The other day, I was riding my bike on my morning ride and I was struggling. I try to ride my bike almost every day to get a little exercise and to spend time out in creation. It’s not only good for my body to hope on the bike but it’s refreshing for my soul. Some days are more refreshing than others, though, and, on this day, I was in need of some refreshment. The air was thick with humidity, I rode into a headwind, and one of my tires was slowly getting flatter. As I worked to regain my breath and strength to push forward, I was looking for a sign of hope.
Right along the path on which I was riding was a sort of “waste area.” It is a large expanse of undeveloped land that, most summers, is overgrown with weeds that can grow as high as six feet tall. There can be beauty to this area if you look at it the right way—the weeds flower (unfortunately for those of us with allergies) and can have their own sort of beauty. But, that said, they are still weeds—not exactly something we would call “beautiful.”
So I rode along the path, looking for a sign of hope, and all I saw was a field of weeds that made my eyes redder and my breathing harder. On top of that, while I was riding I was listening to a sermon on Ezekiel, and the preacher was talking about life for the Jewish people in exile. I felt like I was in the wilderness with them and needed the prophet’s word of hope and comfort.
And that’s when I saw it. Off the side of the path, amidst the weeds, were two beautiful plants. These were not ordinary plants for that area. Instead of the brown expanse of weeds, these plants were brilliant green and vibrant. And bursting from the brilliant green leaves were beautiful white trumpeting flowers—like the flowers of a lily. There were dozens of flowers in every direction and they were as pristine as if they were in a florist’s display window.
Then I saw the “florist” for these particular plants. I had seen him many times before, actually, though his appearance had changed over the years. He is a homeless man who has been living in and around our area for many years. His beard has grown thick and the elements have aged him faster than the passage of time. I have spoken with him before and knew he was a bright man and a man who has a great deal of pride and self-awareness.
As I rode past I noticed the man was carefully trimming the bush, adding to its beauty. He was clipping the dead leaves and clipping some flowers as well. I don’t know if he was picking some for a loved one or just for his own enjoyment. All I know is that this man for whom society cares little about—who lives his life in the wilderness—was caring for this little piece of beauty in the midst of the “waste area.” And it was beautiful.
I think we are called to be like these plants. We are to be trumpets of beauty and grace in the midst of the “wastelands” of our society. We are to be signs of hope and renewal when everything around us is drear and dire. We are called by God to sound forth the message of hope to those who desperately need refreshment and peace. When we are at our best, we are as vibrant, beautiful, and set apart—holy—as were those plants on the side of the path.
And we are called to be like the gardener too. He cares little for the “stuff” of the world—he doesn’t have much of the things we “need” or worry ourselves with each day. What he cares for are these islands of hope. In the same way, we are called to care for God’s island of hope in the world—the church. We are called to make it as beautiful as we can, to take its beauty to those in need—those whom we love—and enjoy its beauty when we ourselves need hope and peace.
You may feel as I did that morning. You may be tired, frustrated, hopeless. Your neighbors may be wandering in the wilderness of grief, pain, and exile. For you and for them I have good news: God is with us in the wilderness, trumpeting a message of hope and peace for all people. It is a message of new life and new creation. It is indeed Good News, and it is the message of our church. I pray we would care for this church as the gardener did those plants on the path. I pray we would share its beauty. I pray we would be a sign of new life for all the world.