Sunday, July 10, 2016

Working in the garden of Christian Community

Surrounding almost every Estonian home is a masterful garden.  When the weather is pleasant, I often see Estonians tending to their gardens and other outdoor projects.  The other day the pastor invited the interns to help out with a project in his yard the following day.  He texted us the morning of to say that he might start on the project that afternoon since it was raining that morning.  The rain, however, continued to fall throughout the day. I met up with the other intern that evening for the church worship service and we walked over to the pastor’s house afterwards.  We found the pastor taking a break, standing by a pile of burning wood, having worked most of the day on the outdoor project.  Despite the unaccommodating weather, the yard was being improved upon so that even more work could be done on it when the weather was more pleasant for being outside.

When do we invest in the life of the Christian community?  Do we wait for the ideal weather to come along when it is pleasant to be in the midst of such community, rather than being present and active even when the community doesn’t meet our ideals?  

In Matthew 14, the Jesus’ disciples urge him to send the crowds away that they may buy food for themselves since they think they don’t have enough to share.  Jesus instead tells them to give what they have (five loaves and two fish) to him, blesses it, and the crowd partakes in it and is satisfied with extra leftover.  In Matthew 15, Jesus again is with a crowd in a desolate place.  Rather than sending them away hungry, he tells his disciples to give them something to eat.  Again the disciples question how they could possibly give anything since they only had seven loaves of bread and a few small fish.  Jesus takes what they give him, blesses it, and the crowd’s empty bellies are filled.  By the time we reach Acts, it seems believers have finally caught on when we read in Acts 4:32-35 that believers shared everything they had so that no one among them was in need.  In these situations, the context is not what we might call ideal, yet by using what people contribute, God works through those situations and shows Himself sometimes even more fully than if those situations would have been ideal by our poor standards.

Dieterich Bonhoeffer in the book Life Together writes, “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”  When is the situation ideal to invest in Christian community?  This is not a question that we are invited to ask.  Instead of being invited to ask and dream, we are called to participate, even when it is raining, and hope.  Bonhoeffer continues, “The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.” Bonhoeffer also writes, “Human love breeds hot-house flowers; spiritual love creates the fruits that grow healthily in accord with God’s good will in the rain and storm and sunshine of God’s outdoors.  The existence of any Christian life together depends on whether it succeeds at the right time in bringing out the ability to distinguish between a human ideal and God’s reality, between spiritual and human community.”  Even in the rain, we are called to be gardeners and nurture that community which God is sustaining and growing.

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