Rooted in Christ
I remember when I was a first year medical student. It was back when crinoline dresses were all the fashion and horseless carriages had just begun to make an appearance. I was at a meeting of the Christian cell group in our year, and another student spoke of some research he’d come across. It was that most of us in that group, most of us—who were keen enough to spend a lunch hour studying the bible (ok, and looking at the girls…)—most of us would have stopped being part of the life of the church by the time we were thirty. Thirty seemed a long way off at eighteen, but it was a frightening thought nonetheless.
Ironically, the lad who quoted that research had stopped attending church by the time he was thirty.
There may be all sorts of reasons why people drop out of church. Some of them make sense. Congregations can be dysfunctional. I think though that many people leave because they haven’t allowed Paul’s words in Colossians 2.6-7 to dwell deeply in their hearts:
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
Today I want to look at some of these words, and put alongside them Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Luke 11.
Paul talks about being ‘rooted in [Christ]’. We are young shoots, planted in the living soil that is Jesus Christ. We grow from him.
Paul says we ‘have received Christ Jesus the Lord’. I received Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Saviour when I was fourteen. But you know, sometimes we misunderstand what it means for Jesus to be our ‘personal Lord and Saviour’.
Jesus isn’t a consumer good. He’s not there to satisfy our needs, or even necessarily to make us happy. He has brought salvation, and he is Lord.
Paul knew what it meant to say ‘Jesus is Lord’. It could get you into trouble in an age when Caesar was lord. Caesar could not be the supreme lord if Jesus is Lord. A Christian’s obedience was to Jesus.
Today, when people talk about Jesus being our personal Lord, we sometimes think that means he is Lord of the ‘personal’ areas of our life. He is Lord of our family, our personal habits, or personal morality. But other things are too big. We have to decide on things like election issues quite differently.
What does Jesus have to do with how we deal with asylum seekers? Or with the environment? If Jesus is Lord, then he must be at the heart of how we decide on more than our ‘personal’ issues. Paul says,
…continue to live your lives in Jesus Christ the Lord, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith…
This is a wonderful picture of us as tender shoots growing in the living soil, Jesus Christ. We are rooted in him, and we then grow towards the light. We grow in different ways, we grow at different speeds, we don’t look the same, but we each grow out of him. We have the family likeness. We grow in Christ, from Christ, through Christ, towards Christ.
If we are rooted in Christ, what is our relationship with God? Our relationship with God is rooted in Jesus Christ, centred in Jesus Christ, patterned on Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s Son; in Christ, we are God’s sons and daughters. Because of Jesus Christ, we can call God the name that Jesus has taught us to call God. That name is ‘Father’.
Our relationship with God is not primarily a relationship of obedience. It is firstly a relationship of love, which results in our being obedient. God loves us; we discover that love; we respond by obeying God.
A child receives everything from his parents. Including the capacity to love. And this capacity ultimately come from God our Father: ‘We love, because God first loved us.’ So when Jesus gives us the model prayer that we call ‘the Lord’s Prayer’, it starts off simply: ‘Father’. In the version in Matthew’s Gospel, the one we’re more familiar with, it’s ‘Our Father’.
Our Father. Not my father, not your father. Our Father. We are family. I want to suggest to you that when you pray with others, you shouldn’t say ‘I’ or ‘me’; the Jesus way is to say ‘we’ and ‘our’. Prayer includes others.
We say, ‘Our Father’. That doesn’t mean God’s a boy. ‘Father’ is an intimate way of speaking to God and with God. Calling God ‘Father’ also shows that we depend on God for everything. That doesn’t exclude calling God ‘Mother’. To call God ‘Mother’ is also intimate, and shows just as well that we depend on God for everything. In church, we usually use ‘Father’ rather than ‘Mother’. But that doesn’t rule ‘Mother’ out. Let me say this: if you are more comfortable in your own personal prayer calling God ‘Mother’, then go ahead, do it. God isn’t a boy.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we make a number of requests. In Luke’s version, it rather simple:
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins…
And do not bring us to the time of trial.
The author Kathleen Norris says that the life of prayer works ‘the earth of the heart’. In other words, prayer is like the act of cultivation. In order to work the soil, you’ve got to break up the hardened dirt clods, water the ground, free it from weeds and then plant a crop. Prayer is the way to ‘loosen up’ our hearts.
When we are rooted in Christ as young shoots in the fertile soil of his life, when we are open to the warmth of his light, we are ready to receive. We ask for our needs, our daily bread. We ask for forgiveness for sin. We ask that we be spared from testing too hard to endure. We ask as children of the Father in heaven. We ask that in Paul’s words we might be ‘built up in Christ and established in the faith’. That’s the only way to resist the world’s false ways. Ask. Seek. Receive. Be a child in the fatherly motherly arms of God.
Perhaps you noticed that I left a line out of the Lord’s Prayer. There is one thing, and only one thing, that we undertake to do when we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Did you see what that one thing is?
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
We undertake to forgive those who have wronged us. We undertake to be a community of grace and reconciliation, a sign to the world that the good news of Jesus Christ bring life and light into being. Forgiving others is not an optional extra, not something for extra-special people. It’s for all of us.
‘Lord, teach us how to pray.’
That’s one of the few sensible questions the disciples ever asked the Lord. Prayer isn’t a soft option. But I am convinced that without a life of regular, disciplined prayer, we can’t be rooted in Christ. We can’t be built up in him. We can’t be established in the faith. And one day we may find that it doesn’t mean too much to us any more, and we just drift away from the life of faith.
‘Lord, teach us how to pray.’
I want to finish by sharing with you my favourite story about prayer. It shows prayer as an active practice in which our work is to receive life from God.
A rather simple man used to go into his Catholic Church every day. He’d sit in the back pew for an hour or so, and appeared to be staring into space. The priest started to worry about him, so when he got an opportunity he asked him what he did in church every day.
The man pointed at the crucifix with the figure of Jesus hanging on it, and said:
‘I just gaze at him and he gazes at me.’
‘I just gaze at him and he gazes at me.’ We are called to be such people of prayer, grounded in Christ.