How to Make Your Garden Last a Lifetime and More

February 24, 2008

 

The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor

Montgomery United Methodist Church

 

John 4:5-42

 

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our title and our topic for today is this: How to Make Your Garden Last a Lifetime and More.

 

Well, friends, in these wintry days, when the ground is hard and frosty and snow has covered the earth, we’ve been thinking about gardens. Not just earthly gardens, but the gardens inside our hearts, the garden that is the symbol of our lives. God has given to each and every one of us some ground to till – the time of our lives – and He’s given us tools and seeds and choices. And so we’ve been thinking these weeks about how we’re going to tend and till our inner gardens.

 

So, let me ask you – how does it go with your inner garden? How does your inner garden grow? Have you been encouraging the flowers of positive thoughts and positive words this week? Have you been pulling out the weeds of negative thoughts and ‘can’t do’ ideas? I’ll bet you have. And I invite us to continue working on our gardens this week with this question: How can we make our gardens last a lifetime and more?

 

We tend to think of gardens in earthly terms, as seasonal. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could grow our inner garden all year long, all the years long, a lifetime long, and beyond? Wouldn’t that be great? I know it would, and I also know that I am surrounded this morning by wonderful people with beautiful gardens, gardens that last a lifetime and more. I know that I am surrounded by people who have the potential to make a positive difference in this world, to make this world more beautiful because they’ve been here. Oh yes, I know that for sure. Let’s look at how we can do this,

together.

 

I know someone who had a garden of a life. His garden grew so beautifully, so magnificently, that it lasted not only his life long, but for years after – two thousand years and more after. And His name was Jesus Christ. How did He do it? He did it by lifting people up. Let’s see what happened in this morning’s gospel.

 

In this morning’s gospel, we see Jesus Christ going to the land of Samaria. Now, Samaritans and Jews just didn’t get along. They didn’t think very highly of each other. Just to give you an example, if a Jewish person had to do business with a Samaritan and money had to be exchanged, he wouldn’t even touch the money. He’d stick out a jar of water and ask the Samaritan to put the coins into the jar of water. Can you imagine that?

 

Well, it was into this Samaritan village that Jesus went, because He wanted to help someone grow her garden. There was a woman who would come to the well, and Jesus was determined to help her out. We’re told that Jesus went to the well; He was tired and thirsty. It was about noon, and He sent all His disciples out to get food.

 

Now, doesn’t that make you wonder? Why did He have to send all twelve disciples to the grocery store to get food? He did it because he wanted to get them out of the way. He didn’t want them to bring any weeds into this conversation. He didn’t want them to distract this woman from growing her garden.

 

She came along to the well at about noon. What was odd about that? Women came to draw water from the well with great big water jugs at the break of day. That’s when the women went; not at noon. So why did she go at noon? Because she was crushed. She was afraid of what the other women would say about her and how they would tease her. But Jesus wasn’t afraid. Jesus went there to help her out. And Jesus recognized her. He said, “Excuse me, can you provide me with a glass of water, please? I’m really thirsty.”

 

She said, “What? You, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan, for a glass of water?”

 

He said, “Yes, I am. And I tell you what – if you knew who was asking you, you’d know how blessed you are, and you’d also know what a big blessing God has in store for you.”

 

She was amazed, and as their conversation continued, she became even more amazed.  She turned from a person who was rejected to a person who ran out and told others about Jesus. Why? Because Jesus recognized her, and He respected her. That’s what Jesus did, and those are the kinds of flowers that grow in Jesus’s garden. That’s the way Jesus feels about you and me. And if we follow in His footsteps, our gardens can last a lifetime and more, too. And we’ll always be remembered as people who made a positive difference. Wouldn’t you like that? I’d like that.

 

How do we do it? We do it by following in His footsteps – by lifting people up, by giving them recognition and respect. When you give people recognition and respect, your garden grows bigger and brighter and better, too.

 

I had something happen this week that I couldn’t wait to tell you about. It was a wonderful experience. I turned on my computer and checked my email. You know how it is when you go into email – is it like this for you? – email kind of falls into different categories. There’s the “A” category, where you see the name and address and you say, “Oh, good. Can’t wait to see what these folks are sending to me.” And then there’s the “B” category, which is the interesting category. “Let’s see what we can do together here.” And then there’s the “C” category, where you say, “Oh, dear, what did I do wrong now?” Do you have that experience?

 

Well, I know that everyone in this congregation is of the “A” category. I had an experience this week of, might I say, “A+”. I saw a name in the address area of the email that made me leap for joy. I just felt so happy to see this name. Now, you have to understand that I have not seen this man in 36 years. (Well, I shook hands with him once, 10 years ago, when I became pastor of this church.) But by and large, I have not seen him for 36 years. And still, when I saw his name, my heart leapt for joy. And I knew that message was going to be a positive and beautiful one.

 

Wouldn’t we all like to be that way? Wouldn’t we all like to have folks see our name and have that reaction? That’s what it means to make your garden last a lifetime and more.

 

This man, you see, was a teacher of mine. During that time, I was a student at Westminster Choir College. I was preparing to get my music education degree. I was a student teacher right here in Montgomery, at Montgomery High School. As a matter of fact, every day I’d go right past our church property here and never knew there’d be a connection later on.

 

I’d study with this man, at the Montgomery school system. And I saw his name. May I read you what he sent me?

 

“Tony, I read that great article about MUMC in the Montgomery News. It was truly wonderful, and I’m glad everything is going well with you. I’m now retired to Pennsylvania, but our son Andrew keeps us informed with the monthly Montgomery News of what’s happening in that great place. We live in Palmyra, PA, which is right next store to Hershey. In fact, we can see the Hershey smokestacks and smell chocolate from our front porch. It’s a great place to live.”

 

(Interestingly enough, this gentleman has been succeeded by our own Dr. Laura Bell, who keeps in contact with him regularly.)

 

He continues, “I have a question for you. Marion Sanders… I had a wonderful student, maybe even back in your student teaching day, by that name. She lived in Harlingen, and she was in every play and production Montgomery gave in those days. I used to tease her, calling her the first lady in the Montgomery theatre, like Helen Hayes was called the first lady of the theatre. Is your associate pastor the same Marion Sanders? She had a great personality and a stupendous, dry sense of humor. Hmm, perfect for the ministry. Anyhow, if you get a minute, I’d like to hear from you, and to find out if this is the same Marion we all knew and loved.  ~ Steve Weicksel.”

 

What a joy to see that man’s name! Friends, when I was his student, I remember that he always treated me with respect and recognition. He always lifted up the good things. And now, these 36 years later, just the sight of his name brings joy to my heart.

 

Poet Maya Angelou said, “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” A very long time from now, people may not remember exactly what it was a person said, and they may not remember exactly what a person did, but they will remember how they felt when they were with the person. Steve Weicksel has the key. He knew and knows how to grow his garden. His garden lasts a lifetime and more.

 

And how about us? Each and every one of us can be that memorable. Each and every one of us can have people look at our name and say, “Ahh. What a delight! I remember how affirming that person was. What a blessing he or she was in my life!” If we do that, we will be following in the steps of Jesus, the steps of the One who came to lift us up, to give us worth and respect and dignity. May it be so for you; may it be so for me, for each and every one of us.

 

Now, before we close, my friends, I’ve written a little prayer poem for us, and I’d like to invite you to read it and say it out loud and take it into the week with you.

           

Dear Lord,

Help me to shape my day

            In such a way

            That those who surround me

            May be glad they were around me. Amen.

 

My reply to Steve Weicksel:

 

Dear Mr. Weicksel, I can’t bring myself to call you Steve. It is so wonderful to hear from you that it gives me goose bumps. What a blessing! I continue to be blessed by my memories of our days together in the Montgomery school system. Are you ready for this? When I was there, one of the things I learned from you was the importance of motions and hand signals to help children to learn music and ideas. Each and every Sunday now, 36 years later, I continue to apply that technique as I teach scripture verses and key Christian principles to children through songs I’ve written. Your valuable lessons keep bearing fruit, Sir. If I were a betting man, I would bet that the very Marion Sanders who was your student is now the Reverend Marion Sanders, ordained Elder in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference and Associate for Youth Discipleship here at MUMC. I am forwarding this email to her and hope that she will get in touch with you. She is an absolute joy to work with, and she is a tremendous blessing to our church and to me personally. She is the finest.

 

One more thought…when I saw your name in my email list, I felt a surge of joy and gratitude. I’m reminded of a saying that I’ve been contemplating a lot in recent times: A very long time from now, people may not remember exactly what it was a person said, and they may not remember exactly what they did, but they will remember how they felt when they were with you. Well done, my good friend. It is with great joy that I hear from you again.

 

Blessings and joy,

Your student, Tony Godlefski.

 

Let us follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Let us plant a garden that will last our life long and more, because God loves us. And I love you, too. God bless you. Amen.

           

© 2008 Anthony J. Godlefski