It’s a striking image. Fresh, tender leaves unfurl and reach up to their first light, with a single soft white bud forming. But make no mistake, this wee seedling is a force to be reckoned with: to get here it had to break through inches of tarmac and compacted stones. It won the fight.
“Life, uh, finds a way” as Jeff Goldblum’s character Ian Malcolm famously said in the movie Jurassic Park.
It only takes a quick search to find hundreds of remarkable examples of nature taking over, slowly remodelling our man-made landscape. Here are a few:
We may expect things to stay the same, but life just happens. Moss grows over our driveways, our bodies sag, and over time a cold carpark can grow into an overflowing jungle.
Alongside life, death happens too. Not everyone we loved and relied on yesterday is still with us today, and perhaps someday some stranger who hasn’t yet been born will live in your house. Things move on.
It’s bleak to ponder our transience and decay, but it’s all a part of our life here on earth. Things must be allowed to die or a greater death will set in. The continual dying of the forest cultivates its rich soil, nurturing new fertile life.
But despite tarmac barriers or the dieback of winter, ultimately life does indeed find a way. The earth is full of it.
Jesus the creator of life came and declared that he is The Life. He announced God’s kingdom, the way to find life and the way to live.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
It’s striking how many of Jesus’ analogies were from nature:
Peter described the Church as a building (traditionally a dead structure) but this building has stones that are alive (1 Peter 2:5)! These illustrations clearly and overwhelmingly describe the kingdom as something that grows, that lives, that is connected in sap and blood and bears fruit.
We change but we make static, dead things like buildings or robots, and expect them to never change. God never changes but He makes dynamic, alive creatures and plants and expects them to grow, change and evolve.
For us, to live is to change, and that involves accepting a measure of fertilising death, otherwise we’ll die. That’s inescapable.
Some things must be allowed to change, and some things must not. Not all change is progress, but all progress requires change.
Good things started because people were open to change.
Good things end when people are closed to change.
But good things last when people are open to changing with them.
As an expression of God’s kingdom, the Church must never become an inflexible wineskin that isn’t fit to contain the new wine of God’s always-new effervescent life. The kingdom is bigger than any church’s view of it so churches must always be ultimately building on the unchanging foundation of Jesus, not the foundation of their own traditions.
“The Church must always be reformed”, as eminent theologian Karl Barth said in 1947, deriving from a saying of St. Augustine. He meant that the Church must continually re-examine itself in order to maintain its purity of doctrine and practice. He said protestant churches shouldn’t so much call themselves ‘Reformed’, but rather ‘Reforming’.
Jesus said “come and follow me”. Standing on God’s unchanging nature, he didn’t stand still. Let’s follow him wherever he goes.