In May I saw this Van Gogh painting of a sower in Amsterdam — great museum! I have another version hanging on my den wall, a prized gift from someone who saw me as a sower back in the day. Sometimes I look at it and it convicts me. I remember the audacity of my youth and hope I can still access that fire. I want to keep building, not sit in the accomplishments of the past and hope they don’t rot before I die.
Hulking husks of faith
The thought of dying Christianity kind of scared me in Europe. What does a town do with a giant, empty husk of a cathedral building? They are sort of like lovely conch shells, beautiful hard things, from which the living creatures are long gone, long dead. Visiting these museums of past Christianity made me wonder if someday the seed that grew into Circle of Hope will be something like an empty cathedral or an empty sea shell sitting on the coffee table of Philadelphia, the Christian creatures and their faith long gone.
Faith is a fragile thing, it seems. If it does not keep growing, if it not reseeded, then it can die. We know people whose faith is essentially dead. And I suspect there are people reading this whose faith is essentially dead, but they don’t have the guts to open up and be reseeded.
The church is even more fragile. The builders of those beautiful Cathedrals did not expect their community of faith to become so irrelevant! Gwen and I went to Aachen Cathedral in Germany for a splendid re-enactment of Medieval and Renaissance rituals during a Sunday mass filled with tourists. But I am quite sure the builders never expected their work of art to be more of a symbol of what was than a gymnasium for worship they built for forever. The building still stands but the seed of faith basically died out for the most part. I was speaking at 2007 Frankford Ave. and I wondered out loud if one day someone would visit that building and receive a little history tour, hear about the early 2000’s, see a picture of us in odd looking clothes, ask questions about Love Feasts and cells, take a picture of themselves with a djembe, leave a token donation as they went back to the van, and that’s it.
We’re at odds; what will happen?
I doubt that untimely death will happen. But I wonder. Because we are a little bit at odds right now. On the one hand, people are being seeded by faith every day because we have some sowers among us. There is a lot of revelation and healing happening — and in an era and a region that seems a bit hostile to Jesus.
On the other hand the burned out or beaten down among us still can’t figure out how to talk about Jesus without being embarrassed. Some of us are much more likely to talk about politics than talk about the risen Lord, as if making the world work right is how people get saved. We can be strangely subject to postmodern discourse rather than revealing what is beyond it. Many people have become in charge of saving their lives and are losing them.
Nevertheless people get seeded with the truth and love of Jesus all the time. I have been seeded and reseeded with the word of Jesus at many points during my life, too. Looking way back on some of it now, my faith seems rather unexpected to begin with and strangely resilient. There were Christian seeds thrown around my family but they never found a good place to grow in most of us. But they did in me. And, somehow, the seedlings survived and grew into a plant that provided a little shade in this spiritual desert.
Somehow we get seeded and reseeded
Somehow there is a spiritual earth in us where the seed of faith can grow. We have to get seeded, and when the plant gets burned or beaten down, that fertile place in us needs reseeded. It seems that something new is always sprouting which will be the tree of tomorrow.
But those little plants of faith in us are fragile. The congregations and cells we plant, as strong as they are, still have a sense of fragility about them. Faith in Jesus is like a seed that takes root and sprouts. We need to take care of one another’s fragile faith. Never stomp on someone’s fragile beginnings. Never assume someone is completely solid. It is not that kind of world. Never take the survival of your church for granted. The community of faith can end up like an empty cathedral rather than a sower in a field.
Last week one of our covenant members died of an apparent overdose. My blessed foreman from 1226 S. Broad tells me that dear man was the fourth to die from among the team of recovering people who kindly and carefully built a place for healing in Circle Counseling. Life is fragile. In Christ, it is eternal. But we wake up every day challenged by our own fragility and by the fissures in society that disrupt our very souls. The faith that seeds eternity seems distressingly weak, like a sprout among weeds or a thirsty seed in the desert. But Jesus, the sower, keeps farming his beloved creation and will even reseed us when we just can’t see how to keep going. And he always seems to find allies to sow truth and love in joy with him, especially when times are tough.