August 8, 2019

Playing in the Garden-Kingdom

The creational nature of the garden-kingdom metaphor can help build visuals and object lessons for preaching, enrich the worship environment, and shape how a congregation walks through the big movements of the biblical story.

Four years ago, I invited us to consider finding new ways to describe the biblical narrative (“Telling the Story of God’s Garden Kingdom”). In that post I suggested the possibility of telling the story of God’s kingdom through the garden language of planting, invading, reclaiming, and flourishing.

Recently, a colleague asked if I had ever developed that language into a sermon series or set of worship service outlines. I haven’t. And that realization started me wondering what could happen if I picked up the Garden-Kingdom language and played with it while thinking through worship planning.

Here are a few ideas that came out of that playtime. 

Visual and Tactile Worship

Each of the four movements of this narrative is quite accessible to visuals and tactile activities within worship. One possibility is to have four potted plants in front of the sanctuary. The first one contains seeds and the early start of a new plant pushing through the soil. The second contains a growing plant, but also a variety of weeds—some of which are bigger than the plant. The third potted plant has uprooted weeds on the ground next to it, and a set of hand-held gardening tools stuck in the soil. The last potted plant is full, with visible fruit growing on it, and several new plants pushing through the surface around it.

Another option is to invite people to submit pictures from their contexts—neighborhood, school, work, park—that correspond with each movement. Those pictures can then be used in a variety of ways to enrich the worship environment. Some could be projected to mark transitions between movements within worship: a planting image for the call to worship; an invasive weed for the confession time; a recently reclaimed vacant lot at the start of the sermon; or a garden, flourishing with fruit and vegetables for the sending section.

Alternatively, some pictures could also be used as a way of prompting prayers for the physical places and spiritual conditions of our communities. Still other pictures could offer new ways of engaging Jesus’ parables, particularly those of the sower, seeds, and weeds.

Other ideas for using this garden-kingdom language in worship could include inviting a few people to pull up different varieties of weeds in front of the congregation while the Ten Commandments are read, or to send everyone home with a packet of seeds in connection with a reading of the parable of the sower.

These creational metaphors lend themselves well to stepping outside of the church building. The garden-kingdom themes can also help extend the congregation’s worship into cultivating a community garden on the church’s property or participating in beautification projects within the surrounding community. 

Potential Sermon Series

These themes can also help shape how a congregation walks through the big movements of the biblical story. If I were to develop a series with the garden-kingdom language it might look something like this:

Message 1: Planting

Text: Genesis 2:4–17

Title: “The God who Gardens” 

Theme: Genesis 2 describes God as planting a garden, creating humanity to tend that garden, and the lavish beauty of that garden. It raises questions like: If God is one who has been cultivating abundant life since the beginning, what does that mean for us who have been made in God’s image? How do we understand our vocations and the purpose of God’s work in our lives in light of God being the original and master Gardener?  

Message 2: Invading

Text: Genesis 3

Title: “Mine!”

Theme: Our desire to take and possess the only off-limit piece of the garden for ourselves, rather than to cultivate and expand the garden throughout the kingdom as we were created to do, distorted everything else. We brought the contaminant of sin into God’s garden-kingdom. Death soon followed. Yet, we also hear in this message the first words of God’s refusal to abandon us and the garden-kingdom in this state of decay and destruction.

Message 3: Reclaiming

Text: Romans 11:17–18; John 15:1–8

Title: “Grafted. Nourished. Remaining. Bearing Fruit”

Theme: God’s great reclamation project reaches its turning point in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, through which God has grafted us into Jesus’ life. As we remain in Jesus, who is the root and vine of our faith, his nourishing life produces fruit through us. In this way, as God shapes and cultivates the garden-kingdom through Jesus Christ, we become both recipients of and participants with God in God’s ongoing reclamation project.

Message 4: Flourishing

Text: Revelation 21:9–22:5

Title: “Beyond Measure”

Theme: The rich descriptions in this passage stretch our imagination with the enormity, lavishness, and abundance of God’s garden-kingdom: a city with walls that are 1,400 miles long and high; gates made of precious jewels and streets of crafted gold; the tree of life that produces a new crop every month. This vision beckons us to wonder how we might live now, given that this flourishing life is what God is working toward. How might God’s work of reclaiming us in Jesus Christ call us to work toward the promised and eventual flourishing of God’s garden-kingdom?    

How About You 

As you play with this language, what ideas come to the surface for you? In what ways could this garden-kingdom language enrich worship in your context? If you have any ideas or examples of how these themes are impacting your worship settings, please share them with Reformed Worship

Related Worship Resources from Reformed Worship

Chris Schoon (Th.D., Wycliffe College) is the Director of Faith Formation Ministries for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Previously, Chris has served as a pastor in both Michigan and Ontario. Along with contributing regularly to Reformed Worship, Chris is the author of Cultivating an Evangelistic Character (Wipf & Stock, 2018), which takes an in-depth look at worship and discipleship in the missional church movement. You can find him on Twitter: @chrisjschoon.