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2 Corinthians 5:16-21

My wife and I started gardening eleven years ago in the yard of the house we rented in urban San Diego. The house had been owned and occupied by a 96-year-old woman who we strongly suspect had been a gardener in her younger years, but who had not been able to care for much of anything for at least a decade. The entire property was in significant disrepair. We got a deal on the place by promising her nephew that we would help get the house back in shape, mostly thinking about the interior disaster that came to be our home. But we also found ourselves with a surprisingly large yard and decided to try to grow food for the first time.

We ended up growing so many vegetables and herbs that we didn’t know what to do with it all. We built a chicken coop and got too many chickens who laid too many eggs. And just as we began to drown in the flood of food, a weekly farmer’s market opened on our block. I had been searching for a second vocation to come alongside a call to pastoral ministry among the urban poor, and we started to dream about growing and selling food as a possibility. We were growing enough to give veggies and eggs to just about everyone we knew, but in order to actually contribute to our household income, we knew we needed more space, and we began to scout the neighborhood. I would walk or drive around making notes of addresses of vacant lots. Maybe an owner of a forgotten property would let us grow there? I looked at yards that weren’t kept up. Maybe someone would let us clean out all of the weeds and grow something productive in their yard? I began to deride lawns, which never fared well in dry San Diego anyway – why waste so much water to grow something as useless as grass? Maybe someone would let me pull out the grass and plant vegetables? I even started to scout flat rooftops, imagining rooftop garden possibilities.

We began to see the entire neighborhood with fresh eyes. Where we had walked our neighborhood blocks, looking at homes and yards, making judgments about landscape choices, seeing signs of wealth or poverty, making assessments of what already existed, now we started to see possibilities in every square foot of land. We began to see what could be, with this burning desire to cultivate the land to produce good fruit.[1] 

Paul is challenging his readers to make a similar kind of shift in their imaginations. “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” For those of us in Christ, there is something new at work. God has cleared out the concrete, the grass, and the weeds and cultivated in us a new garden that will bear fruit. Some of us may be at different stages in the process. There may be those who are still doing the hard work of dealing with weeds and grass from past years, or dead, nutrient-deprived soil that can’t hold much water. It takes time to turn over a piece of land. Some may be in their 25th growing season, allowing God to feed and water soil that has become more rich over time, rotate the crops, and design the next season of life. Whatever the case, we have become (and are becoming) something new.

Paul is challenging us not only to see this change in ourselves, but to look at one another with a sense of possibility. No longer should we look at one another with old eyes. “There’s a dirty yard over there – look at that mess!” “What a ridiculously fancy fountain – that thing must have cost a ton!” “More grass! Why?!” We look and make our judgments, whatever they may be. We identify what we consider sin and goodness, or wealth and poverty. We try to define and categorize one another, and then we treat people based on our assessment of them. The Corinthian church was famously divided in a number of ways, seemingly competitive in their spirituality and reluctant to overcome the economic and class systems of the wider society. They had been doing this exact kind of assessment of one another.

Paul is inviting them (and us) to look upon one another with new eyes. We can see possibility in one another. We can have hope for one another. We can look at each other with excitement over what God may be doing. We can see one another as potential gardens that can bear the fruit of the Spirit, and we can work together to cultivate the gospel in one another in hopes of bringing that fruit to bear. Rather than being stuck on what has been (like the older brother in today’s gospel lection), we can open our eyes to what might be.

Opening our eyes in this way can make way for reconciliation within the church, can help us to see possibilities for new connections beyond the church community, and can help us to see growth potential in ourselves in every season. Christ h