October 31, 2018

Soil Tests

They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.

— Psalm 1 (New Living Bible)

A chief challenge of the times in which we live is that most of us are cut off from the real sources of our food.  Ask a child from whence cometh apples and—no real fault of her own—she is likely to say “from the store.”  Never mind the toil of those who labor in groves far away; never mind the remarkable yield of such productive creatures as fruit trees, doing their thing season after season. Fruit just happens in our world.  Unlike earlier generations, so much more agrarian than our own, most of us have no daily connection to its upbringing.

The convenience of the produce section of Fresh Market not withstanding, there are implications to this cutoff for our Christian walk.  Spiritual fruit does not simply happen in our lives. Just as no farmer would propose standing before a bare field and simply shouting “make fruit!” … so we cannot expect our lives to bring forth signs of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25) without proper planting, tending, and harvesting.  It turns out that modernity contains an ironic twist for believers: The more convenient the world around us, the more challenging it becomes to nurture within us a deep and abiding Christ discipleship.  Last time I checked, Kroger doesn’t carry piety.

Still, “those who delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night, they are like trees planted along the riverbank.”  This is not mere moralizing on the Bible’s part.  Think less of the psalmist wagging his finger at us and more of a fellow student who has lived long enough to figure out that soil matters, where we plant our lives makes a difference.  The psalmist can look back over his life and appreciate that good farming makes for “bearing fruit each season.” (Matthew 13:3-8)

Remember this background as you prepare your Stewardship Packet this week.  Without much reflection, we are tempted to look upon pledge cards and time commitments as narrow one-way streets.  “The church needs more from me,” we might sigh, scribbling down some hasty numbers.  Turn it back in on Sunday, and we’re off the hook for another year.

But your new pastor invites you to resist this flattened view of discipleship. Instead, consider this matter of stewardship as a busy two-way street.  There is no doubt that a congregation needs from God’s people their time, talent, and treasure in order to do the ministry Jesus is calling us to do.  The arrow pointing from you to the church is clear and obvious.

But there is also an arrow flowing toward us.  We need the church.  We need it in our lives to call us to attention, to take notice of our walk with Jesus, to consider the soil in which we are planted.  Stewardship materials are soil tests:  Am I bearing any fruit?  Am I growing or dying? Am I planted by streams of righteousness or by ditches of degeneracy?  Am I cutoff from the true source of my life or is there living water flowing through me?  (John 4:13-14)  It is the difference between casually plunking a bag of apples down in your cart ... or spending a day in an orchard—planting, fertilizing, harvesting.

A wise elder in a previous church once said from the pulpit: “God is not an accountant.  God looks at our hearts.”  This is another way of inviting us not to confuse the apple (our giving) with the tree (our lives).  God desires our hearts, not our wallets; still, our wallets—perhaps more than anything else—will likely show in what kind of soil we are planted.  Our fruit will tell us about our soil, if we are open to learning.

Let us be open to learning.  You could make quick work of your Stewardship materials and be done with it for another year.  That is your choice to make.  But your pastor invites you to dig a little deeper.  Let us all commit to take some soil samples in this new season, to remember again the source of our abundant life.  Let us press beyond an easy, convenient faith to instead discover (again!) the “joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked … but [instead] delight in the law of the Lord.”

From whence cometh our fruit?