Sunday, July 8, 2007
HEALTHY ROOTS PRODUCE ENDURING FRUITS
A person away from home is like a bird away from its nest.
[The righteous] are like trees that grow beside a stream, that bear fruit at the right time, and whose leaves do not dry up.
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: if you fall down, your friend can help you up. But pity the one who falls and has no one to help! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali... From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'
After this, Jesus went around in Galilee, purposely staying away from Judea because the Jews there were waiting to take his life. But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus' brothers said to him, 'You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do... Jesus told them, 'The right time for me has not yet come...' However, after his brothers had left for the feast, he went also, not publicly, but in secret.
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone who had a need... All the believers were one in heart and mind. They did not claim any of their possessions as their own, but they shared everything they had.
(Proverbs 27: 8, GNB; Psalm 1: 3, GNB; Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12; Matthew 4: 12, 13-17; John 7: 1-3, 6--10; Acts 2: 44-45; 4:32 -all NIV)
A Yale University psychologist, Daniel Levinson, reports in his study of Yale graduates, Seasons of a Man's Life, that few of them had friends after high school. In a changing corporate environment, they found some companions with common interests, but where were the long-term bonds of friends who really knew and depended on each other?
We might preface any move to a different place or position with a life-sustaining inquiry: will we make friends there? The question occurs for us because we sometimes have to move -- as Jesus did.
According to Matthew, Jesus did not begin his public ministry until he had chosen a home. The context of Jesus' 'locating' may provide some answers to questions about the need to have a settled place.
Locating in Capernaum came after two unsettling events. First there was the temptation in the wilderness. That occurred at the only time in Jesus' ministry when he was without human companionship. Is this significant?
Well, consider the other time of temptation in Gethsemane when the sorrow in his heart almost crushed him. What he required then was the prayerful presence of his closest companions. Jesus' advice to his sleepy disciples was 'watch and pray'. Watch for what? They were to be aware of each other and sustained by alert and caring partners. This is what he needed, what they needed -and how about us?
Prayer is nourished in friendship and, in a time of crisis, we want dependable, 'watchful' friends. And how is that possible without tested experiences of reliability and daily or weekly contacts that let us know the needs of another whom we cherish?
In the second 'unsettling' event that precipitated the locating in Capernaum, Matthew explains Jesus' move in terms of security. He wanted to be away from the political territory of the murderous Herod who had just imprisoned John the Baptist. Later, when his brothers goaded him to make a public journey into areas where Judean authorities sought his life, Jesus rejected them and 'stayed on in Galilee' until he knew the time had come for him to head towards Jerusalem.
So what's the right time for a secure place, and when do we know the time has come to venture out from a nurturing location?
For Jesus, there was a secure thirty year period of growth in body and mind among kin in Nazareth before his ministry. But as he began to itinerate throughout Galilee after he found a home in Capernaum, it wasn't long before his ministry brought him into conflict with his home town, Nazareth (Luke 4: 16-30) and his adopted home in Capernaum (Matthew 11: 20-24).
However, after those rejections he still found a home. He carried with him the ability to establish long-term bonds in a new location. For example, after the successful training mission for disciples, Jesus found rest in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus (Luke 10: 1-23, 38-42). This was the home to which he returned when a friend died (John 11) and the sanctuary for a symbolic anointing before his death (John 12: 1-8).
It takes time to find a home away from home. But more important than time is vulnerability. We need to know and let others know that companionship is more important than money, and appreciation for kindness than secular success. That's a problem, for modern professional and business life encourages the Judas in us to think about our purse and our piety whenever an understanding friend gets too close to our weaknesses.
Is it worth the effort to find and re-find a place? In the context of Jesus' ministry it would seem so. The choice of disciples (according to Matthew) came after Jesus found his new home in Capernaum and was out walking on the seashore. He observed Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John in the hometown activity, fishing. This was the context for strong and bold discipleship for them and for us. It can begin in one chosen place and should be sustained by the kind of friends we carry from those secure moments throughout life.
No-one would choose to live without friends, even if one had all other goods.
Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
Robert Frost, 'Death of a Hired Man'
We all want someone who knows us better than anyone else does, and yet accepts us, enjoys us, needs us, holds nothing back from us, keeps our secrets, and is there for us when we want to be near.
Lewis B. Smedes, Caring and Commitment
Our society doesn't promote friendship. Activities are promoted, new homes are pushed, materialism is hawked. But there is no structural push for friendship; it's more that you stumble into it.
Interviewee, 'The Friendship Paradox'
Life in contemporary suburbia, you may have noticed, is not conducive to friendship. Many of us live in 'bedroom communities,' sorry imitations of villages with no defined downtown areas and no sense of neighbourhoods. Newer suburbs, even if they possess some sort of downtown, rarely have footpaths more than a few blocks long. So suburbanites glide through their 'community' in automobiles, armoured and glassed off from their 'neighbours'. We work in one suburb (or the city), go to church in another suburb, shop in a third, and join health clubs in a fourth. Our children attend schools in separate neighbourhoods or even separate communities...
In short, the social and economic demands of suburbia create space for material attainment and status seeking, but destroy space for the practice of friendship. And it is not simple over-inflated rhetoric to say that friendship has become a counter-cultural practice. If such is the case, the church in suburbia may have a surprising new mission: to establish a cultural space for the birth and supported practice of friendship.
Rodney Clapp, 'The Celebration of Friendship'
In the community of faith we can find the climate and the support to sustain and deepen our prayer and we are enabled to constantly look forward beyond our immediate and often narrowing private needs. The community of faith offers the protective boundaries within which we can listen to our deepest longings, not to indulge in morbid introspection, but to find our God to whom they point. In the community of faith we can listen to our feelings of loneliness, to our desires for an embrace or a kiss, to our sexual urges, to our craving for sympathy, compassion or just a good word; also to our search for insight and to our hope for companionship and friendship.
In the community of faith we can listen to all these longings and find the courage, not to avoid them or cover them up, but to confront them in order to discern God's presence in their midst. There we can affirm each other in our waiting and also in the realisation that in the centre of our waiting the first intimacy with God is found. There we can be patiently together and let the suffering of each day convert our illusions into the prayer of a contrite people. The community of faith is indeed the climate and source of all prayer.
Henry Nouwen, Reaching Out
Most of us know that feeling of being alone, isolated. It's not the same as choosing to be alone once in a while, or being independent at times. It's the feeling that no-one is near, that no-one remembers, that there is no-one to live for. It's a feeling of deep isolation, of not belonging to anyone. And when we have that feeling, 'To whom?' becomes our lonely cry of distress and longing.
God hears that question. So what we do at such times is very important for our spiritual as well as for our emotional lives. We can try to escape the loneliness by working harder, even putting in overtime; by reading a book; by going to a bar and joining other lonely people sitting in a row; by playing tennis; by calling someone -anyone. Or we can stay with that loneliness a little while and become aware of life at a deeper level. If we do, we might realise that no amount of work, busyness, food or drink, even of companionship, will completely release us from our lonely condition. Something larger, deeper, more lasting is necessary...
Even when events and people say: 'You don't belong', God's gentle voice reassures us: 'You do belong -- to me.' 'to whom?' is a cry God can both hear and answer. In fact, God is waiting to answer, as a loving parent waits with open arms for a child who has left home.
The parable of the prodigal son tells us, 'There is a homecoming for us all because there is a home!' [Thielicke, The Waiting Father]. Belonging means we have an address, a place where we are 'at home'. We belong to God and God will not let us go as others might. That belonging is more lasting, more constant, more loving than any belonging that job, school, club, church, friends or even family can provide.
Don Postema, Space for God
It is important to remember that the Christian community is a waiting community, that is, a community which not only creates a sense of belonging, but also a sense of estrangement. In the Christian community we say to each other, 'We are together, but we cannot fulfil each other... we help each other, but we also have to remind each other that our destiny is beyond our togetherness.' The support of the Christian community is a support in common expectation. That requires a constant criticism of anyone who makes the community into a safe shelter or a cosy clique, and a constant encouragement to look forward to what is to come.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out
What is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian community is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let those who until now have had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God's grace from the bottom of their hearts.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
In life, no house, no home
my Lord on earth might have;
in death, no friendly tomb
but what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heaven was his home;
but mine the tomb wherein he lay.
Holy Spirit, our companion and guide,
Show us the way home. Construct in our imagination the heavenly city where we have perfect fellowship and never know any as strangers. Gather to us the people who share our vision, that we may be supported and challenged by citizens in the coming Kingdom of our Father.
Use our vision of the future kingdom to find an earthly resting place. Meet us with faith and love along the way, lest we become suffocated by ever-present greed and selfish shoving in the crowded ways of urban existence. Let the eternal city shine through the darkness of perverse relationships and the blinding rage of continuous betrayal. May we find a lampstand for our candle of love while others blindly stumble with curses against our mutual obstacles.
Place us where we may honour the diversity of others without losing ourselves. Provide for us the daily nourishment of a morning greeting, a special remembrance, a helping hand. Give us guarantees of your faithfulness in our return to hospitable surroundings at the end of the day and the quietness of a safe rest in the night. Open our eyes each day to fresh beauty in a small space that shows our satisfaction with where we are placed.
Surround us with enough peace and joy in our place today that tomorrow will be worth living for ourselves and others. Amen.
Go out into the world with a determination to live with contentment and hospitality wherever your place may be. May your roots go deep into the lives of others and bring forth the fruit of friendship that will endure to the glory of God. Amen.
Rivers in the Desert Ed. Rowland Croucher pp. 90-97