Saturday, September 19, 2015

A New Kind of Tree

What is it to “bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Lk. 3:7-9)? It isn’t just to bear fruit at all or even to bear a new kind of fruit. It is to be a new kind of tree. John the Baptizer calls out the false piety of outward religion, the superficial or even genetic identification with Abraham. This isn’t enough for God. The ax is laid at the root—the root. Trees are getting cut down and thrown into fire. God wants a new kind of tree—the kind of tree that bears repentance fruits…God fruits.

“Only God can make a tree,” wrote poet Joyce Kilmer. And only God can change the kind of tree we are. But we must throw open our branch-arms and turn our leafy faces heavenward. We must absorb the sun and rain of the Spirit graciously falling on us, descending upon us like a dove. We must uproot ourselves and cast ourselves into the baptismal waters…and into the baptismal fire.

Following John the Baptizer, Jesus becomes very concerned that we bear fruit. But this isn’t like someone standing in front of an apple tree sapling yelling, “Grow, darn you! Bear fruit!” This is Jesus graciously offering the health and abundance that are the natural result of life with God—life fully with God. This life is the shalom—the universal well-being—all humanity and all creation were made for: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). Fruits worthy of repentance are the life that results from becoming a new kind of tree, a tree deeply rooted in the nourishing ground of God and bearing the fruit of love.

So this tree we are becoming, this new kind of tree, turns out to be the oldest, ageless tree--a tree growing in the fertile Ground of our very being in God. This Ground is the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And this Trinity is the context of our new reality and worldview (see Matt. 28:18-20). So, we are a tree that emerges from the Ground of being, nourished by the waters of baptism and the body and blood of the Lord, and bearing the fruits of the love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--fruits worthy of repentance.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Can He Get a Witness?

Jesus promises power to his followers, power to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). But witnesses to what, exactly? Luke is keen on connecting Acts to his “first book,” his Gospel. When we look there, we see Jesus commissioning the disciples to witness to his suffering and rising, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations (Lk. 24:46-48). But how can those of us who didn’t literally witness his suffering and rising still be such witnesses?

We continue to preach Jesus’ suffering and rising, of course. But our witness seems especially alive when we live and act in solidarity with those who suffer, especially when we do so in righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. This is not just a sing-songy Christian happiness, but deep kingdom-bringing. It is justice-seeking, peace-making, and abiding contentment because of the presence of God. This brings the “rising” into the midst of the “suffering.”

This witness also includes disciple-making. This is taking up one’s cross in the spirit of self-denial and following Jesus. This sweeps in the message of “repentance and forgiveness of sins,” turning from self-glorification and worldly allegiances to humble service and freedom in Christ. Jesus’ commission in Mt. 28:18-20 fits here, with its new worldview of Christ’s authority, life with the Trinity, and obedience to Christ.

So this is the “power” we receive: 

  • To proclaim and live the message of suffering and rising; 
  • To herald the authority and liberation of the risen King;
  • To live and lead in the way of forgiveness and humble service. 

In a larger sense, the power we receive is the power to give up power, thereby witnessing to the
true King. Can he get a witness?

My Friend Thomas

I met Thomas when we ditched school together. We were 16, and my friend Scott and I had planned to skip out after homeroom and take Scott’s ...