By Rev. Andra Townshend O'Neill
For many years we had a magnificent old dutch elm tree on our front lawn, a majestic reminder of decades past that this tree had stood, long before we had come along.
From the time we had bought the house, the tree was showing signs of aging and so we did everything we could to extend its life. We injected it with fertilizer, secured and fortified weak branches and when storms came, prayed it wouldn’t fall on anyone or anything.
During one particularly long and violent summer storm, I sat awake most of the night watching at the front window as branches fell wondering if this was the night that the whole thing was coming down? And as I sat there fretting about it, one of the kids scurried out of their room, scared by the storm and discovering me at the window, asked what I was doing?
It was a good question. I told him that I was “watching the storm go by” because I definitely did not want to tell him that I was sitting there watching our tree falling down in front of me, praying that it didn’t fall down on the house, that it didn’t fall down on him!
That innocent little question clarified things - it was time to let this tree go.
When we had the tree removed, the arborist showed us that from the inside the tree was nearly hollow - it had been using up all of its resources to stay upright and alive and was actually very close to falling down.
In many ways our church is like that tree, a magnificent reminder of decades past that our churches have stood, long before we arrived. Our churches provide shelter, a place to gather with one another and of course, like a tree, provide us with what I would call spiritual oxygen. And many faithful people are watering, fertilizing and fortifying our churches to extend their lives.
Here we are in a particularly long storm- a pandemic. And this storm has our attention. We are taking the time to look and really notice that some of our branches have been falling, weakened by the natural process of time. Declining congregations, changing demographics, shifts in society, our thriving, multi-generational church is no longer. We are drawing on all of our resources to remain standing.
“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”.
Are we trying to keep the grain from falling to the ground?
Have we lost our faith in God to show us who we are meant to be in this world that we live in today?
Perhaps we are a little afraid, afraid of what God might ask of us. What might we have to give up in order to follow where God is leading?
I know that I have been resistant to hearing God, afraid that I won’t want to do what God is asking. When I turn to the scriptures, I realize that at times, Jesus was afraid too.
In Holy Week we remembered the obedience of Jesus to God’s purpose in the midst of his fear. The final supper with the disciples, the betrayal and arrest in the garden of Gethsemane, the trials, beatings, humiliation and torturous death. Jesus suﬀers so much loss in that journey, He had to let go of everything that was important for him as a person, except God.
How diﬃcult must it have been for him to see through all of that to the resurrection?
Jesus says: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say- “Father save me from this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.”
Fear and concern are acceptable for followers of Jesus. Even reluctance, but refusal is not:
“Whoever serves me must follow me”.
And that is the heart of it. If we are followers of Jesus, we must let God lead us into new life, the life that is promised in the gospel. Like the disciples, we must be willing to move, act, to be transformed.
I pray that we will have the faith to let God transform our church into who we need to be to continue the work of the Kingdom. It will be diﬀerent because our world is diﬀerent.
We can't keep things as they are, trying to hold together something that is showing us that it is ready to be reborn. We can’t be sitting at the window in this storm, watching the branches fall, hoping that the whole house won’t come down.
That is not what the Kingdom of God is like. That is not Resurrection.
What a diﬀerence it made to have that Elm tree removed from our yard. Without the huge canopy of foliage the gardens and smaller trees were bathed in sunlight, new plants sprouted out of the ground and buds and blossoms appeared where they hadn’t been before. The earth was bursting with unexpected, glorious, new life.
Rev. Andra Townshend O'Neill is the rector of St. Mark's. London and a member of the diocesan Stewardship Committee.
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The Diocese of Huron is situated on the ancestral beaver hunting grounds of the Algonquin, Haudenosaunee and Attawandaran peoples; the traditional and unceded lands of the Anishinaabe Peoples, of Walpole Island, Kettle Point and the Thames, the settled people’s Haudenosaunee Confederacy, at the Grand River and the Thames and the Lenni Lenape Delaware people’s of Moraviantown and Muncey.