Summary: The Lord’s Landscaping Leaves Us 1) Groovin’ in his garden;2) Gardening in his groove.
With the warmer temperatures this week it sure felt as if spring might be right around the corner didn’t it? Perhaps the sultry weather even left some of you itching to get back into your garden or to start working on your yard.
Regardless of the weather God is always thinking about gardening and landscaping. Jesus once informed his disciples, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener” (John 15:1). This concept of divine gardening is not just a New Testament one. In our Old Testament text for today Isaiah prophesied about some landscaping that Jesus himself would do to display his splendor as our Saviour. According to the prophecy Jesus would create a divine plantation of trees called oaks of righteousness (Is. 61:3). I’m looking at that plantation right now. Yes, every one of you is a plantation of the Lord. You are oaks of righteousness. In picturing us as oaks of righteousness God is illustrating both what Jesus has done for us, and what he plans to do with us. Perhaps we could put it this way. The Lord’s landscaping leaves us 1) groovin’ in his garden, and 2) gardening in his groove.
What am I suggesting when I say that the Lord’s landscaping leaves us groovin’ in his garden? I’m saying that Jesus’ work of salvation gives us every reason to rejoice. In our Gospel lesson this morning Jesus told the people of Nazareth that the opening verses of Isaiah 61 spoke about him. He (Jesus) had been appointed by the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit to preach the good news to the poor, bind up the broken hearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, comfort all who mourn, to bestow a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair (Isaiah 61:1-3). In short, Jesus had been sent by the Father to cheer up the world.
But what did we need cheering up from and how did Jesus cheer us? We needed to be cheered up from our sins and its effects. When God first created the world everything was perfect. It didn’t take long though for Adam and Eve to crash into sin, marring God’s Eden. In its place a scraggly, scrawny Gethsemane took root. People no longer loved God or their neighbour, only themselves. They longed for compassion and understanding from others but didn’t understand how to be compassionate themselves. They craved respect but only bothered to respect their cravings. They bickered, pouted, and lost their temper with their loved ones. They hated and schemed against their enemies and their enemies against them. Their sins created a depressing world to live in and our sins have only made things worse.
It’s from that depressing world of sin that Jesus came to save us by dying on the cross to take the punishment that we deserved for our rebellion. By dying in our place Jesus gave us forgiveness. To have forgiveness means to have freedom from guilt, and freedom from the fear spending an eternity in hell because of what we have done. Forgiveness gives us freedom to rejoice, and the freedom to look forward to a perfect future with Christ in heaven. It’s pretty neat isn’t it how God turned that old rugged cross, a tree of death for some, into a tree of life for all.
Unfortunately not everyone understands the freedom that Jesus won and proclaims. Some think that Jesus has set them free to work out their salvation. That was brought to mind this last week when I was watching “The Mission.” In this movie, Robert DeNero plays a slave-trader/murder/mercenary turned Jesuit (Catholic) monk. Before DeNero could be assured of forgiveness for his past sins however, he was told to do penance. He was instructed to demonstrate his true sorrow over his sins by taking his armour and weapons, the things he had used in his former sinful life, and drag them behind him on a long journey into the South American jungle. That trek took DeNero through rivers, over rocks, up waterfalls, and down banks of mud. Can you imagine how hard it is to hike through the jungle while dragging a two hundred pound bag behind you?
Brothers and sisters, that’s not what Jesus meant when he proclaimed freedom from sin. Instead a native, whom DeNero had once enslaved, best illustrated what forgiveness means. When that native saw DeNero struggling up a cliff with his bundle of guilt he quickly ran over, cut the bundle free, and threw it over the edge. In the same way God has cut us free from our sins and thrown them over the cliff. Our past sins no longer follow us around therefore neither should the guilt that goes with those sins. What good does it do to carry guilt around anyway? It doesn’t make us more forgiven. It doesn’t undo the harm that our sins have caused. Refusing to let go of our guilt only makes us guilty of rejecting Jesus’ proclamation of freedom. Get rid of your bag of guilt and replace it with the garment of praise Christ has given you. Start groovin’ in his garden because Jesus has made you an oak of righteousness and as such you stand before God as a forgiven child.