The Wisdom of Cucumbers

In my family, I’m known for loving all things cucumber: sandwiches, salads, even cucumber snacks.  As a 7-year-old, I learned to raid the refrigerator vegetable drawer where mom kept cucumbers.  After finding the cucumber stock at zero enough times, mom declared that she wasn’t going to buy out the store’s supply of cucumbers.  If I liked them this much, I needed to grow them.

So, I negotiated with dad for a small plot of land where I could plant cucumbers.  The neighborhood fellas were retired and had large gardens of their own.  They brought tillers and plowed the ground and went with me to the Agway store to help choose cucumber seeds.  They watched me carry a bucket of water every morning to the cucumber patch.  I weeded and turned the soil daily…just as they taught me.  Before bedtime, I checked the plants one last time … and then delivered a garden update to my neighbors who’d be sitting on their front porches waiting for the report.

At long last, the plants began to blossom.

The neighbors assured me that blossoms were a sign: cucumbers were on the imminent horizon.

This was good news, indeed.  Mom had stopped buying cucumbers.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians was written about 20 years after the crucifixion.  I have read this epistle many times but, until a few years ago, I had no idea where Galatians lived.  In 2010, I was visiting the ruins of Pergamon in Turkey.  Our guide explained that the Galatians loved to visit Pergamon and heap a little war on that ancient city.  Galatia was also in Turkey…near Ankara.

Just 20 years after the crucifixion, the Gospel of Christ had already traveled 900 miles from Jerusalem to Turkey, and the Galatian church in Asia Minor was well-established.

In today’s portion of the letter, Paul is challenging the church in Galatia – and us– to a new way of living. 

He describes our human proclivity toward vices.  He calls out impurity, idolatry, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels … and he tells the church, “This is not Kingdom of God living”.

Paul contrasts the way they are behaving with a life that is Spirit driven—lives that show us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

It’s quite a contrast.

One morning, I noticed that the neighbors had already gathered in the driveway to watch as I filled the bucket with water, and carried it to the garden.  But, I did not notice that one of the neighbors was filming this moment.  I poured the water on the cucumber plants like I had done every other morning for many weeks.  And, then, I noticed it–Hidden beneath the leaves, there was a cucumber the size of a small watermelon.  

I dropped the bucket, picked up the cucumber, and ran at full speed to show the neighbors…who were still filming.  There was so much joy…my first cucumber.  And not just any cucumber …. it was a Goliath cucumber.

I took the cucumber to my grandmother and proudly showed her the first fruit of my cucumber patch.

She laughed at the sight of my giant cucumber and asked where I had found it. And then she imparted a bit of wisdom:  First, cucumber blossoms do not become goliath fruit overnight.  It takes time…sunshine, water, weeding, and patience.   It is a work of discipline, a partnership between the plants and the Gardener.  And Second, cucumbers grow connected to the vine…this is how they receive the nutrients they need to grow.  The cucumber I found was not connected to a vine…it was just lying in the patch…placed there by the neighbors.

Paul challenges us to move from licentiousness toward holiness…From reflecting the character of this world to the character of God’s Kingdom.

Paul’s letter doesn’t tell us how we go about it.   But the wisdom of the cucumber patch offers us some insight.

The first bit of garden wisdom:  It doesn’t happen overnight.  The cucumber blossom doesn’t become a goliath cucumber in a day.  And neither do our lives bear witness to Christ’s love overnight.  The cucumbers needed soil…God’s soil.  They needed a faithful gardener to bring water, weed, and till the soil.

In our spiritual lives, God provides us with spiritual soil here…at St. Martin’s.  We plant our spiritual lives in this soil…we take on spiritual disciplines in and with community—this body of Christ.  In garden parlance, St. Martin’s is the vine that supports us in our growth as individuals and as a corporate body.

And the second bit of wisdom:  the cucumber has to be connected to the vine to be fed.  If you hang around any church long enough, you’ll hear someone say, “I just don’t feel fed here”.  It’s a cultural phenomenon of our time to see oneself as the center of all things…to imagine that my rights, my wants are the purpose of all things. 

We come here to worship: to offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God.  Here we are equipped through Christian formation to go into the world feeding others…literally and figuratively.

During our Human Flourishing classes last year, we often talked about finishing the book learning and getting more involved with doing.  The garden teaches us that it is not one or the other…learning informs our doing…doing informs our learning.  It is a never-ending cycle of becoming the fruit of God’s Garden.

Eventually, my cucumber patch yielded an amazing amount fruit….more cucumbers than we could possibly eat.  Rather than wasting them, I learned to pickle cucumbers, which meant we had cucumbers year-round. It was a cycle of learning, doing, learning and doing.

The Church is God’s instrument…God’s vehicle…of engagement with the world. 

And to that purpose, the Church is called to equip God’s people…to help them grow into the fullness of God’s image within us.

The Church is not created by us.  It is created—and has its meaning—through the incarnation of Christ.  God is the Gardner of the Church.  And we are called to be partners with God in this great mission.  We are here to grow in our own Christian discipleship, to flourish, to discern God’s calling and to answer, “Yes! And…”