Category Archives: The Cross
For us, one of life’s blessings is volunteering at a nature center dedicated to education. An expert in native and edible plants led a walk recently during which he taught me (among many other things) that thorny plants indicate land healing itself. Ohio, for example, was once 90% covered with old growth forests. By 1900, only 10% of the state was forested. Once cleared, some of the most productive farmland on earth was available to settlers.
Leave the cleared land alone and grasses will grow and meadows will soon fill with thorny plants of various kinds. Many have brightly colored berries that call to the birds,
“Eat me, poop out the seeds and spread us around!”
The thorns, on the other hand, broadcast a different message to animals:
“Don’t walk here and don’t try to eat us. You’ll be sorry if you do.”
Without animals chewing and trampling on things, box elder trees grow quickly, then give way to walnut trees, which give way to the mighty oaks of the mature forest. The land, once denuded, is healed and whole.
Native people inhabited this land for 10,000 years before any European set foot on it.
One cannot exaggerate the arrogance of European explorers and settlers who “discovered” and “claimed” the lands, then proceeded with campaigns of genocide, all in the name of God.
The native people knew the forests and managed the land with care. They understood the healing heralded by the thorns.
Thankfully, there are many of us who are coming to understand our proper calling in God’s world – ours is a stewardship to protect and care for creation. We are beginning to grasp the reality that we are a part of nature, interconnected with all living things. We are learning to garden organically, eat locally sourced foods, compost vegetation, and recycle. We are seeing the absurdity of scraping off topsoil and laying down non-native sod, and of eradicating those thorny “weeds” with lymphoma-inducing herbicides.
Many of us care about the air we breathe and the water we drink. We want our beaches to be free of oil. We want the nations of the world to transition quickly to sustainable energy so that millions won’t have to die in floods and fires. We are learning that the first task God gave humans in Genesis was to care for God’s garden.
As with nature, so with us. The interior person reflects the outer world with which she is systemically connected.
Some of my kin may have slashed and burned great forests to plant crops.
I cannot judge them.
I have slashed and burned relationships, opportunities, and talents.
I am the wounded field.
Thorns appear. Yes, and some fruit as well.
I tend to only see the thorns.
Hunger drives the cougar to the hunt.
The hot knife cauterizes the wound.
Though I long to be a mighty oak in the divine forest, I am reminded that God calls
the weak “strong,”
the less “more,”
the slave “master,”
and the poor “blessed.”
See us! Thorny weeds, one and all!
The Master is healing.
Ask the average Christian today why Jesus had to die on the cross and he will likely say something to the effect of “to pay for our sins.”
Had you asked the same question to any Christian during the first four centuries of Christianity, they would have replied, “to destroy the works of the devil.”
Both answers are biblical and correct, but the first is too narrow. It doesn’t go far enough. Yes, we are all sinners. True, our sins separate us from God. And, yes, Jesus paid for our sins on the cross so that now we can be completely forgiven and adopted into God’s forever family. Hallelujah! Thank you, Jesus!
But Jesus did more than that on the cross. He destroyed the works of evil. (1 John 3:8 ESV: The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.)
No one knew it at the time, but on Good Friday, everything changed. Jesus absorbed into his sinless being all the evil in the universe. All that is wrong, hurtful, evil, unjust – all of the chaos in the cosmos – imploded. The forces of darkness are utterly defeated. As a result, God has begun God’s reign on the earth now. We as individuals get to participate in that reign as new creations. We are collectively invited to join God as God makes all things new.
We join God as Jesus makes all things new by doing what Jesus said to do. We participate in the Kingdom of God by conforming our lives to the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7)
We can’t do it alone. We need each other. We need the strength and guidance of others. Together, we seek to live with Jesus, learning from Jesus, how to be like Jesus. Together, we hold up a mirror to power and defend the poor, weak, displaced, marginalized, disenfranchised, and victimized.
Ask the average Christian today what it means to follow Jesus, and they will likely give you a theological answer about atonement and immortality.
Ask the average non-Christian today what it means to follow Jesus, and almost invariably they will respond, “Love your enemies.”
Why is it that many non-Christians get it and many church-goers do not?
Most North American churches are built on the attractional model. They do things that they hope will attract people to their buildings. They build beautiful buildings, develop pleasing campuses, present professional high-quality music, pour money into state-of-the-art audio-visual systems, acquire expert programing for kids from infancy through High School, and hire dynamic preaching teams to focus on felt needs. And, it works. If you build it, they will come.
Or, at least it did work, pre-pandemic for people over 45.
After a year and a half of on-line worship services, only about 25% of parishioners are returning to church buildings. Perhaps that will increase if COVID-19 ever stops mutating because the vast majority of people get fully vaccinated. It will likely never go back to previous levels, however.
In my view, that’s a good thing. The attractional model was never biblical to begin with. We, the community of faith, are the church, not a building. We’re supposed to go, not try to get others to come. The community of faith did quite well without any church buildings (basilicas) for three centuries. Simple home fellowships with bivocational leaders are much closer to the ideal. I cannot even imagine how much money churches spend on buildings, programs, and staff – money that could be spent on alleviating poverty and injustice, healing the sick, and strengthening the weak, which is what the gospel is supposed to be all about.
But, if all we’re doing is enjoying greater convenience, we’re missing the boat. Church isn’t about attracting people, entertaining people, or “getting people saved.” It’s about loving and serving others. To gather, virtually or in a home, in a small group to worship and learn should then empower us to heal, help, and herald God’s Kingdom.