A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Don't Plant Green Beans Next to Peppers: Some Thoughts on the Renewal of Creation

Image result for green beans gardenI am a vegetable gardener. I come by it honestly. My grandfather was a vegetable gardener and I learned the craft from him. One of the mistakes gardeners make is not planting their vegetables strategically, making sure that incompatible plants are not placed next to or near each other. In fact, many who plant vegetables don't know that not all plants compliment each other growing side by side.

For example, it is never a good idea to plant green beans next to peppers-- any kind of peppers or tomatoes. However, beans are good next to cucumbers and corn since beans leave nutrients in the soil that cucumbers and corn like. Broccoli and cauliflower and eggplant are good together, but since they are susceptible to the same pests and disease they must be watched carefully so they don't spread the blight around. Since corn and tomatoes are heavy feeders, they should not be placed next to each other or they risk not producing well due to lack of nutrients. Carrots can thrive next to peas, but should not be planted next to celery. Some of the reasons for plant incompatibility are not entirely known, but through trial and error gardeners have learned over time that just as on the dinner plate, some vegetables mix well with others while some do not.

Image result for red bell peppers garden
One of the central claims of the biblical witness is that one day God is going to redeem a creation that is broken-- part of that brokenness is the reality of enmity within creation itself (Genesis 3:14-19). It's not just vegetables that fight against each others, we see it in the animal kingdom and we see it among human beings, the only animal created in the divine image. Individuals meant to reflect the image of their Creator warring with each other treating other human beings as less than human, and therefore as less than divine imagers. If creation is ever going to be reconciled, it can only come about as a divine act. Just as with salvation, peace on earth will only come from the outside.

But here's the catch for Christians-- while the Old Testament looks to that time of reconciliation in the future, the New Testament claims that the renewal of creation has already started in Jesus Christ. To be sure that reconciliation has not yet come in its fullness, but it has nevertheless been set in motion through cross and resurrection. But just where do we see that reconciliation? After two thousand years, the lion is not dwelling in harmony with the lamb, human beings are still killing each other, and green beans do not like peppers.

It is St. Paul who gives us the answer:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).
Notice three things: first reconciliation has already happened and is happening in the church, God's resurrection people. Second, the church has been given the ministry of reconciliation and entrusted us with that message. Third, the Corinthian Christians cannot engage in the ministry of reconciliation if they are not reconciled to each other. Let's take each in their order.

In Colossians 3:1, Paul states, "Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above." Notice that the Apostle does not say "Since you will be raised with Christ." No-- the believer has already been raised and participates in some way in the resurrection. That means reconciliation is possible now. Christ has made it so. Those believers who want to push reconciliation off to the future fullness of the kingdom, not only misread the new Testament, but slight the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in the here and now. Jesus has been raised and the reconciliation of the world has begun.

Second, it is the church where that reconciliation is embodied for the sake of the world. As people of the resurrection the church has to bear witness to the world in word and in deed that in Jesus the dividing walls of hostility (Ephesians 2:14) that we human beings build for the purpose of division have now been broken down-- smashed to smithereens-- in the church. Being agents of reconciliation, Christians do not always have to agree on everything, but no disagreement or even argument should hinder the work we have been given as ambassadors of Christ in our mission to the world.

Third, the problem is that all too often we have allowed our differences to not only hinder our mission, but we have rebuilt walls that actually push people away from the gospel. We forget that it is the gospel of Jesus Christ that is the scandal, not the church-- but we make it so when our divisions become more important than the unity we have in Christ.

Particularly, what I have in mind here is when the followers of Jesus functionally make nation state politics more important than the mission of the church. Notice the word "functionally." No Christian would ever say such politics is more important than the mission; but sadly that is too often how it works. This division happens when the adjectives "liberal," "progressive," "conservative," "evangelical" function as terms more important than the word "Christian." Indeed, we unintentionally (sometimes intentionally) call for such irreconcilable divisions when we identify as progressive Christians or conservatives Christians or... pick the adjective. Once we let the categories of the world frame our worldview, we allow the world to set the agenda over the gospel.

I am not suggesting that such labels cannot ever be instructive, but what they cannot and must not do... and all too often are... is function in such a way that they are more determinative for us than the word "Christian." When one can generally determine a believer's position on most political and moral issues without knowing whether or not she or he is a follower of Jesus, the adjectives have become more important for our view of the world than the noun that is supposed to determine everything.

Such contrived divisions, such progressive, liberal, conservative, evangelical, and yes... centrist walls, hinder the reconciliation of the church universal and this undermines the mission the followers of Jesus have as agents of reconciliation. This is inevitable once the labels most important to the world become most important to Jesus' resurrected people.

So, while it is true that beans and peppers will have to wait for the fullness of the kingdom to be reconciled to one another so they can grow and flourish side-by-side, the followers of Jesus do not have to wait for that time. We are to be reconciled now and throw off any division that hinders that reconciliation in our midst.

The world depends upon it.

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