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Digging in the Dirt

When I first started this piece I was only thinking about working in the congregation’s community garden as an example of spiritual practice. The more I thought about church life the more “digging in the dirt” feels like what we do much of the time. We dig and sometimes we unearth unexpected things.
In the garden I’m usually digging to get at stubborn weeds, which are very similar to our tough to change sins. When we dig or simply scratch the surface in conversation in church we may unintentionally “unearth” a long standing hurt or misunderstanding. So many people share with me the hurts and insults they have received from ministers, or church-goers, or the teachings of the church. I believe the stories because I have experienced them too. If samples are representative of the population, most people have.
Digging in the dirt is uncomfortable for some people. They don’t want to get dirty or they don’t want to deal with the possibility that what they plant may not grow. It’s really distressing to find that sometimes our garden beds contain more weeds than edible plants! However, that is the nature of life, even church life. Working with people is often messy and we don’t like what we uncover.
At the same time, working with people is messy AND is can result in the most unexpected and beautiful growth. Yes, gardening is hard work. Yes, working with people is hard work. In both cases, pulling the weeds or unlearning unhealthy habits can result in amazing growth and potential.
When gardening you have to consider a lot of factors like sunshine, rain, soil quality, the health of the seeds, and insects. Similar social concerns arise in congregations, and like the weather, we are unable to control or even predict all the forces that impact a community’s health. What we can do is follow Jesus’ example.
Some people read Galatians 6: 7-9 as a cautionary tale only. “7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow. 8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. 9 So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” I also read it as encouragement. God is cautioning us away from selfish practices and encouraging us to keep working for the good, the common good.
It’s not always easy to imagine the common good. We may have been taught to take care of ourselves or our families first and not taught to consider how what might seem good for me leaves someone else in danger. Focusing on the common good takes a lot of practice and much of the Bible teaches us how to trade our perspectives for God’s perspective. In the long run, if something is not good for all of us, it’s probably not good for me as an individual either.
Digging in the dirt or the rich soil of a well-tended garden reminds us of these truths. We may not like what we uncover, but if we do not dig we also cannot plant. Weeding takes time and energy, but if we do not uproot unhealthy habits they spread and grow stronger and may choke out what is life-giving and nourishing. Knowing all of this, the Great Gardener and Good Shepherd asked us to keep planting what is good so that we will all enjoy the harvest.
Thanks be to God! Pastor Melissa

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