(Based on Galatians 5:13-26 & John 13:31-35)
For a number of years we have had a garden plot in the community garden near the tennis courts in Walnut Grove. About three or four years ago, Susan and I became very excited when our son Ben started to take a keen interest in gardening. And one thing that Ben wanted more than anything else was to grow squash. So we tried growing squash. We tried growing it in different locations, and we tried different varieties of squash and we tried different methods of growing squash. But no matter what we tried, we were never able to grow squash, and Ben’s interest in gardening faded away. And it was the same with pumpkins and cucumbers, we could not grow those plants either. So Susan and I thought that perhaps we should give up that garden spot, but we decided to go ahead with gardening there one more year.
Now each spring, the people who run the community garden, Langley Environmental Partners Society, would bring in some compost for the gardeners to use in the garden beds. But this year, at the suggestion of one of the gardeners, they brought in mushroom manure instead of compost, and then they had a work bee and invited all the gardeners to attend. At the work bee, the mushroom manure was mixed with the compost from the compost bins that were at the community garden and gardeners could spread that mixture on their garden plots.
So we participated in the work bee and spread some of that mushroom manure and compost on our garden plot and we planted our garden like we usually do. But we had little hope. And this year turned out to be the best year for gardening that we have ever had. We were overrun with cucumbers. We ate raw cucumbers and sliced cucumbers and cucumber salads. We made pickles and relish. And in addition to the cucumbers, we had squash for the very first time. And something else that was totally new to us was that we had cantaloupe. And this happened to be a great year to grow cantaloupe in the Lower Mainland.
Our gardening experience this year was absolutely amazing! It was amazing because of what grew in our garden plot this year. But what was also amazing was that we did not plant cucumbers or squash or cantaloupe in our garden. It was a total surprise. We think that the seeds for those plants must have been in the compost that we mixed in with the mushroom manure.
And I tell you that story, not as an example of how to garden, but as an illustration of faith. I know that in my life, and perhaps it is the same way in yours, that I trust in God for the forgiveness of my sins and eternal life, just like gardeners trust in God for the sun and the rain. We already know that we cannot supply those things. But when it comes to other things in my lives, like my identity, and where I get the love that I need, and how I relate to the other people in my life, I try to look after those things on my own. I don’t really trust God for those things, even though the Bible says that I should, and then I wonder why my life does not produce much in the way of spiritual fruit. And the key issue in that whole matter is faith. And the faith question is: Do I really trust that what God says about me is true?
Over the past couple of weeks we have been thinking about faith. We have considered how faith is simply trust, and trust is important in any relationship, but especially in our relationship with God. But what is different about our relationship with God, from our relationship with everyone else, is that God is able to do far more than we can ask or imagine, so it is important for us to aim high with our faith.
Last week we thought about how faith is transferred down through the generations from one person to another not because of superior technique but because of love, and that our faith needs to be exercised and stretched so that we can receive God’s love in our lives. And when other people can see God’s love in our lives, that love attracts them. And that is how faith is transferred.
This week we are thinking about faith in the context of community. Our faith is directed towards God, but our faith is always lived out in community. But that goes against the grain of our culture. In the western world, we tend to think of ourselves, first and foremost, as individuals, rather than as part of a group. We value our ability to make independent choices unfettered by the concerns of others and we give more weight to outcomes that will benefit us than those that benefit any group that we may belong to. This cult of individualism has even affected the church in the west to the point where “me and Jesus” have become the primary concern of our faith and we ignore the other parts of the body of Christ because we have deemed them to be nonessential and unneeded. Such a faith is stunted and unbiblical.
This past week, I began reading a book titled The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community. And in this book, authors Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens and Dwight Friesen refer to something they call the “myth of the individual.” They write, “When we talk about the myth of the individual, it’s not to say that people are not unique or that they do not have their own agency. It’s simply to say that the individual is not autonomous…. All of us are born dependent on others, and whether we recognize it or not, we rely on relationships throughout our lives. ‘Community is the essential form of reality,’ writes educator Parker Palmer, ‘the matrix of all being.’”
In the precious time Jesus had with his disciples on the night before he died, hespoke to them and to us, these words, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) These words of Jesus smash into smithereens the idea that being a Christian is all about just Jesus and me. Jesus tells us that following him involves loving other people and it is our love for other people that will indicate to the world that we are Jesus-followers.
The idea that our faith is lived out in community is emphasized further by the many other times that the phrase “one another” is used in the Bible. This phrase is used 100 times in 94 New Testament verses. One-third of the “one another” verses deal with people in the Christian Church getting along with each other. For example, “Be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50); Don’t grumble among one another (John 6:43); Accept one another (Romans 15:7); Be kind, tender-hearted, and forgiving to one another (Colossians 3:13); Confess sins to one another (James 5:16).” One third of these verses tell us Jesus-followers to love one another. 15% of them encourage us to have an attitude of humility and deference towards others. And the rest of the “one another” verses encourage us to do things like not judge one another, bear one another’s burdens, speak truth to one another, encourage and build up one another, pray for one another and be hospitable to one another.
Now if you are like me, what you are probably thinking thoughts like these: “The pastor is telling me that I need to do all of these one another verses. But I am already working as hard as I can to manage all of the things that I am already have going on in my life and I cannot do anymore. How am I supposed to do all these ‘one anothers’? I can’t.” And you are right. You and I cannot do all of these things.
It is time that we turn away from our old pattern and stop trusting in ourselves to do what the Bible calls us to do. As good as it may seem to be, trusting in ourselves to do what the Bible calls us to do is not only impossible, it is also very spiritually damaging, for we will either end up being prideful, when we think we are succeeding, or we will fall into despair when we fail, which is very likely.
When the Bible calls us to love, encourage, support and build up one another, it is describing what happens our spirit, which was brought to life when the Holy Spirit gave us the gift of faith, is fed and nourished with the unlimited and unconditional love that God has for us. And God has shown that love for you most clearly in the great and wonderful rescue that Jesus has carried out for the whole world when he lived a perfect human life, suffered and died on the cross and then rose again from the dead on the third day that followed. Jesus bought and paid for the forgiveness of all sins and eternal life with him for the whole world. And that gift is yours when you simply trust in Jesus.
And as great and wonderful as those gifts are, that is not all that Jesus has done for you. Jesus has also given you a new status and a new identity, which makes it very, very clear that Jesus has chosen each and every one of you to be the object of his love.
In his book Grace Walk, Steve McVey illustrates this very well. He writes,
Imagine that a king decreed that a pardon would be extended to all prostitutes. Would that be good news for you if you were a prostitute? Of course, it would. You wouldn’t have to worry any more about avoiding the law, or about having a criminal record. The pardon would definitely be good news to you. But it wouldn’t necessarily give you the motivation to change your lifestyle.
But suppose that in addition to extending the pardon, the king came to you personally and asked you to become his wife. Would that give you a reason to change the way you live? Absolutely! Who wouldn’t trade the life of a prostitute for that of a queen? Gaining a new identity as the king’s wife would be your motivation to abandon prostitution. .
Jesus has given you a new identity. You are the bride of Christ! You are a daughter or son of the great King! And he absolutely adores you! Jesus delights in you and he wants nothing more than to live life with you. And the only real challenge that you have in life is to decide whether or not you are actually going to live as if this is really true. Are you going to trust, on a moment-by-moment basis, that “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so”? Are you going to abandon the gardening that you are trying to do in your own life, which isn’t producing any good fruit anyway, and are you going to invite Jesus to come into all of your life and let him garden your entire life and produce the fruit that he knows can grow there?
Our faith is very, very important, but not because it makes all of our dreams come true. Our faith is very, very important because when we really trust that Jesus really loves us, that actually opens us up to receive Jesus’ love and that changes everything for us.
We are kind of like a garbage bag. You cannot put anything in a garbage bag until it is opened up. Without faith we are like unopened garbage bags. We cannot hold any of God’s love. But when you open up a garbage bag and stretch it over the rim of a garbage can, it develops an immense capacity for whatever you want to put in it. And so it is with faith. As we trust what God says to be true and live by it, we are opened up to receive more and more of his love. As we realize how much God loves us, we are then moved to love others in the same way. It happens naturally as God’s love overflows from our life and into the lives of others. So the key to loving other people is having faith, because our faith opens us up to receive God’s love and that enables us to love one another.
And a geometric shape that can help us to understand how this works is the triangle. Our faith is directed up towards God. As we trust what God says about us and live as if it is really true, we are opened up to receive the love that God pours in to our lives. As we realize how gracious, loving and accepting God has been towards us, we are then moved to be gracious, loving and accepting towards others. So love moves out from us to others. The triangle shape is up, in and out. Our faith is up, God’s love goes in, and then out.
I invite you to join with me in pointing up towards the sky and saying the words that will appear on the screen, “I trust in God alone. I believe that what he says about me is true and I will live according to that truth.”
Now I invite you to point inwards towards your heart and pray with me the prayer that will appear on the screen, “Dear Jesus, I pray that you expand my faith and open my heart to receive all of the infinite love that you have for me. Amen.”
Now I invite you to close your eyes and picture the people in your family, in your workplace or school, in your neighborhood and in your church. Now take your finger and point to those people in your imagination and say these words. “Dear Jesus, please fill me to overflowing with your love, .so that your love flows from me out into the lives of the people around me. In Your Name I pray. Amen.”
(Shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on September 20, 2015.)
 Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens & Dwight J. Friesen, The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship & Community (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 23.
 Steve McVey, Grace Walk (Eugene OR: Harvest House, 1995), 49.