August 8 – The Odds of Tomatoes in October

tomato blossumI’m not betting on tomatoes in October, but the yellow blossoms on our tomato plants make me happy. I take them as a reminder that even in August, 2014, God is at work and invites us to join him in his hope-filled work.

Becky and I are just not vegetable gardeners, though some of our best friends are. It’s a combination of time, location, and mostly interest that keeps us from getting our hands dirty.  As with most of us, downtime is a precious commodity. Gardening doesn’t rise to the top ten uses of free time. It’s a joy to live in a “tree city,” but lots of shade from towering trees doesn’t make for early-ripening vegetables. And then there is the “some of our best friends” thing.  Why should we garden when we have best friends who supply us with tomatoes and cucumbers all season long?

So those are our excuses – oh, I forgot to mention the squirrels and rabbits.  What it comes down to, though, is “not interested.”

Well, mostly not interested.

When we were in Michigan over the Memorial Day weekend, our daughter and son-in-law gave us a couple tomato plants that were left over from the garden they had just planted.  Ryan and Katharine are gardeners, seriously good gardeners; we wish we were a little closer for a summer full of free tomatoes and cucumbers. There are some other reasons, as well, for wishing we were closer, a story for another day.

We brought our two tomato plants home and planted them in two big planting pots and set them out on our mostly-shady patio.  They seem to like the place. We put them up on a table after the first squirrel attack and since then they’ve been doing well, if by well you mean growing really healthy looking leaves. June and July they just got bigger and greener. I’m becoming kind of fond of those tomato plants, so you can imagine my pride this first week in August when I discovered yellow blossoms on one of the plants.

We’ve been getting big ripe red tomatoes from one of our gardener friends for several weeks now, so we know our plants are a little late to the game.  In fact, (motto: “We speak tomato”) says we’ve got six to eight weeks until we may be able to harvest our first tomato.  Perhaps we’ll have tomatoes for Columbus Day. Of course, the last time we tried growing tomatoes, the squirrels ate them when they were big and green. Nothing is guaranteed. We’d better be nice to our gardener friends.

Still, those yellow blossoms, even at the beginning of the second week of August, make me happy.

One time when Jesus was telling his disciples about God’s good plans for human history, Jesus’ own return and a new heaven and a new earth where sin and death and pain are no more, he said, “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.” (Matthew 24:32)

Our tomato plants are putting out blossoms way too late; the odds for tomatoes in October are not good.  By most accounting, blossoms in the first week of August are not a good sign.

This first week of August has not been a good week for the old planet. Genocide is taking hold in northern Iraq and Ebola in west Africa. The death toll in the Gaza is rapidly approaching 2,000 – nearly three-quarters of them civilians and a quarter of them children. No one seems to know what to do, or have the courage to do what needs to be done, along our southern border where a wave of immigrants has overwhelmed our ability to respond to human need – the need for compassion and the need for order. The mother of the three kids killed in the Philadelphia car-jacking tragedy died last night.

Based on evidential data and trend lines, things don’t look good for us. The odds for a future filled with God’s peace, shalom, seem as long as the odds for tomatoes in October.  But our hope is not based on evidential data and trend lines. It is built on the promises of God, a “sure and steadfast anchor for the soul” (Hebrews 6:9).  It is based on the reality that “he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23). My hope is built on nothing less

Christian hope is more than wishful thinking. It is rooted in the stories of God’s deliverance told in the Bible – through the Red Sea from Pharaoh’s oppression and on Calvary’s cross from sin’s strong hold.  It is confirmed in the reality of the Holy Spirit at work, tangibly at work, confirming the promises of the Word in the life of the individual believer, you and me.

There are signs that Christian hope is not misplaced all around: in Africa, the work of mission partners John and Jessica Cropsey, for instance (note their plea for prayer for Dr. Kent Brantly); the work of PLM in Guatemala, keeping kids at home and helping them become faithful and productive citizens (the jug is waiting for your pennies, nickels and dimes); even in northern Iraq as GAiN, another of our mission partners, seeks to aid refugees from the genocide (your Mission Committee has allocated $4,000 in Pentecost Offering and other funds to help in the work there); signs of Christian hope abound in north Philadelphia as HPCA prepares for the next school year (you can help prepare by being a part of the painting and clean-up team on August 23 or by providing some much-need classroom supplies – sign up in the narthex).

Signs of Christian hope are all around the church as friends reach out to friends sharing love and concern in Christ’s name. Signs of Christian hope are seen at LPC as new members are welcomed to our fellowship and when we are so bold as to send a post card to those with whom we want to share.  It’s a great sign of hope when men and women, children and youth, gather around the Word to hear its hope, to learn its gospel.

I’m not betting on tomatoes in October, but the yellow blossoms on our tomato plants make me happy. I take them as a reminder that even in August, 2014, God is at work and invites us to join him in his hope-filled work.