Easter 2 17
Last week, on Easter Sunday, I preached about Jesus being mistaken for a gardener by Mary Magdalene, and about how that might not be such a mistake after all. Jesus really is a gardener, a gardener of souls, one who plants and waters and nurtures us, hoping for a harvest of the fruit of the spirit. I gave everyone a runner bean seed, and my guess is that at least some of them are starting to send out roots in a pot of compost in people’s homes. I hope so, anyway. Runner bean seeds are pretty reliable to germinate, and fairly quick at this time of year, given a bit of heat. So long as the slugs don’t get them, they should be up and away in no time.
But this week I wanted to continue the horticultural theme, because runner beans aren’t all that’s growing at the vicarage. I’d like to show you this...
The thing about lily seeds, you see, is that they are seeds which need what is called “vernalisation”. Lilies might seem exotic, but their seeds need to be exposed to the cold of winter before they will germinate. It’s a trick some plants have evolved to help make sure that their seeds don’t germinate in the autumn, because then the fragile seedlings would risk being crushed by snow, or blasted by cold winds. Far safer to overwinter as a seed and start growing in the spring. If you don’t want to wait all winter, you have to cheat by putting them in the freezer for a few weeks.
Now, you may be starting to wonder whether this is a sermon or an episode of Gardeners’ Question Time? But it was the story of Thomas, which we heard in the Gospel reading which reminded me of them. He was the disciple who wasn’t prepared to believe in the resurrection instantly, just because everyone else told him it had happened. He features just a couple of times in the Gospels, and when he does, he often seems to be asking questions. Jesus tells his disciples on the night before he dies that he is going away, but that they know the way to follow him. It’s Thomas who says what they are all thinking. “No, we don’t, Lord! We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” And now, after the resurrection, he wants proof. He wants to put his hands in the nail marks and spear mark. Then he’ll believe. So Jesus comes to him, and beckons him to do just that. Jesus is happy to appear to Thomas and give him the evidence he felt he needed, so that he could believe and “believing, have life in his name.”
Whatever else this story tells us, it tells us that it’s ok to be different from one another when it comes to faith, just as it is in every other part of our lives. Some people here may have had an intense religious experience, and never had a doubt in their lives afterwards. They may never have felt the need to ask questions, and are rather baffled by those who do. For others, faith has always been tentative and questioning, but maybe all the stronger for it. For some faith is an instant thing. For others it may have taken years of tiptoeing around the edges before they start to trust God. Some have come to faith through the ministry of friends, or something that happens in church. For others it has come out of the blue through something quite unrelated. Some come to faith in hard times. Others lose their faith in those times. Faith may change over the years. In fact, it would be odd if it didn’t. It may be lost and found and lost and found again, and again, and again. It may need nurturing in different ways at different times in our lives.
That’s why these seedlings seemed to have a message to share this week. Every sort of plant is different. We might be runner beans, needing a bit of warmth to germinate, or we might be lilies, who need to go through a hard winter before our seed coat breaks open. We may be something else completely. Whichever we are is fine. What’s important is that we realise that we are all seeds of some sort, full of life and potential. It’s just that we all need different conditions to grow as we should. God knows those needs, just as he knew Thomas’ needs. He takes us seriously, just as he took Thomas seriously. What we need to do is take ourselves seriously and seek out the nourishment he offers, putting our roots down into the soil in which he plants us.
Thomas, once he’d made his commitment, didn’t look back. There was no stopping him once he’d got started. “My Lord and my God!” he said. Legend has it that he went eastward with the message of the gospel, and ended up in India, where he was eventually martyred, but not before he had started a church there, a church which continues to this day. The Mar Thoma Church of India, a Syrian Orthodox church, traces its origin back to Thomas – it’s there in their name. Mar Thoma – St Thomas. I haven’t counted how many lily seedlings I’ve got here but it’s a lot, but they all came from one flower on one plant. One man, Thomas, nurtured into life a church which has sustained the faith of countless millions of Christians through the ages.
Each one of us can have an effect on the lives of others if we allow God to do his work through us. It may not be as dramatic as Thomas’, but it can be very significant nonetheless. We don’t have to go to India to have that effect either. It can be as simple as helping a neighbour, getting involved in a campaign for justice, offering to pray for someone who is going through a hard time, inviting them along to something here that you think they’d enjoy – whatever will help them to find the life which they need at that moment.
God calls us as we are, because he needs us as we are. In Thomas, he called someone who would question, because he wanted and needed someone who would question to be part of that team of people who first heard the message of Jesus. He calls us too. Noisy people, quiet people, extraverts and introverts, traditionalists and radicals, people with Ph.D.’s and people who left school with no qualifications at all, people whose faith journey has been straightforward and people who have to wrestle with doubts every day, and who’ll never feel sure of their faith, but keep turning up anyway. You, as you are, can do things for God that no one else can do, because of who you are and where you are. And if you don’t do them, perhaps no one ever will.
God calls us as we are, because he needs us as we are. He nourishes us with what we need, so that we can grow into people who are full of life, and that life can seed itself in others too.
So, what kind of seed are you? What do you need in order to grow? What are you going to do today to put down your roots into God and draw up the nourishment you need?