Dear Church of the Redeemer, I saw a tree today and thought of you.
My kids and I walked over to Dogwood Park this afternoon to soak in all splendor of the fall season, and we decided to compete in a “Best Leaf” contest.
Off we all scurried to find the most perfect fall leaf. I started gathering leaves off the path, but felt that the elusive “best” one was still out there. Then I saw a gorgeous, shining tree and figured I could go pluck a perfect leaf right off of it.
But once I was close enough to examine each leaf I saw that they were all flawed! Every single one had brown spots or holes or tears or was half-dead already.
And that is when I thought of the Church. Here we are, all messed up and torn, blemished and spotted, desiring to be holy but still hole-y. But somehow, when we’re all together, reaching toward Heaven as one, God transforms the mess of us into a radiant, glorious creation.
I looked at the top of the tree and saw some leaves were missing already. A series of saints have preceded us to Heaven, Sandy Lawson being the most recent… But the space they leave behind still contributes to the beauty of the tree and reminds us that this world is not our final destination. The rest of us leaves will not be far behind.
A little while later I came upon a snake crossing the footpath. After my heartrate had returned to normal and I stopped freaking out (no pictures of this part of the afternoon, don’t worry), I thought about how true it is that a Snake is still in our garden, prowling around. He wants to whisper to the leaves that they don’t need to be part of a tree. They don’t need each other, much less a faulty, hypocritical institution such as the church.
In this age we see an increase of “just Jesus and me” mentality, and a decrease in the commitment to church membership – and on the face of it, it’s no wonder. Why would anyone want to attach themselves to a bunch of flawed and torn up folks?
But, the paradoxical truth remains that the most alive and vibrant I have ever felt (and I suspect I’m not alone in this) is when I find myself surrounded by the other leaves, raising our souls to our Savior. Functioning as a living tree, whether in worship or in service or in coming together to mourn or celebrate, is when we truly are most glorious.
And we don’t have to look far to see what happens to leaves who decide to separate themselves from the tree…
I’ve been reading a book by Martin Lloyd-Jones and came to a very convicting passage recently.
Expounding on Paul’s instructions to the Ephesians to “Submit yourselves one to another,” he says,
“It is the whole that matters most and not the part…. Surely half the troubles today are due to the fact that we are too individualistic in our whole notion of salvation. Thank God it is individual, as we must always emphasize; but we must not think of it individualistically. People are always thinking of themselves and looking at themselves. They come to the church of God to get something for themselves. Let us try to get a true conception of the church, this great thing into which we have been put. We are but little parts and members and portions; so let us think of the whole, not the part…. The moment a man begins to realize all these things he will be ready to forego his rights…. He will now be interested in the development and the advancement of the whole, of every other part also – his neighbor, and the one who is next to him, and so on.” (From the book, Life in the Spirit, chapter 4)
So, Church, we are in this together. Praise God that He takes these blemished leaves and puts us together in a way that can shine out to the world. Let’s continue to consider the whole, not just our own rights and preferences, finding ways to build up the whole tree. Then, Lord willing and enabling, we will stretch out our branches to praise Him, and provide shade and healing to the nations.
p.s. Dogwood Park also is home to another tree I love – I call it the Trinitarian tree:
It’s quite a spiritual place, this park! Y’all should come check it out.