Abraham, Tomatoes and the Early Church
Reflections on stewardship

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing….And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb. Genesis 12:1-2, 9

While staying with them, Jesus ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” Jesus said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now”…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:4-5, 8

Have you ever planted tomatoes? There is nothing like a fresh tomato, right off the vine.

I am a rather novice gardener, this being my second full season. Tomatoes planted in March will bear fruit fairly steadily throughout the summer. But once September comes, be prepared—your plants will start to wilt, leaves turn brown, and the green tomatoes that are left will take an inordinate amount of time to even approach the color red. I have learned to mourn the approaching end of my tomato crop as the days begin to shorten and the summer wanes.

But then I happened upon an article written by Ron Vanderhoff in the Daily Pilot that may have just changed my life. Okay, maybe not my life, but it may allow me to enjoy those fresh tomatoes on into the fall. He describes my situation with disturbing accuracy:

“The first and most difficult step for a gardener is to give up on their spring-planted tomatoes. Easier said than done. The humanness in us wants to give them a little more time.
Although the plant looks awful, we think to ourselves, "there's still a chance it will recover." A noble thought, but not likely. It's a down-ward slide from this point on for a struggling tomato. Yes, there is a handful of small green fruit on the plant, so you say to yourself, "I'll just wait until these turn red, then I'll start a new plant."
You know the scenario. A month later you pluck the three or four ripe tomatoes. But now you notice two more little green ones coming along, "Just a little longer, until these are ready?"
By now, it's October or November and too late to have any success with a fall tomato crop. Sound familiar?”

So I did it. I dug up those waning March tomato plants and put in my fall tomato crop. It was difficult—the spring tomatoes still had so many green baby tomatoes, full of potential. It was hard to let them go and risk pulling them out without a sure thing in place. At least a few tomatoes would be better than no tomatoes, right?

At this point you may very well be wondering what tomatoes have to do with the Scripture—and rightly so! But somehow in pondering the story of Abraham (still Abram in our text), the story of the early church in Acts, and my recent en-deavors with tomatoes, they became intertwined.

God called Abram to get up and go—to leave his country, his kindred, and his father’s house—to “the land that I will show you.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds a bit vague to me. Can you imagine saying to friends, “Yes, we are moving, the whole family. Where are we going? Well, we’re not really sure, but we are just going to set out and go to the place where God shows us. It did make it a bit difficult to rent the U-Haul…” But Abram did go, and Genesis says, “he journeyed on by stages.” He didn’t get there all at once—it was a process. But he went.

Sort of like the tomatoes. It was a risk to pull out the old with no guarantee of the new. It was a risk to let go of what was known, even if waning, in favor of what may possibly bear fruit.

Sort of like the early church in Acts, called to wait, but then to be sent out, to be witnesses in Jerusalem (at home), in all Judea (nearby) and Samaria (the place that is most looked down upon), and to the ends of the earth (and everywhere else). It would have been safer for the early church to keep to themselves—Jesus had just been killed by the authorities, after all. Better not to make any waves. But those early disciples were called to be sent—next door and out into the world. In order to bear fruit they had to be uprooted.

Even if you are tracking with Abraham, the tomatoes and the early church at this point, you may be wondering what the bookmark and postcard you have been given have to do with anything.

The bookmark is for you to keep. It is to be a reminder, during this season, of who we are called to be, who God has called us to be and to become. Put it somewhere that you will see it or use it—in your Bible or your favorite NY Times bestseller, on the fridge or the bathroom mirror.

The postcard is for you to send. It is a reminder that we are called to be sent. Send it to whoever you choose—your grandmother, your grandson, your neighbor Maggie, your Uncle Bill, a friend far away, a friend down the street. Use it how you choose, but send it. It is not meant to be kept to yourself. It is meant to be sent.

Finally, you may wonder what all of this has to do with stewardship. Stewardship, to be a good steward, at its heart is about becoming the people that God has created us to be. That becoming requires reflection—what has God given me, in terms of my resources, yes, but also in terms of my gifts, skills, passions, personality and temperament?

Just as Abraham was blessed by God to be a blessing, just as the early church was gathered together in order to be sent out into the world—both of which require the risk of uprooting and being willing to plant something new, something that promises to bear fruit—so do we need to consider, as a church and as individuals, what will we do with what we’ve been given?

I invite you to enter this season of reflection.