We parents are left with the books and toys of their childhood and we will probably hang on to them, saving them for the grandchildren. As we box them up and put them in the garage or up in the attic, we will shed a tear or two. But the greatest gift we ever gave them was a front-row seat for our faith. And now is not the time to put that treasure in storage. We have to guard that good treasure so that we can keep passing it on to them.
Making a place for young adults to connect with each other and with God is super exciting, but also more than a little scary. For what guarantee do we have that if we really go after these lost lambs, we won’t get lost ourselves? Every time I hear a version of this fear, every time I myself think that we three churches have enough struggles and we don’t have the resources to make room for a new church nor do we have the strength numerically or financially or any other way to support a new congregation, I hear the words of Jesus ringing in my ear, loud and clear: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” [Mark 8:35] I am convinced that these are the words that have to guide everything we do at Willow Glen. If we want to be found, we are going to have to be willing to get lost.
The question that came to my mind this week about this story is, “Did Jesus really stop the storm or did he lead the disciples into the center of it where everything is still? You’ve heard about the eye of a hurricane, that space in the center of the storm where the wind and water are strangely calm. Chaos and destruction are still going on all around, but in the center the pressure goes way down and there is peace. In light of the hurricane this week, I hear Jesus saying, “You can’t escape all the storms in your life. You’re just going to have to live through them. So get in my boat. We’re not going to evade or evacuate. I am going to take you right into the center of this storm. You will be safe there with me. We’ll ride it out together.”
We may never have had this honest a relationship with another person, but it’s the only kind of relationship we can have with God. The real you. The real me. Total honesty. Deep intimacy. That’s all that God wants from any of us and from all of us. That’s why God keeps sending out servants to bring in more and more of us. And here we come, the good and the bad, all mixed together. No table manners? No worries. Christ is a patient teacher. The One who knows us will grow us and give us all the humility, charity and honesty we need. This is one banquet that doesn’t need a bouncer.
In Kaleidoscope last week, someone noticed that Jesus told the woman that she was free even before he laid hands on her, before he healed her, before she stood up straight. Could that be because he knew that he had to free her mind before he could free her body? He had to cast off that crippling spirit that had let her disability do so much damage to her sense of self. First she had to be set free from the lies that told her that there was no wholeness in her and that there could be no healing for her. At some point in our lives, haven’t we believed those lies? We all have to be mentally and spiritually ready to be physically healed.
Jesus warned them not to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit. [Mark 3:29] I use to wonder what he meant. Now I’ve come to believe that we blaspheme against the Holy Spirit whenever we deny what is holy in ourselves or in others. The scribes denied that Jesus’ healing power was divine. They thought his power was diabolic. When any of us deny who we truly are, the power and the passion and the promise that God planted in each of us, we are blaspheming the Holy Spirit that is in us. Jesus refused to do that and so must we.
Coming home from a mission trip is always disorienting, even without mass shootings. Home doesn’t quite feel the same anymore. I’m probably not the only one who came back to Silicon Valley feeling like Abraham and Sarah, “strangers and foreigners on the earth.” Following Jesus by following Joe brought me to the realization that like Abraham, I am—we are—seeking a homeland, and it’s a shock to learn that this isn’t it. I love this nation, but the events of this past week only intensify the desire for “a better country” where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
This is the fourth and last in a short series of sermons about trees. By now you are probably wondering. While you can see how meditating on a tree might get a person thinking about God, what does all this “treeology” have to do with Christianity? Isn’t this all a bit New Age-y? I promised in the weekly email to talk about Jesus today, and I want to begin by reminding you of the old Shel Silverstein book, The Giving Tree.
Now it’s been four years. So far, I’m cancer-free. What the drugs have beaten down, the trees have helped to build back up. If I were a tree, you could count my growth rings. And as I said then, I say now: "I am grateful that God (and my church!) has given me the time and opportunity to be with the trees, because by God’s grace, they have enabled me to be free of fear and anxiety and to feel full of life and faith despite my diagnosis. And I do pray that my reflections have planted a few seeds in others. If my 'tree therapy' encourages even one person to seek their own healing in the forest or gives hope and strength to one person who is struggling through a challenging season, then I give God all thanks and praise."
You’ve seen them, the posters and t-shirts that say, “Advice from a…bear, a rock, a mountain, a lake. If you go to the nature store at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, you’ll see “Advice from a Tree.” The t-shirt or coffee mug will say: “Stand tall and proud; Go out on a limb; Remember your roots; Drink plenty of water; Be content with your natural beauty; Enjoy the view!” And that’s good advice as far as it goes, but if you want to go a little deeper, you might want to dig into the Bible. You can’t put it all on a throw pillow or a mouse pad, but you can learn a lot more from trees, and we have a forest of them in the Bible, beginning in the Garden of Eden in the Book of Genesis.