Photo provided by bullockb-d.blogspot.com
It's a big week. Kids everywhere are headed back to school. And, with the beginning of a new school year comes that traditional question: What did YOU do on your summer vacation? Kids will be talking about all the cool things they did. Some learned to swim or ride a bike. Some took family vacations. Some went to see the movie. What I did this summer is move. Here. Which is cool! But I hope that next summer I won’t have to move and maybe my family can take a trip.
One of the places I would LOVE to go is California, but not to see a movie star. I want to see a tree. The Stratosphere Giant.
The Stratosphere Giant is a coast redwood tree that stands over 360 feet tall! That’s huge! That’s five stories taller than the Statue of Liberty! For years and years and years, the Stratosphere Giant was recognized as the tallest tree in the world (as far as we knew), but just recently explorers have found three more redwood trees in that same forest in California that are about 370 feet tall! It’s no wonder they call the highway that runs through the forest "The Avenue of the Giants."
I bet it's really cool, though it’s probably kind of spooky at night. 51,000 acres of giant redwood trees. Some more than 2,000 years old! Can you imagine?! Some of those trees are so big you could actually drive a car through the trunk! (Although that’s not very good for the tree.)
I have never seen a giant redwood except in photographs or movies, but I am determined to get to California some day. I want to lie at the foot of one of those majestic beauties and aim my camera lens straight up. I just want to see what there is to see.
But as big as those giant trees are, it isn’t their size that intrigues me most. It is how they survive for so long. You would think that a 2,000 year old tree that’s taller than most of the buildings in downtown Memphis would need deep roots. But that’s not the case at all with coast redwood trees. Their roots are only five or six feet deep. But they are wide. They might reach out 100 feet from the trunk. And the trees grow BEST in groups. That way the roots can intertwine. They connect. They weave themselves together. They become one.
This gives redwood trees tremendous strength! They are very very tall, but their roots are pretty shallow, and still they can withstand high winds and raging floods because they stand together. They stand as one. They work together.
These giant trees also have a thick bark. On a mature tree, the bark can be 2 feet thick! That thick skin protects the tree from fire.
But if a redwood tree does somehow fall over or gets badly burned, a ring of brand new trees will sprout from burls around the base of the older tree. But, unlike other trees, these new trees will not try to grow up on their own. They will actually work together, drawing on the roots of the parent tree, which helps them to become stronger, more resilient and more mature. Again, these trees survive because they stand together. They stand as one. They work together.
The church can learn a lot from coastal redwood trees. Just like redwood trees, Christians grow best in groups. There’s strength in numbers. Life is full of challenges: high winds, raging floods, flames of fire. Most of us are simply not strong enough to overcome such challenges alone. We might weather a storm or two out on our own. But, over time, the pressure becomes too great, and we snap or we are uprooted or we go down in flames. We NEED the company of others. Sometimes we have to draw on their strength or wisdom or faith. Sometimes they have to believe for us until we can believe again.
This is what it means to be “one body.” We act and move together, for the good of everyone.
But, Lord knows, it is not always easy. As much as we might love each other, as much as we might LIKE each other, we are all different. We have different opinions. Different histories. Different preferences. Different gifts and abilities. We see things from different perspectives. There’s nothing wrong with that. God made us this way!
God INTENTIONALLY made us different. God INTENTIONALLY made us different so that, together, we can do the work of Jesus Christ. There’s not a single person alive who can do it all. Each of us can do part of the work, but none of us can do it all. So God INTENTIONALLY made us different so we would HAVE to depend upon one another. God WANTS us to work together.
It ain’t easy, but it is possible.
It’s going to take humility. If we are going to be one body in Christ, if we are going to work together to make disciples, if we are going to accomplish God’s purposes in the world, it is going to take humility. WE are not in charge. This is not MY church. It is not your church. It is God’s church. Jesus is the leader, and we are all trying to follow him the best way we know how. And just like those first followers, we are going to make mistakes. We are all sinners trusting in grace. But God can use us. God can use ALL of us. God can use all of us to accomplish great things if we will allow God to lead us.
God WANTS us to work together. It ain’t easy, but it is possible. It’s going to take gentleness. If we are going to be one body in Christ, it is going to take gentleness. When you live together in community, other people’s quirks, eccentricities, sins become clearly evident. And you COULD jump all over ‘em for it. And there may be times, when folks NEED to be enlightened. Lives may be at stake. But harsh words tear down and destroy. And we are called to build UP the body of Christ. Gentleness is CHOOSING your words carefully. It is encouraging others to strive for holiness rather than reprimanding them for their weakness.
God WANTS us to work together. It ain’t easy, but it is possible. It’s going to take patience. If we are going to be one body in Christ, it is going to take patience. Nothing and no one makes permanent changes quickly. We are all going on to perfection. We are all works in progress. And it takes time. It takes time to change a culture. It takes time to change minds. It takes time just to get to know each other. So we are going to have to take a deep breath and set aside our time tables and trust that God has things under control.
God WANTS us to work together. It ain’t easy, but it is possible. It’s going to take acceptance. If we are going to be one body in Christ, it is going to take acceptance. God DOES have a plan for this world, and it is a plan for redemption. And the Almighty God knows a little more about the ways of the world than I do. So it would help the process if I can learn to accept that God’s ways are not like mine, and God’s plan may not line up with my expectations. God may not line up with my expectations, and none of you may line up with my expectations either. And you know what? That is okay because God is God and I am not. And, for that, we can all say, "Hallelujah!"
God WANTS us to work together. It ain’t easy, but it is possible. It’s going to take love. If we are going to be one body in Christ, it is going to take love. God loves us even when we are NOT very lovable. So maybe, just maybe, we can cut ourselves and others some slack.
God WANTS us to work together. It ain’t easy, but it is possible. It is going to take effort. If we are going to be one body in Christ, it is going to take effort. It won’t just happen. We have to work at it. We have to keep humbling ourselves before God. We have to keep being gentle. We have to continue to practice patience. And acceptance. We have to continue to love.
Grace, Peace & Joy!