Stone-picking and Pineapple Love

A Labour of Love (photo of our pineapple plant by Martin Malina 8 Feb 2023)

6I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field …”[1]

Tuesday is Valentine’s Day. So let me begin by talking about what Jessica loves. I believe she loves me, yes. But she also loves pineapples.

Yes, pineapples. Almost ten years ago, for a classroom experiment (but also because she loves pineapples), Jessica cut off the head of a pineapple—the part with the green stalk coming out from the top. For a week or so she left the top part sitting in a bowl of water until some tiny roots emerged. Then she planted it in a pot of earth. And left it.

At the start of the pandemic almost three years ago, she brought the plant home from the classroom. I was shocked to see that a woody stem had grown about two feet tall. But it needed to be supported by a stick to which it was tied. Otherwise, it would fall over. On top of the stem was a tuft of green leaves. And there were some leaves grouped together at the bottom near the earth. Kind of ugly.

Over the summer months we kept it inside, watered it and cared for it the best way we could. But nothing happened. It didn’t die. But it also did absolutely nothing. It didn’t grow more leaves or taller. 

So, without doing any research whatsoever I acted on my green thumb intuition. Big risk! I pruned it. I cut it off down to that bottom growth. And then continued watering it, keeping it by a sunny window and watching it grow over the past few years.

Then, I did the research, a little bit anyway. I learned that pineapples don’t actually grow on trees. They’re grown from the center of a leafy plant. The conditions for growing pineapples must be ‘just right’. Growing pineapples is a complex process and therefore most of it is done by hand. It is labour intensive, since there needs to be a high percentage of sunny days with temperatures between 18 and 35 degrees Celsius. If it’s too cool the taste will be sour. If it’s too hot, they’ll be extra sweet. They grow best in sandy, loamy soil. 

And those conditions are not perfectly met in our home. It’s now been at least a decade since Jessica started her experiment. And, while there is sign of life and growth in this journey, we still haven’t harvested our first pineapple from this plant.

Saint Paul writes in today’s Epistle reading that “God gives the growth”, and uses an organic, natural analogy to make the point that spiritual maturity and growth in Christ take time. Just like it takes a long time to grow anything—a tree, a plant—so, too, growing in faith is a process. It requires the long view.

Even if all the rules are followed, growing ‘by the law’ does not guarantee fulfillment in faith. Loving something cannot be done ‘by the book’, because it will be by nature an imperfect effort. In fact, I don’t believe we will ever harvest a single pineapple from our plant. But we continue labouring anyway, and we stick to it because love comes from the heart. And, you never know …

Paul concludes his sermon by telling the church in Corinth that “you are God’s field.” In the bible, we are called many things: sheep, Christ’s body, children of God. But here we find an interesting analogy: God’s field. We are the ground in which God’s plants are watered and nourished, and out of which grow the fruit of God’s purpose.

We are the field. In my first parish which was in the middle of southern Ontario farmland near Stratford, Jessica and I once visited friends on their farm in the Springtime. On a relatively dry day, we spent an afternoon walking on the fields which would be planted soon with soybean seeds. 

We picked stones. The frost of the winter brought to the surface rocks and stones. Farmers will sometimes go through their fields in Spring and remove the stones which they then pile along fence lines and corners of their properties.

Stone-picking is an arduous and painstaking task. You basically wander across the expanse of the field picking up the rocks into pails which when filled you need to dump along the side of fence. And go back and fill another pail. Talk about commitment to your land! It’s a work of love.

This is God’s work. God wanders through the wasteland of our lives, painstakingly picking up the rocks, pulling them from our “hearts of stone”. We are the field. God is the stone-picker. God is faithful, combing through the nether regions of our lives, working the field, year after year. Year after year.

It’s a process. Growth takes time, maybe even a lifetime. But God’s love and faithfulness never fail. God never fails at doing His part: forgiving us when we make mistakes—when we judge others, when we fail in our relationships, when we can’t love for whatever reasons.

God continues His work, turning the soil of our lives, showing mercy, being faithful, envisioning, and growing us to, the life we can have and will one day have, bearing abundant fruit.

[1] 1 Corinthians 3:6-9

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