Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.
One of the primary themes of Saint Mark’s gospel is creation. It is Mark’s argument that Jesus of Nazareth initiates a new creation, and is Himself the new creation: that the new creation is embodied in Him. We see this in even in the first words of Mark’s Gospel. Those first words are: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” and scholars have shown that this was an intentional move by Mark to immediately bring to mind the Book of Genesis, which starts in the same way. Last Sunday we heard the Pharisees try to trap Jesus by asking about divorce in the time of Moses, and Our Lord began His response by saying, “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” And at the end of Mark’s Gospel, Mark describes the women at the empty tomb as full of astonishment. That is a translation of a Greek word, the root of which is our word “ecstasy,” and it is the same word that the writer of Genesis used to describe Adam when God fashioned Eve from his rib, and Abraham when God was making a covenant with him, both moments of new creation.
All of this has led one biblical scholar to conclude that important to Mark’s message about Jesus Christ is that the true human destiny is to return to the original garden. And if that is true, then we can take that one step further—that our human destiny, our vocation, the way God called, and calls, us into existence, is to be gardeners of His creation. And what do gardeners do but help things grow? Being a gardener is patient work. It is work based upon hope—hope that the conditions will prevail and the flowers and fruits will bear forth. And indeed it is that image of the flowerings and the harvest that fuel the patient, often arduous tasks required.
Our stewardship of this parish is based on this image of being gardeners. God has brought each and every one of us here, to this Parish, to be gardeners of His creation, which begins at the Cross of each church’s Altar and reaches out the doors of our churches into the surrounding world. And God has called each of us forth to do in this Parish what gardeners do in their garden: help it grow. And the Church asks of her members, and this church is asking of each one of us, to continue and even increase our tithes—to continue and even increase our offerings to the Parish of our time, our talent, and our treasure. Our tithe of time, talent, and treasure is the patient work of the gardener in the months before the flowers and fruits come: tilling the soil, planting seeds, watering, pulling weeds, pruning, fertilizing, and the rest. Without that work, there will never be beautiful flowers, ripe fruit and vegetables—and so without our tithe of time, talent, and treasure, the Cross and Altar at both of our churches will lose God’s creative and redemptive power.
I said a moment ago that it is that image of the flowerings and the harvest that fuel the patient, often arduous tasks required. What is the image of our flowerings that can inspire us now to continue and even increase our tithe to the Parish? In that last two years we have seen growth in our average Sunday attendance, at both of our churches: and that is good. We have seen growth in our adult formation classes: and that is good. And both of churches, we continue to see new people taking on ministerial leadership: and that is good. We have just formed a new Parish choir, with singers young and old: and that is good.
But let me share the image of the flower that fuels me the most, above and beyond a growing, learning, active and singing Parish. And that is the project the Parish Council has been working on for over a year. We have been discerning something that appears to be very important, and could have long-lasting positive impact on the community around us as well as our Parish: a ministry of serving the lonely in Tazewell County. Yesterday the Parish Council spent nearly seven hours in reflection and prayer, listening to God, grappling with the challenges of involving the entire Parish in this ministry, inspired by the image of a Parish fueled by a dynamic ministry rooted in the Cross we face during the Mass that is dismissed by God into the world to love and serve the Lord by being with lonely people in our county—why? because by being with them, and showing that they are loved, we are at the foot of the Cross by being with them—because in the hearts of every lonely person in this world, Jesus bleeds on His Cross.
A growing, learning, active and singing Parish with an organic and self-sustaining ministry to the lonely—this is the flower, brothers and sisters; this is the fruit. Implant this firmly in your mind and hearts as you receive this week the 2019 pledge cards. It will take patient work of time, talent, and treasure. But God wants His garden to grow. God became man in Jesus Christ so that His garden would flourish for ever and for ever more.