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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

         

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The Master Gardener

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

April 1, 2018 – Easter Sermon

John 20:1-18

 

Mary mistook Jesus for the gardener. She mistook Jesus for one who digs in the dirt and plants seeds. She mistook Jesus for one who waters and fertilizes and nourishes the plants to bring life forth from the ground. But was she really so mistaken?

 

Just days before Jesus had used a gardening image to help prepare his disciples for what was to come. He had said “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:23-24).

 

I believe it is no coincidence that Jesus makes his first appearance after his resurrection, in a garden. It was, after all, in a garden where it all began. It was in that Garden of Eden where God dug in the dirt and crafted our first parents out of the earth – humans, taken from the humus. It was in that first garden where Adam and Eve were given the responsibilities to tend for creation, to name all the creatures, to be fruitful and multiply. It was in that first garden where they comfortably walked and talked with God, unashamed in their nakedness, unafraid to be fully seen and known by their Creator.

 

It was in that first garden where sin entered the world. Tricked and deceived into thinking that God was holding back the good stuff for himself, they were conned into thinking that they knew better than God what was good for them. They fell prey to the tempter’s promise that knowing good from evil would be a good thing, and they bit into the fruit of temptation.

 

It is in that first garden that their relationship with God changed from innocent trust to one of shame and hiding and fear. It is in that first garden that the comfortable relationship between man and woman gave way to blaming one another, and the balance between them was upset. It is in that first garden that life for the man became filled with toil and for the woman filled with pain. It is the events that took place in that first garden that made it necessary for Jesus to come to earth, for God to send his Son, to set right what our first parents set wrong.

 

Given all of that, it is no surprise that God should arrange things so that as Jesus emerges victorious from the tomb of sin and death, he does so in a garden. Other attempts to set things right had failed. The people couldn’t keep God’s commandments. They didn’t listen to God’s prophets. It became necessary for God who loved the world so much to send his only son to pay the price for human sinfulness so that relationships might be restored, and we might share eternal life with him. Through sending Jesus to make that ultimate sacrifice, God prepares his creatures to join him in that heavenly garden. God prepares the way for us to be with him once again in that garden where the Tree of Life is in full bloom bringing forth all kinds of luscious fruit and the River of Life runs through it.

 

Martin Luther once said, “Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.” We think of resurrection as God breaking the laws of nature to bring life out of death. But in fact, examples of resurrection are all around us, for those with eyes to see.

 

Gardeners get it. Gardeners have seen that cycle of life and death, dying and rising. Gardeners have experienced the seed going into the dark earth and bursting forth in new life. They know that for the seed to achieve its potential it must come completely undone. The shell cracks. Its insides come out. Everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it looks like complete destruction. But gardeners recognize new life in the making. It’s a messy process. But gardeners aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. And neither is God. God, the Master Gardener, reaches into our messiness to bring forth life where it seems that death has won.

 

Where in your life is there resurrection work for the Master Gardener to do? Might it be in healing a relationship that has become strained? In letting warm light of love and forgiveness shine in the dark places where anger and grudges are hidden? Might it be in giving the grace to let go of a habit that is getting in the way of living life to the fullest? Maybe some wild growth needs to be pruned back so that you can grow in healthy ways. Maybe some selective fertilizing needs to be carefully applied to the new shoots of hope growing forth where despair has taken root? Maybe you find yourself root bound and needing to be transplanted into a new place that gives you the freedom to stretch out and grow. The place you’ve been was fine, but now you’ve out grown it. So the Master Gardener has some transplanting to do. The Master Gardener knows all about death and resurrection and new life.

 

As you welcome him in, Master Gardener goes to work tending and nurturing the fresh sprouts in your life and caring for the parts that have been damaged in storms of life. In God’s hands, we can trust that death will lead to life. Easter is a time for new life and new growth. This is a good time to renew your relationship with God.

 

If you are looking for a closer connection to God, an encounter with the risen Jesus, look in these places where others have experienced him, and where he promised to be found. Yes, you may find him in the garden like Mary did, or on the farm, or in the woods. God’s spirit flows freely in nature so natural settings are often great places to encounter God.

 

But nature is not the only place. In a few moments we will be celebrating Holy Communion. Jesus promised to be truly present in the bread and the wine – given for you. As you come forward for communion, know that Jesus is truly present there for you. In communion he meets you and knows you – at your best and your worst – and loves you just the same. In Holy Communion he forgives you your sins.

 

As we gather here in worship this morning Jesus is in our midst. Jesus promised that where two or three are gathered in his name there he is in the midst of them. Jesus is here with us this morning in worship, as he is whenever we gather in his name.

 

Jesus also promised to meet us in prayer. So if you are looking for a closer connection with God, pray. Some people think they cannot pray because God does not seem real to them or God seems distant. They’ve got it backwards. It is when you pray that God becomes real to you, that God comes near. God meets you in prayer. And God promised to meet us through his Word, in Holy Scripture. God meets us as we read his word in the Bible.

 

As Mary met Jesus in that garden, her sadness turned to joy in the presence of the risen Christ. God has a way of doing that. God can take our sorrows and turn them to joy. But Mary’s transcendent moments in the garden with Jesus didn’t last. He tells he not to hold on to him.

 

That, too, characterizes transcendent moments of joy and awe in God’s presence. They are fleeting. Yet they give a renewed sense of hope. They reconnect us with God’s love. They empower us and re-energize us to move forward and do what God is calling us to do. But they always seem to pass too quickly.

 

Our gospel lesson for today ends with Jesus telling Mary to go and tell the disciples that he is risen. That is a message to us as well. We who have met the risen Jesus can’t stay in the garden forever. We have work to do. There are hurting people out there who need to hear the good news. We need to tell them of Jesus’ love. Jesus loves us enough to die for us. Jesus loves us with a love so powerful it overcame death. And because Jesus overcame death, we need not fear death.

 

We who believe in Christ will have eternal life. That is a promise he made that we can all depend on. That is the whole reason Jesus came to earth, the reason he lived, and suffered and died, so that we might be forgiven and have eternal life.

 

My friends, that is the good news this Easter and every day of our lives. Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Like Mary, we too are sent to go and share the good news. Each one of us who is here this morning has a story to tell. Each one of us who has met the risen Jesus needs to share that experience with others. So go. Go in joy and share the good news. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen.