A devotion published by the Lutheran Diaconal Association Servant Ministry Support Committee in early 2022.
The Episcopal Church garden in Gary, Indiana.
Mark 13:1-8 the Gospel Reading for November 14, 2021, 25th Sunday after Pentecost
In September 2021 I had the great privilege of taking a walking tour to learn about history and resilience in Gary, Indiana, in a part of the city called Midtown. This is where VJ Records was located, where the Gary music scene was nurtured, that led to some of the most famous and important recording artists of all time. This is where mayor Richard Hatcher was elected the first African American mayor in the history of the United States. Where architect William Wilson Cook built some of the most iconic buildings of his time.
On that day, our footsteps traversed cracked sidewalks, overgrown empty lots where these iconic buildings used to stand but whose stones have since been cast down. And we visited community gardens. We visited four gardens on our 2-hour walking tour, and walked humbly through squash patches, tomato vines, sunflower forests, fruit and nut tree groves, beds of herbs and collards and chiles. We heard stories like that of the founder of the Episcopal church garden, who related how, when she saw that she had $2.10 left to her name, she heard God tell her to go buy seeds. And how the children at her church now have a “seed ministry,” where they save seeds so that others can start gardens too.
Midtown Gary, despite being the epicenter of the industrial age, is now a food desert, and many of its residents suffer from diet-related illnesses such as diabetes. Driving down Broadway in Midtown, the boarded-up buildings are interspersed with empty lots, not a supermarket in sight. But when you look closer, you also see food growing through the cracks, through the gravel.
After visiting one of the gardens, where I got to sample heirloom tomatoes that tasted like candy, I looked down and saw ground cherries growing out the cracks in the curb next to the road. I learned to eat these in Costa Rica, where I lived for nine years, and where the small fruits are called uchuas, little orange cherries wrapped in their own individual “leaf papers,” like a tomatillo.
The neighborhood around the garden is home to multi-generational black families, but also to burned-out houses, boarded up and used now for drug sales. In an economy where simple small homes in a white community are valued at $300,000, homes in this neighborhood of Gary are valued at around $43,000. The social divisions and lack of food that Jesus talks about in Mark are painfully evident here.
As we look around, walking humbly, listening, we see stones cast down from great buildings. Leaders come to lead us astray, people turning on other people. It is a stressful and uncertain time, and we can imagine how the disciples might have felt listening to Jesus talk about social upheaval. In the text, we can see that Jesus does not tell them that the world is ending, but rather that something new is being born.
As Christians, we know that God, in Jesus, is making all things new. We get to participate in this transformation, and we pay attention for the inbreaking of the reign of God, of justice, abundance, and peace for all, like green gardens in food deserts and fruits growing up through the sidewalk cracks. We may be frightened when we see beloved landmarks removed or our own privileges curtailed, but Jesus reminds us not to be alarmed.
We can pay attention for signs of new birth, and we can participate by planting seeds and watching them grow into food and into well-being, especially for the most vulnerable among us.
Questions for reflection:
How can your family or congregation choose transformation over despair in a tumultuous time?
What does the call to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly look like today in your community?
What does the image of a community garden mean to you in light of the text from Mark?
Lord whose love in humble service LBW #423
Be thou my vision WOV #776
Lord, help us to see the world how you see it, beyond the stone buildings that exist, to your reign. Let us not be distracted by those who would lead us astray, away from your vision of justice, mercy, and humility. When stones fall, or weeds grow, or things break, give us the courage to know that you are making all things new. Give us strength to be part of the transformation. Help us to see your blessings in the cracks in the sidewalk, and let those blessings be a gift to us and to all, especially to the oppressed or marginalized. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
About the author:
Deaconess Kat Peters is the Assistant Director of the Institute for Leadership and Service at Valparaiso University. She has her Master’s in Education and Master’s in Rural Development from San José, Costa Rica, where she lived for nine years while working in study abroad and as a Deaconess in the Central American Lutheran Church. She lives in Valparaiso, Indiana, with her Costa Rican husband, Anthony, their two sons and their cat.