Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stripped of all foliage

I have London on the brain because I wish I was there right now, attending a ministry conference sponsored by the Proclamation Trust, and sneaking off to a match of two of the tennis. But it wasn't to be so this year! Still, Rockefeller Plaza has a mini-Wimbledon setup outside my office door, so there is some consolation.

Dick Lucas is Rector Emeritus of St Helen's, Bishopsgate in London (I encourage you to visit there or All Soul's, Langham Place or Emmanuel, Wimbledon if you go to London). Dick began the Proclamation Trust, which encourages expository preaching, that is, preaching which is led by the text rather than jumping off from it to tell stories, prove a theological construct, etc.

Alongside the positive instruction on getting the meaning of the Bible across to a congregation, Dick has a number of very helpful, practical warnings for the preacher. A couple that stuck in my head were, "Don't preach your family" and "Beware of telling them the Greek/Hebrew". The former is to realize that your hearers will assemble, over time, a little catalogue of information about your family life. What you and the congregation think is cute is pretty much an intolerable burden for your child. One of the leading causes of Preacher's Kid Syndrome, I am informed.

The second warning to the preacher is to beware of showing off one's knowledge of the original language. This is not to say that in preparation the hard work of understanding the meaning of the text shouldn't be done; rather, it is to recognize that if the preacher says something like "you can only really understand this passage in the Greek", then the non-Greek reader now feels he or she cannot understand the Bible in personal reading. It creates a clericalism of learning rather than ceremony.

Well, I'm pretty careful about heeding that warning about the family, and my feeble linguistic skills help me to avoid the second pitfall. But one instance where I broke the rule was in pointing out that in the New Testament there are two words used for the English word "tree". One is a fruitful, living tree and the other is a dead tree, essentially a pole stripped off leaves. In the New Testament, when Jesus speaks of a tree bearing fruit, he uses the former word, and when the apostles speak of Jesus dying on the cross, they use the latter word. Why? Because in the Old Testament, to be hung on a tree to die was to bear a curse. The apostles explain that Jesus bears the curse of our lawbreaking on himself in his death on the cross.

Now, at the end of Revelation, there is a description of the place "where God will dwell with men, and they will be his people, and God himself will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more..." (Rev 21.3,4). The new heaven and new earth is described as a city, and a river runs through it. And there is found "the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." (Rev 22.2,3).

One would think that this tree is described by the first word (because it is a living, fruitful tree). Not so! The second word is used, the one that is only used in the New Testament to describe the Cross. How marvelous. There is every indication that "the healing of the nations" and life itself is found, eternally, at the Cross of Jesus Christ. Look nowhere else!

"We ourselves now know by experience that there is no place for comfort like the cross. It is a tree stripped of all foliage, and apparently dead; yet we sit under its shadow with great delight, and its fruit is sweet unto our taste." (Charles Spurgeon, on 1 Pet 2:24,25).

Incidentally, since the heavenly city has a river through it, we can take heart that there will very likely be rowing in our eternal experience...

photo above from Hartford Courant newspaper.


T4s said...

In paradise I'll probably be the guy standing by the tree watching you break your back in one of those ghastly vessels.

Hey, to each their own (through Christ).

Clifford Swartz said...

Maybe you'll be able to wrestle Jacob!

Kidding aside, of course it is not our wants and desires that are at the center of everything -- even these are transformed.

Stella had a great image of the Holy Spirit and sailing, maybe I'll post on that...