Pressure seems to be mounting to finally get around to blogging again. When I said “ttyl,” I had no idea how “l” it would be. Three or four people kindly scolding me can be immensely motivating. Probably something from my childhood. So, here ’tis again!
In the late fall, I was looking out the window of our campus prayer center…praying with my eyes open, conversing with God. The “eyes closed, head bowed” thing seems over-rated to me. In any case, as I gazed out the window I noticed the trees and buildings on our small campus. The trees were stripped by fall winds. On the hill next to the prayer center there’s an amazing stand of very old, very large trees. An arborist tells me that we have the largest stand of healthy elms remaining in our area.
I studied the tangled branches shooting upward and outward from the trunk, strongly connected to one another and fully alive. Then I looked about at the several cottages, the large Tabernacle, the old house called Mission Manor. The trees flowed with a kind of wild order, reaching upward as if to praise the Creator. The cottages on the other hand were squat and squarish, painted the same bland beige, all very much in need of renewal. All of the buildings were boxy, right-angled structures. Though made of the same material essence as those trees, they were dead, static, and confining by any standard of design or comfort. We cannot utilize the raw material of the tree to build what we will build without losing the life, beauty, reproduction and renewability of the tree.
The Church of Christ, both local and global, is a living organism. Our individual relationship with Christ is also a living thing with fluidity, complexity, and a wild order. No matter the creativity and novelty of the design, human constructions seem to fall short. The grandeur of a vast complex (think Mall of America) impresses but the complexity of a living organism surpasses. To put it simply, Joyce Kilmer was right.
My apologies to the Apostle Paul who told the Corinthian Church that they were simultaneously God’s garden and God’s building. I must conclude from the broad sweep of Scripture that organic metaphors better capture the life of Christ in us than do mechanical or structural metaphors. The report of Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, the 15th chapter, seems to make the case: “ I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing.” (The Message)
Though well-intentioned in plan and noble of purpose, the walled cities we build cannot match wild branches, lush leaves, and abundant fruit. This reality is likely why somewhere along in my pastoral life a mentor told me that “every pastor should have a garden.” My wife got all the green genes in our family but the lessson was not lost. In our highly technologized age, the need to separate from buzzes and beeps to feel the wind or hear the birds is not just important, it is soul survival.
Having said all of that, let me get to the real point. In preparing a sermon for last Sunday, I was confronted by Jesus as He confronted the Church at Ephesus in a message mediated by John the Revelator. “You have forsaken your first love” was the message. I took it to heart.
Anyone watching me would conclude (at worst) that my Blackberry is my first love. In better moments, my first love might be perceived as wife, kids or grandkids. Authors Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola believe the church suffers from a “Jesus Deficit Disorder.” To grab the metaphor, it’s too much about our manmade structures (or in the case of the individual, habits and pleasures and things) than God-given liveliness through Jesus Christ.
Jesus told the Ephesians to remember what they once were in Christ and to turn back to Him. Sunday as I received the Lord’s Supper and led others in doing the same, I ate and drank to the restoration of first love awareness of Jesus playing life-giving vine to my fruit-producing branch. This “for to me to live is Christ” priority goes far in restoring the wild order of following Jesus, fully alive and unconfined by my manmade boxes.