Rooted in relationship

May 4, 2009

Where once we lived in a vital relationship with the earth, now we
obtain our daily bread by filling shopping carts and running a plastic
card through a scanner. This lack of connection hurts us—and the same is
true in our spiritual lives. Jesus taught, "I am the vine, and you are
the branches...apart from me you can do nothing." Of course there can be
no growth apart from the vine. How can we continue to enjoy the fruits
if we're no longer rooted in life-giving relationship with Jesus?

North
Americans are efficient, rational, problem-solving people. We get
things done—but our vital connection is at times tenuous. We might get
wrapped up in doing good things, being in the right places, observing
and analyzing others, selecting "the right church." What about living in
relationship with Jesus?

Gerald Kennedy, a Methodist bishop of
the last century, once remarked that the Methodist church was so well
organized that it would flourish in America long after Christianity had
ceased to exist. And so we sometimes wonder: Where is the connection
with Christ? Where are we in the spiritual life? Anglican mystic Evelyn
Underhill posed (pdf) the matter this way: "God is the interesting thing about religion."

"Apart
from me you can do nothing." At the core of Christianity is the
assumption that we can only be completed through the presence of Christ.
To be a Christian is to trust that God overcomes our weaknesses,
forgives our failures, heals our brokenness. At one level it is very
simple.

I am aware that many people have had bad experiences with
this idea, have had faith presented it terms of a simplicity that did
not square with the world they actually lived in. Some were pressured
toward an oppressive fundamentalism. "Jesus is the answer," they were
told, when no one was very clear about what the question was in the
first place. I've found this quote helpful (I'm unclear about its
origin): "I would give nothing for a simplicity on this side of
complexity. I would give everything for a simplicity on the other side
of complexity."

Some people have spent their lives running away
from a stereotype of Jesus—whether the Jesus of fundamentalism or the
Jesus of the secular scholars the media find so fascinating—and in the
process have cut themselves off from the one who is the source of life
and healing, of strength and mercy.

Later in the story, in next week's reading,
we find something equally astonishing. "I no longer call you servants,"
says Jesus, "but I have called you friends." To be a Christian is to be
Jesus' friend—to be at home with him, to live in him and to know that
he is alive. (Here The Message's paraphrase is helpful.)

How
do friends stay connected? They stay in touch. Friends talk, listen,
ask questions and are genuinely interested in each other. I recently
traveled with a couple of friends to an out-of-town concert. Since we
had time in the car together, we were able to learn about each other—our
hobbies, our children, our work. We laughed; we talked about serious
issues. There were also moments of silence. A friendship requires this
kind of time spent together. A friendship with Jesus is all about
prayer—time to talk and listen.

Our lives are filled with
questions, crises, wounds and disappointments. We need the companionship
of Jesus, whose promise, "I am with you always," is real. We need a
friend who gently reminds us of a simple truth, even on the other side
of complexity: "Apart from me you can do nothing."