Ministry Founded on Roots

 Psalm 1            Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III

 Luke 14: 25-33             September 8, 2019

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?”

Prayer:  Living God, thank you for your nourishment.  Now may we seek your empowerment as we serve you.  Amen.

The Stillspeaking Daily Devotional for August 22nd, by Talitha Arnold, the Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico, was all about a tree called the Pinyon pine tree.   She says that these sturdy compact trees live about 450 years, some much longer.  They have a taproot that often grows to 20+ feet long, but most of the roots often curl around nearby rocks giving the tree the ability to stand up to the harshest weather.   So, the main roots taps the moisture down deep, but its winding root system near and on the surface helps it to survive by itself in barren land (see “Wrapped Around a Rock,” by Talitha Arnold, Stillspeaking Daily Devotional, August 22, 2019, retrieved September 6, 2019).

 Compare that to the Giant Sequoia trees in California.  These trees tower as much as 300 feet above the ground.   Strangely, these giants have unusually shallow root systems that reach out in all directions to capture the greatest amount of surface moisture.   Seldom will you see a redwood standing alone, because high winds would quickly uproot it.  That’s why they grow in clusters.  Their intertwining roots provide support for one another against the storms.

For both the pinyon pine and the Giant Sequoias, their roots are critical not only for their survival, but their stability.

 I love the imagery of Psalm 1: 2-3—a tree rooted nearby a stream.  In other words, those who meditate on God, God’s law, and what God loves are like trees that tap into the nutrient-rich soil and life-giving water down deep.  The psalmist encourages his readers to go deep, to sink spiritual roots because the growth and fruitfulness of the whole tree, the whole community, is the inevitable result.

 Today, on Spirit Sunday, I invite you to affirm your faith by sending your spiritual taproot down deep into God’s abundant grace and love.  But, also spread wide your roots near the surface so that you may cling to the rock.

 And so that you, like the Giant Sequoia, soaking up the moisture widely spread around your base,  I encourage you to intermingle your roots with the roots of others, so that you know you are never alone, and that you can rely on others to help you weather whatever storms life brings.

And that’s the thing about the Christian faith.  On the one hand, it can be quite personal.  You, as an individual, can grow, find deep peace and comfort in God, cherish God’s blessings, renew faith, grow in love with deep roots.

 But, it never stops there.  The Christian faith relies on others in community with you.  And when others alongside you come together in the name of Jesus Christ, we become the church.

 And just like us as individuals, any church, Christ Church  in particular thrives if our ministries tap into God down deep.  We prosper if we soak up the life-giving water in each place where we are involved in ministry.  Where we use our gifts.  Where we share the joy of Christian love.  And it’s good and purposeful and meaningful.

But, I won’t sugarcoat this for us.  Jesus certainly doesn’t.  He clearly says that if we’re going to do this… if we’re going to tap into God, if we’re going to have our life founded on God and be rooted in God’s law of love, if we’re going to follow Jesus and walk alongside others together in the name of Jesus Christ and be the church, then just be aware… there is a cost involved.

Is he saying that if we’re going to do ministry, if we’re going to strive to increase the love of God and neighbor, if we’re going to make the effort to grow in faithfulness and disciplined stewardship,  that it takes our dedication of service?  That it takes our commitment?   Or determined intention of ?

Jesus, I think, invites us to know that he demands these from us… our dedication, our commitment, our determination.  We do ministry, yes.  And joy and grace abound, yes.  And we find such gifts as we go into God down deep, yes.    But, it does require a willingness to sacrifice and put our lives where our faith is so that others may hear of this life-giving stream of water.  It does require us to be willing to engage our faith by giving our time, talents, treasures, dedicating and using our best gifts for Christ’s sake, here at Christ Church.

The promise of the gospel is that Christ and his love always graces us, and that in the giving our gifts, there is new hope.  In the sacrifice, to serve Christ here, there is new life.  In the struggle for fulfilling commitment, there is a promise - and the seeds and the roots of faith and ministry will grow..

 Author Bill Heck tells the story of the day he got some cherry tomato plants from his friend.  “Do you promise these will produce cherry tomatoes?” he asked.  “I promise,” his friend said.  And sure enough, with Bill’s efforts, with good soil, fertilizer, plenty of water, the plants produced beautifully.  Bill and his family enjoyed cherry tomatoes most of the summer.

 One afternoon, though Bill came home to find his two sons and the boys across the street engaged in a cherry tomato battle!  Each boy harvested handfuls of tomatoes and were hurling them at each other.  Furious, he stopped the battle immediately, and sent the boys inside.  Bill inspected the plants which thankfully were not damaged, and a couple of weeks later, new blossoms were on the plants.

 Well, time went along, and the tomato battle was long forgotten, until the next spring.  One morning, Bill noticed all these tender green cherry tomato volunteers emerging everywhere.  In the yard.  In the gravel.  One was in the fork of the tree.  Bill transplanted some of them to the garden, and some he let grow right where they were.  And, there was more abundance that next summer.  He discovered once again that sometimes through the struggle, there is new life.  And, sometimes we receive more than we are promised (Heck, Bill, “Promise,” from the Buechner Narrative Writing Project, Christian Century, July 31, 2019, p. 220).

 On this Spirit Sunday, won’t you offer your gifts, your promises, your commitment and intentions so that the seeds and roots of God’s ways may grow in your heart and other’s hearts through our ministries here at Christ Church?  Won’t you consider what it costs to have your gifts used here in ministry?  Won’t you help Christ Church’s ministry become rooted and more deeply founded on God?  Won’t you let your roots grow deep and wide?

Let us be quiet and reflect upon the cost of following Jesus in ministry here at Christ Church.  Amen.