Sunday, January 31, 2016

What We Can Learn about The Christian Life from Compost

 Part 2: 
Great Things Come from Humble Ingredients

Compost is made from things most folks think have little value.  Fallen leaves, pulled weeds, and other yard waste is taken to the curb to be hauled away. Kitchen scraps and coffee grounds are put in the trash. But combined in a properly built pile, those humble ingredients produce something that provides great benefits to individual gardens and the general environment. 

That is a lot like the way God blesses humanity; He consistently uses people the world discounts to execute his loving, redemptive, plan. A walk through the scriptures shows that over and over again.

God started by choosing a small, vagrant, and highly dysfunctional family to form a people that would lay the groundwork for universal salvation. See generally Genesis 12-50 and Deuteronomy 7:6-8.   

Once God started down that path He repeatedly chose weak and disadvantaged folks to execute important parts of His plan. He chose little brother Jacob over Esau the first born.  He chose the the least liked of Jacob's sons to be the vehicle for preserving His people (and the broader society) from a devastating famine, and did so in spite of the fact that the son had been reduced to the status of a  prisoner.  He used Gideon, a weak and doubting peasant, to deliver his people from powerful oppressors.  He used Hannah, a barren and wrongfully scorned second wife, to birth Samuel, a great prophet who would deliver His people from from decadent spiritual and political leaders. He used David, the youngest and least respected member of his family, to provide much better leadership.

That pattern continued as God’s plan moved out into the broader world through Jesus, the universal messiah. Jesus was born to a a poor couple who were effectively homeless. God had earlier chosen an aging and previously barren couple to conceive and raise  the prophet who would announce the beginning of Jesus ministry,  a prophet who himself was scorned by social elites.

   Jesus himself was not a person that the world would naturally embrace. He “had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” See generally Isaiah 52:13-53:12. And Jesus himself told us that it is those on the margins of society, the poor is spirit, the meek, the persecuted, that become salt and light to an otherwise putrid and dark world. Matthew 5:1-12.  

         God’s plan continued to unfold through people the world had little regard for.  His disciples were uneducated.  The religious leaders of their day did not hide their contempt for His followers.  Even regular folks were dismissive.

         But God used those humble folks powerfully. Indeed, the fact that  the church continues 2,000 years later and reaches around the world is powerful proof that “God chose[] the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom,” James 2:9, Saint Paul put it well:

God chose those who by human standards are fools to shame the wise; he chose those who by human standards are weak to shame the strong,  those who by human standards are common and contemptible -- indeed those who count for nothing -- to reduce to nothing all those that do count for something, so that no human being might feel boastful before God.” 1 Corinthians 1:19-20,25-29.

         So how do we respond to that undeniable dynamic? How we are to live, as individuals, and as parts of Christ’s body? Our original compost analogy helps with that.

Just as a wise gardener does not share the world’s dismissive attitude towards the humble things that make great compost, we shouldn’t buy into society’s dismissive attitude towards those on its margins. We should not " the standards of this world," but should follow God’s more perceptive, more merciful--and ultimately far more fruitful--approach. See Sirach 11:1-6, Isaiah 55,  Isaiah 58:6-14, Matthew 25:31-46, James 2:1-8.

Friday, January 29, 2016

What can we learn from today's gospel reading: Mark 4:26-32

Jesus said to the crowds: “This is how it is with the Kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.”

He said, “To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

So what can we learn from these parables? How about these things:

1. Our walk with God starts small, we only get a glimpse of its potential when we start pursuing it. 

2. But it eventually provides great benefits, benefits that are exponentially greater than the first step that started the process.

3. Those benefits accrue not only to the planter, but also to many others.  

4. Those benefits likely include things that were not anticipated at the outset.

5. Our relationship with God grows over time, in stages.

6. God controls and provides what is needed for that growth, we simply have to take it in and actively use it.