So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! – 2 Corinthians 5:17
If you read this space often you know that I’ve quoted this scripture a lot lately. I think it’s because – for me – the heart of the gospel message, the good news about Jesus, is so clearly about new life, new possibilities, new creation, and a future loaded with living promise.
Consequently, both Rebekah and I were a little surprised this morning at breakfast to note that the roses on the kitchen table were beyond dead; and they’d evidently been that way for some time.
How had we let that one slip by?
Truth be told, leaving dead things in place is not that unusual. Sometimes we hang on to deceased traditions in the hopes that somehow they’ll spontaneously revive again; sometimes we’re simply in denial (“Oh, it’s not that bad, yellow roses often come back, maybe it’ll look better tomorrow…”); but mostly we just get used to the decline, we become inured to the decay, and we simply don’t see it any more.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS: I know a lot of church communities where people just seem to be hanging on, waiting for “the good old days” to come back around; but the blooms are drying up, the petals are falling off, and the leaves are curling. Because what they’re hanging on to isn’t Jesus, it’s tradition. They are, essentially, a vase of cut flowers and they aren’t rooted in anything that has any ability to give them life.
The vase of dead flowers reminds me of the story of Gamaliel (Acts 5) who pointed out that the early church would fall flat on its face if The Way was merely a human construction… “Because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them (vv 38-39).”
THE VINE: Here’s the thing. If the church is dying, then it’s not connected to the vine.
- The gospel isn’t about propping up human traditions, it’s about following Jesus;
- the good news is not about nostalgia, it’s about a restored relationship with God;
- the church won’t flourish because we follow the latest interpretation of The Law, it’s going to thrive because people meet Jesus there;
- salvation isn’t offered because people meet your particular catalog of standards, it comes when we accept – and live into – the saving grace of Jesus;
- new life will never animate the soul of a community that builds walls to protects itself, but will vitalize a community that gives itself away.
Rebekah and I often say that we have been called to bloom where we are planted; but that planting must be rooted in Jesus, or we’re simply going to dry up and die. The mission statement of Wake Forest Presbyterian Church puts it this way, “Rooted in Christ; Growing together in faith; Reaching out to others.”
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)