"Cultivate Your Own Garden"

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – February 2, 2014

Centenary United Methodist Church

Micah 6:1-8; Matthew 5:1-12

    This morning, let us pretend for awhile that we are children as I read a story to you.  Most of us may remember it.  However, as children we may not have understood all the implications for the adult world that the author had in mind.  Listen again to the story of The Little Red Hen.

Once upon a time, there was a little red hen that lived on a farm.  She was friends with a lazy dog, a sleepy cat and a noisy yellow duck. One day the little red hen discovered some seeds and she had an idea.  ‘I will plant these seeds and grow a crop of wheat,’ she said.  ‘Who will help me plant these seeds? ‘Not I’, barked the lazy dog. ‘Not I,’ purred the sleepy cat.  ‘Not I,’ quacked the noisy yellow duck.  ‘Well, I guess I will plant them by myself,’ she said.


When the plants had grown, she asked her friends, ‘Who will help me harvest the wheat?’  Once again her friends showed no enthusiasm to help her so she said to herself, ‘I guess I will cut the wheat by myself.’


When all the wheat was cut, the little red hen asked her friends, ‘Who will help me take the wheat to the mill so it can be ground into flour?’  Once again her three friends said, ‘Not today’ so, she performed these tasks by herself.


‘Now, who will help me bake the bread?’ she asked  To her chagrin, her friends were not the least bit interested in helping, so she baked the bread by herself.


Once the bread had been baked she asked her friends, ‘Who will help me eat the bread?’  Her three friends jumped to their feet and gathered around her enthusiastically.  Each exclaimed, ‘I will help you eat the bread!’  But, it was too late. She had done all the work by herself so she chose to enjoy the fruits of her labor by herself.

    Our Gospel lesson this morning features the Beatitudes.  Each verse describes how happy people become once they have cultivated certain attitudes toward life. This is why they are the Be Attitudes because they are attitudes of being fully human.  One of the key aspects of Jesus’ teachings is that sharing the skills of spirit is absolutely impossible to do.  The author of The Little Red Hen had a point.  What was that point?  Let me give you some examples.

    My brother-in-law, Ron, is one of the finest Tool & Die makers in his craft.  He has the skills that allow him to create any part that will give some failed machine a new life.  However, no matter how generous Ron is with his time and talents, or how compassionate he may be feeling toward others, it is impossible for him to give away the skills he has developed through the years by demanding the best from himself.

    There was a time when Michelangelo was walking through a quarry when he spotted a chunk of marble that had been discarded by a well-known master sculptor.  He told his assistant to take the piece back to his studio.  The young man knew the history of that particular piece.  He reminded Michelangelo why it had been rejected and who had rejected it.  While this was true, Michelangelo responded, “I see an angel in that piece that needs to be liberated.”  That angel can be seen today among some of Michelangelo’s other creations at St. Peter’s in Rome.

    Did anyone give Michelangelo the imagination that enabled him to see the angel in that piece of rejected marble?  Did anyone give him the skills to do what another master craftsman thought was impossible?  The answer is the same for everyone who has used their imagination, vision and confidence in developing their skills. 

    What did the little red hen have in common with Ron and Michelangelo?  When a story begins with talking animals, we can rest assured that a profound lesson will be woven into the unfolding of the drama.  First the little red hen made a discovery, then she learned how to plant the seeds, how to harvest the wheat, how to convert the wheat into flour and finally how to bake.  She could not give away to anyone the skills she had developed on her way to creating a finished product.

    The author of this children’s story was teaching the same lesson that Jesus was teaching with his Beatitudes.  The fruits of a person’s skill development will always belong to them.  We can share our happiness with everyone but we cannot put someone else in possession of this marvelous daily attitude.      

    Today, the world is filled with many cookie-cutter people.  These are people who have walked in the paths that others have taken before them. These people have completed their education, found a job, got married, had their families, never rocked the boat politically in their work environment and retired with a comfortable income.  They have done everything right to get through life with as few challenges as possible. 

    There is a greater truth available to people.  Just as each person has a distinctive set of fingerprints, so there are no two human beings that are alike.  The Beatitudes teach us that happiness is a consequence when people spend time cultivating their own gardens.

    Many Christians have wondered why Jesus said, “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the world?  No, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  (Matthew 10:34)  When we consider the quality of Jesus’ other teachings, it becomes very clear what he meant by these words.  There was absolutely no violence intended when he expressed this thought.  Jesus was merely stating a well-known fact -- his teachings are like a sword that divides people.

    Those who understand their need to cultivate their own garden are like the little red hen.  They generate and cultivate consequences that are remarkable. This is the person in Jesus’ parable that invested his master’s 10,000 dollars and doubled it by the time the master returned. This is the person that found a treasure buried in the field and bought the field.  This is the one that searched everywhere for the perfect pearl and after finding it, he bought it.  

    There was a young man in one of my early youth groups that went to college after his high school experience.  During his first year, he decided that college was not for him.  After learning of his decision, his mother wrote to me and asked if I would encourage her son to finish his degree. 

    I wrote a letter to Glenn that covered all the obvious reasons for him to complete his college education.  He wrote back and said how much he appreciated my concern and then his words went in a direction that I had to support.  He reflected on some of the lessons discussed during his youth group experience.  He had made a discovery and he wanted to follow it wherever it might lead just like the little red hen. There was no path.  He was flying solo with no safety net. He was a different student of life who did not need either a well-worn path or a safety net.  He was a risk taker.

    He became a salesman for a foreign auto parts dealer.  His commission checks were so large that he became the highest paid employee.  His insights recognized that the company was not being managed well.  The owner had little ability to manage his expenses.  With the help of a small business loan, Glenn made an offer to buy the company and the owner accepted.  He had discovered the pearl of great price and bought it.  As the years passed, he proceeded to open three other stores.

    The people who have made a success of themselves are often those that have learned to cultivate their own garden. They make a discovery that opens opportunities for them to pursue a dream.  By persevering, they generate a quality of life where happiness and fulfillment are by-products. 

    One day, author and lecturer Wayne Dyer had finished speaking to a crowd of over 3,000 people on the topic of becoming a no-limit-person.  He was mingling with people following his presentation when a woman approached him.  She asked, “Do you ever have a bad day?”  Dyer answered, “There was a time when I had plenty of them. Today, I can tell you that I have not had a depressing day for over 35 years.”  She asked, “How can you say that?  It is normal for people to have bad days.  Everybody has them.”

    Wayne responded,  

I do not want to give you the impression that I no longer have problems.  We all have problems, losses and disappointments.  However, to surrender the quality of any of my days because of someone or some event, that is too expensive.  No one rains on any of my days.  This is how I make my responses.  The difference between people is how they choose to respond. If you don’t like the results of how life appears to be treating you, change how you respond. 


     People that cultivate their own gardens are those who take responsibility for every emotion they have.  They do not blame the size of their bodies on Lindo’s or The Market Place because those stores have their pastries attractively displayed.  They do not blame their parents, society, or their school system for not giving them the opportunities they feel that they deserved. 

     People that cultivate their own gardens never become victims of anyone or anything.  Why?  Because being victimized is a judgment that people make when circumstances did not work out as they had hoped.  Those who cultivate their own gardens realize that poor responses will not change what has happened.   In fact, the only thing poor responses change is our attitude. Instead of becoming frustrated and unhappy, why not shrug and say, “Something better is on its way.” 

    Every one of the Beatitudes begins with “Blessed are those that. . .”  Another translation begins, “Happy are those who . . .”   In each instance, Jesus was referring to people that experienced marvelous consequences because they discovered some seeds, planted them and began to cultivate their own gardens to produce a harvest.

    We can do the same thing whether we are 18 or 95 years of age.  No one is too young or too old to cultivate their own garden.  Each garden will make our world a more beautiful place for men and women to live.