“Can you not see,” the Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 3, “that while there is jealousy and strife among you, you are living on the purely human level of your lower nature? When one says, ‘I am Paul’s man,’ and another, ‘I am for Apollos,” are you not all too human? After all, what is Apollos? What is Paul? We are simply God’s agents in bringing you to the faith. Each of us performed the task which the Lord allotted him: I planted the seed, and Apollos watered it; but God made it grow. Thus it is not the gardeners with their planting and watering that count, but God, who makes it grow. Whether they plant or water, they work as a team…We are God’s fellow-workers; and you are God’s garden.”
The whole of creation is God’s garden. The world, the segment of it we know and those parts of it that we have never seen is like one huge garden. This garden is a magnified version of all those little ones we see as we drive through any community in the spring, summer and fall—those gardens with the statues of St. Francis, birdbaths, fountains, and scarecrows. There are ornamental monuments like that in God’s garden: the pyramids of Egypt, the Acropolis in Athens, the Coliseum in Rome, the Alps of Switzerland, the castles of Germany, the Appalachians, the Grand Tetons, and the Grand Canyon. Interspersed among these colossal monuments are rivers of running water to irrigate this vast garden—the Nile, the Rhine, the Mississippi, and many more. There are birdbaths, too, which we call the seas and the oceans. Between these there are all the various forms of plant and animal life, each having a particular terrain in which to grow and live. There are stretches of sand with cacti and palms, the plains with flowing waves of wheat and corn, the vineyards of Tuscany and Greece, the California valleys of lettuce and artichokes, the redwood forests and the rain forests of the Amazon. What a garden it is, and in the midst of it all is humanity (which like the plants and animals consists of a wide variety)—you and me and every other man, woman, and child—all part of this glorious garden God has cultivated and grown for thousands upon thousands of years.
During the years of my growing up, we rented a house in the country with fields, woods, brooks, ponds, rivers and farms nearby. I shall ever be grateful for the beautiful garden I knew and experienced in those formative years. Forty-plus years ago, my grandfather died and my parents inherited the little 5-acre farm where my father was born and raised. They made improvements on the old place and my father tried to re-create an orchard that was there when he was young. There was only one tree remaining from that old orchard—an apple tree—there when my dad was a boy and there as my brothers and I grew up. The tree was old and after years of bearing fruit, its branches had to be propped up with poles. The heavy branches were so large and twisted that the main trunk of the tree had been slowly splitting for years. So, my father, wanting to save the tree, grafted its branches on to two other tree trunks. They took hold and while the old tree will eventually die, its branches on those new trunks will remain to bear its very special apple for years to come.
We are each called to tend the garden, prop up the branches of old apple trees, graft branches to form new trees, plant seeds and water them. We are a team; we are fellow-workers. We are part of God’s wondrous garden and our task is to care for all of it and trust God to make it grow more wondrous still.