Summary: As gardeners grow beauty, so also we must grow peace: speak truth without prejudice; pass judgments but do something to help the troubled grow; pay attention to our own hearts; and settle for nothing less than Christ as the full truth.
As if we did not have enough yard work to do at home, my wife and I have taken on a gardening project at the church to which we belong, Montgomery Hills Baptist Church. The landscaping had deteriorated, and so a gardening team was formed to take care of it. My wife volunteered; I got volunteered. And so many is the Saturday morning when we have gone to the busy intersection of Georgia Avenue and the Beltway to work our section of the church garden; in fact, that corner gets so much traffic that several of our friends have told us that they have driven by and have recognized us by the look of our posteriors!
Our section was in truly deplorable condition. The shrubs planted long ago were choked by weeds or broken down by falling limbs. Debris of all sorts, from old newspapers to beer cans to fast food wrappers, was tangled in the branches. And the weeds! The weeds were not just ordinary weeds, not just the occasional buttercup or dandelion. No, these were giant weeds, immense weeds that grew from way down in window wells upward to huge proportions. In fact, you could sit in the small chapel on the ground floor and see through the stained glass the ugly shapes of unwanted greenery. It was a mess. What to do? How to handle the problem? How would we ever get a harvest of beauty out of this overgrown plot of land?
My wife the gardener has the tools – her digger and her weed puller and her mulch carrier. In other words, moi! She carried out a plan to achieve a desirable harvest.
The plan was: first get some good plant material. Buy at the nursery plants that would be healthy and hardy. No harvest of beauty if you do not start with good quality seedlings.
Second, in order to achieve a harvest of beauty, we pulled out all the plants we did not want – the weeds, the diseased, the broken – everything that was unsuitable, and then we spaced out the material that was left over. I got it about pulling out the stuff that we did not want; but why move what was already rooted? Why re-space old plants? I am told, if you want a harvest of beauty, you must not only pull out the weeds, you must also reposition the good plants for growing room.
All right, so thus far we have brought in new plants and we have pulled out weeds and have re-spaced the old material. The next step, obviously, is to put in the new plants. Dig a hole, dump in some water, pop the plant in, and go, right? Wrong! Dig a hole, get rid of the clay, the rocks, the old roots and the garbage hiding there, and fill that hole with compost and clean soil. Only then are we ready to plant.
Now we are done, right? Yes, more or less. Now we can go home, right? Yes, we can. Now we can leave this plot forever, right? No, we cannot. For weeds will certainly come again, and we must return to do weed patrol. Drought will certainly come, and we must return to water. If you want a harvest of beauty, you must continue to tend the garden.
The prophet Zechariah spoke to Judah about the harvest they wanted. They too wanted a harvest, a harvest of peace. Their nation had been through disastrous times. Less than seventy years earlier, the Babylonians had conquered Judah. The Temple had been destroyed, Judah’s leaders had been taken into exile, and the land had been turned over to weeds and waste. No other episode in Biblical history was so devastating as when the people of God lost a war and felt themselves abandoned. They needed a harvest of peace.
But, in the providence of God, the Persians in turn defeated the Babylonians, and their emperor Cyrus permitted the Jews to return to Judah. There they began the long and painful process of putting their lives back together. They even began to rebuild the Temple.
However, it seems, they lost their way. They grew weary after nearly twenty years of labor. The debris of battle and the devastation was too much, and they lost energy. They stopped work. The Temple stood unfinished, the city only half ready. Weeds began to take over again in the garden of Judah. Their lives were choking on neglect.
Into that situation stepped the prophet Zechariah. In 520 BC Zechariah urged Judah back to its garden. He and his contemporary Haggai fired up the people to finish what they had begun. And Zechariah in particular gave them a plan for a harvest of peace.
Do you want a peace-filled life? Do you want our nation to live in peace? Do you expect your church to be peace-making? Then follow Zechariah’s steps toward the harvest of peace, which are remarkably similar to what we found in the church garden at Montgomery Hills, working for a harvest of beauty.