When I was pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Springfield, Missouri we lived in an older home on a spacious lot just outside of town. A tired and overgrown pasture bordered the back of our property and Dayna and I delighted in sitting on our deck in the evening to watch the variety of wildlife come and go. The pasture had a resident deer herd and a doe and her yearly fawns often leapt over the fence to eat our fallen pears and apples. A small herd of Longhorn cattle often stood at the fence staring at us.
When we were both away at a conference the Longhorns found a break in the fence somewhere and migrated to our yard. After generously fertilizing our yard, they proceeded to munch contentedly on our mum bed in the front yard. It must have been an exciting afternoon. The sheriff, leery of the long, pointed horns, contacted the owner and the cattle were finally rounded up and returned to the pasture. When we returned to Springfield a few days later I looked around to assess the damage, in addition to some flowerbeds in sad need of repair, I was surprised to see that the Longhorns ate only the yellow mums and left the purple ones alone. I didn’t know that cows won’t eat purple mums. I had tried to plant flowers and shrubs that deer do not like, and decided then and there to plant only purple mums in the future!
When Jesus spoke about the kingdom, his images did not contain fences that would keep people out, and when he spoke of enclosures like the sheep pen, there was always a way to get in. Jesus is the gate to the kingdom. If the church is supposed to continue the work of the kingdom, then neither should the church have fences to keep people out. And, if there are fences created by others, then the church should be the gate so that people can freely enter. Jesus also compared the kingdom to an abundance of nourishing food: to vineyards, to bread, to fish. The church also should have food in abundance for those who hunger for spiritual food.
Thousands of people live around St. Paul’s Church and around each one of our homes. If we added up all the churches in these areas with all of their attendance each Sunday, we would discover that the majority of people living in the surrounding community of our church and our homes are either under-churched or unchurched. All people, churched or unchurched, hunger spiritually, seeking someone or something to fill their hunger. Those of us who have found Jesus Christ know the answer and our spiritual hunger is being fed, but the unchurched are not. In some ways they are like those Longhorn cattle because misguided ideas and ideals fence them in. The job of the church, that is, we, the people of God, is to break down those fences and invite the unchurched in so that they too, can be fed with the spiritual nourishment of Jesus.
Each of us needs to look at his or her attitudes and actions. “What am I doing to break down fences?” “Am I being a gate like Jesus?” “Am I sharing the food that is nourishing with those who have none?” If you are doing these things, then you are being a faithful servant, a steward of the kingdom, and living out your discipleship. On the other hand, if you are building fences to keep others out, and planting things that do not appear nourishing to others, then you are planting only purple mums. Every day opportunities to live the kingdom life are presented to each of us, what we do with those opportunities has a direct effect on those who are marginal (under-churched) or who have fenced themselves in (the unchurched). What will you do: build fences and plant purple mums, or break them down and plant yellow ones?
~ Fr. Al Jewson
Rector's Corner posts written by Pastor Rebecca.