. 

 

The first disciples then discovered that they had been chosen by Jesus and appointed to bear fruit that will last. Wonderfully, this is a promise that comes from them to us also. We are also chosen by Jesus to grow good fruit as we trust in him. As the church we are “His body” in the world today, entrusted to sow the seed of the kingdom of God now. In this task, we find some helpful gardening tips from Jesus. He warns us that not all seeds will grow but when “the soil is right” there will be a bumper crop.

 

Reading 3

Matthew 13 New International Version (NIV)

 

The Parable of the Sower

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

 

10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

 

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

 

“Though seeing, they do not see;

    though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

 

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;

    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

15 For this people’s heart has become calloused;

    they hardly hear with their ears,

    and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

    hear with their ears,

    understand with their hearts

and turn, and I would heal them.’[a]

16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

 

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”


 

4). Following God’s Example - Being Generous Sowers In His Kingdom.

 

It is really encouraging to hear today that so many of the people we know have now received the coronavirus vaccine. Good news indeed. 

Perhaps soon we will be able to lift our eyes to the future, to the time when we can all get back to meeting physically at the church again to both Worship and witness. Perhaps a question to pose as we look forward to this time.

What would God have us do to reach out in his name to invite others into his kingdom. How can we be better at planting the seeds of his gospel of good news in our locality?

 

St Paul, speaking to the Corinthian church, once again used gardening images to pose a similar question.

 

“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor their righteousness endures forever.”10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 

 

For them, it was a matter of sending financial gifts to the Macedonian Christians but this image of being generous in giving  equally applies more widely to include the way you and I are prepared to offer our talents in God's service and in mission.

 

Reading 4

2 Corinthians 9 New International Version (NIV)

 

9 There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the Lord’s people. 2 For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. 3 But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we—not to say anything about you—would be ashamed of having been so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.

Generosity Encouraged

6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:

“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;

    their righteousness endures forever.”[a]

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

Footnotes:

a.2 Corinthians 9:9 Psalm 112:9

 

Conclusion: 

We began today’s Bible study in a garden and we end it with gardening imagery that challenges us to be faithful in the way we spread and plant the seeds of the gospel of Christ as we emerge from this terrible Covid Pandemic. We may be left blinking in the light a little, but the work of Christ goes on and wonderfully, the promise of God's love, His presence and His direction by the Holy Spirit will be with us.

May we be encouraged, Challenged and inspired to serve in the garden of His Kingdom.

 

In Christian Love

God Bless

Colin