Rooted: A Sermon On Staying

Communities have different ways of remembering who they are and where they came from. For instance the wider church community throughout the entire world remembers this through the scriptures. Countries have constitutions. Businesses have logos and mission/vision statements. Families have pictures and stories. We all hold onto different things to help us remember.

Rooted- Encaustic icon for theStory 24"x24" encaustic, mixed media, gold leaf on panel 2011
Rooted- Encaustic icon for THE STORY
24″x24″ encaustic, mixed media, gold leaf on panel

One of these things at theStory are our values. In 2011, we commissioned an artist friend of ours, Natalie Salminen Rude, who used to live in Sarnia, to put these into icons that you can see on the wall. Most of us have these on our walls at home (if you don’t, you should come and talk to me). We have three values – Rooted, Tabled and Risked. These terms are what we call Joeisms. Meaning, that they are words that Joe just made up out of thin air one day and then we infused them with meaning. Since they are now sealed in an encaustic masterpiece, I guess we are stuck with them. That isn’t to say we’ve outgrown them. I think the opposite it true. They are still something that we as a community are trying to grow into.

So for the next three weeks we are gonna tackle each of these. We are going to look about what it has meant for us in the past, but also what it could look like for us in the future.

This morning, we are going to look at the idea of Rooted, and what this means. Fun Fact: This was originally “Soiled” – but with the allusions to crapping your pants, it just didn’t have the same ring to it as Rooted did.

Rooted for a long time nudged at the idea that God’s Kingdom has taken root in us, and we in turn would root his kingdom wherever we go. We would say that we are creating outposts of hope, grace and healing. That we become storytellers, telling his story wherever we go, incarnating the good news of Jesus. Rooted was our identity because we were rooted in God’s story. We used to point to the prophet Jeremiah and what God was saying to Israel after being brought out of exile.

Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
Jeremiah 29

God was speaking to Israel, and saying that even though you are in enemy territory, to stay, and plant roots and invest in what’s around you, because by doing that you help the people around you prosper and you will prosper as well. The imagery of having Rooted as a core value is very rich. Christ’s parables were deeply embedded into the imagery of vineyards and planting and gardens. We are to be rooted to Christ as the vine. The kingdom of God is like a seed that finds different ground – sometimes it is sown on good soil, where it takes deep roots and eventually produces some sort of fruit. The major approach for us has been the idea of being rooted into a deeper story. That when we discover our identity and plant roots into God’s story – that we have a foundation for change and bringing the Kingdom of God forward.

Neither revolution nor reformation can ultimately change a society, rather you must tell a new powerful tale, one so persuasive that it sweeps away the old myths and becomes the preferred story, one so inclusive that it gathers all the bits of our past and our present into a coherent whole, one that even shines some light into our future so that we can take the next step…If you want to change a society, then you have to tell an alternative story.
-Ivan Illich, Austrian philosopher

So we are rooted in God’s story – and we root God’s story where we are. This is one of the most crucial concepts of this church, one that we named the church after, and one that we should remember.

This morning I want to take this idea of being rooted a bit deeper and make a suggestion that this should be a bit more practical.

Rooted is a very agriculture term. It plays on the idea of taking root, having roots and being planted into the ground. If we were to take this comparison a bit further, and we recognize that we have taken root, and we have roots and we have been planted then it helps better illustrate where else I think we need to go with this. A tree that continues to get transplanted or disturbed ends up withering and dying. After a while the tree becomes one with the soil that it is rooted in, but this will never happen if it keeps getting uprooted.

Trees, especially within Jewish culture are symbolic of a sustainable life that nurtures other life. Throughout the scriptures you will notice trees appearing over and over again with qualities of perseverance, beauty and care for those that spend time in it’s branches. Trees are mentioned over a hundred times and God’s work is illustrated in the symbolism of a tree. I won’t get into it all one hundred times here. However, it’s important to note that trees sandwich all of the scriptures as well from the garden of Eden, to the tree that Christ dies on to the Tree of Life in Revelation. So the Kingdom of God is like a tree. It takes root. Also, the word radical comes from the word radix which means of roots. Rooting is the process of cultivating essential habits, moorings and functions that ensure long-term relational ecosystem vitality, stability and resiliency. To be radical is to cultivate very deep roots. Thanks to Dan White Jr for his new book in helping me explain trees and it’s Christian connection.

In contrast, in today’s age, many of us have become transient, constantly moving for a plethora of reasons. Some of us move for work, some of us move because we hate where we are, some of us move because the grass is always greener elsewhere. I don’t even just mean cities. I mean relationships, communities, jobs, houses, commitments – we are constantly flowing in and out of eachother’s lives and the only real rootedness that folks in our culture really understand or respect anymore is marriage. And even that has gone down hill. It is no longer natural to stay somewhere and let our roots grow deep so we become one with the soil around us.

Q: Why is a commitment to staying somewhere (geographical location, relationship, group etc) not a regular part of our lives? Should it be? Why is leaving more accepted in our culture than staying?

[A great response from John to this question. He said that culture has changed. For most of history staying was the norm and you had to work up courage and decide to leave. Now, leaving is the norm, and you have to work up courage and decide to stay.]

There is lots of reasons why we don’t stay any longer, like you all mentioned. Christians have a rich history of staying when it seems like the safest and only option is to leave. You might remember when Heather was here from Habitat for Humanity was here. She talked about a guy named Clarence Jordan who started Koinonia farms. Koinonia came from Acts that means communion or fellowship, and specifically when the early Christians lived together and shared everything in common. Koinonia farms if you remember was an interracial community in 1942 that “bound themselves to the equality of all persons, rejection of violence, ecological stewardship, and common ownership of possessions. For several years the residents of Koinonia lived in relative peace alongside their Sumter County neighbors. But as the civil rights movement progressed, white citizens of the area increasingly perceived Koinonia as a threat. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Koinonia became the target of a stifling economic boycott and repeated violence, including several bombings. When Jordan sought help from President Eisenhower, the federal government refused to intervene, instead referring the matter to the governor of Georgia. The governor, a staunch supporter of racial segregation, responded by ordering the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate Koinonia’s partners and supporters for purported Communist ties.” [source]

Reflecting on the relationship between the community and the piece of land they inhabited and all the violence and persecution they faced, he said that when “men say to you, ‘Why don’t you sell it and move away?’ they might as well ask, ‘Why don’t you sell your mother?’ Somehow God has made us out of this old soil and we go back to it and we never lose its claim on us. It isn’t a simple matter to leave it.”
Clarence Jordan

Leaving for Clarence Jordan was the equivalent of abandoning his roots, his own mother. It just didn’t register for him as an option.

Another group of Christians have a deep history with staying. This is one of Christian monks.

Thomas Merton, probably one of the more well known monks, had this to stay:

The real secret of monastic stability is, then, the total acceptance of God’s plan by which the monk realizes himself to be inserted into the mystery of Christ through this particular family and no other.
– Thomas Merton

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove who wrote a book about stability walked through the tradition of stability and Christianity and he said this:

For the Christian tradition, the heart’s true home is a life rooted in the love of God. Like Lao-tzu and Dorothy both, Christian wisdom about stability points us toward the true peace that is possible when our spirits are stilled and our feet are planted in a place we know to be holy ground. When we get this stability of heart deep down inside of us, real growth begins to happen. Whether we think we have options or not, the wisdom of stability suggests that we can only begin to grow spiritually by accepting the gift of faith in the place where we are. We choose neither to flee to a better place on earth nor to despair in the face of demons that taunt us where we are. By God’s grace, we stand and sing, “Just like a tree planted by the waters / I shall not be moved.”’
– Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Another monk, Abba Antony, had this to say in answering the question in what one must do to please God:

After encouraging the pilgrim to keep God before his eyes and pattern his life after the Scriptures, Antony added, “In whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it.” Another of the desert fathers advised similarly, “If a trial comes upon you in the place where you live, do not leave that place when the trial comes. Wherever you go, you will find that what you are running from is ahead of you.”

You might all recall the story that is on our Membership poster on the side table.

Some folks relocated their family to be part of a church that takes community seriously. After a year in the new location, he met with one of his pastors to talk about how things were going. Life was good, they reflected, and they was grateful for the welcome that they and their family had received at the new church. But they weren’t sure that they was experiencing the community they had expected. Frankly, they had hoped for more. The pastor listened to his misgivings, then asked how long the family had been there. “About a year,” he replied. “Then I guess you’ve got about a year’s worth of community,” his pastor said matter-of-factly. “Stay another year and you’ll have two years’ worth. Stay thirty and you might find some of what you’re looking for.”

What staying does is give you similar roots of love, and a rhythm of life together and the longer that those things go on, the stronger they become. It allows us to slow down enough and face our struggles and weaknesses. By constantly moving we never rest enough to look honestly at ourselves and tackle our own demons. We recognize that it doesn’t get better, because where we go, there we are. We commit to the long, hard work of wrestling through our lives together and only through that can we achieve stability. We all have our demons that we need to face, and leaving pushes them under the rug, never staying long enough to uncover them in the presence of community and actually face them. Hartgrove who wrote this book had this to say about his own journey of eventually needing to stay:

But the pursuit of higher truth in better places was frustrating. God is everywhere, for sure, but somewhere along the way I started to realize that highways are lonely and airports lack community. I wanted to love my neighbor, but I had not stayed in one place long enough to know my neighbors or my neighborhood. Tossed about by the tides of perpetual motion, I started looking for some place to drop my anchor. When I did, I found myself drawn toward home—to the soil of this Christ-haunted South where the demons I’d left to overcome still show up every Sunday morning for church.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Of course. I get it. Staying can be boring. Feeling like we aren’t accomplishing what we want to, or that we are missing out on something great. I have this feeling all the time. I do suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out), and the idea that I am missing out on something that could be in store for me is hard to swallow. And these are commitments that I have made in spite of deep urges to throw in the towel and continue to move on.

Q: What kinds of things do you want to leave? Do you leave often and rip up roots? What kind of criteria do you use before you decide to leave?

For me staying is a discipline of submission. This is a discipline that I attempt to have in my life as a way to acknowledge that I don’t always know what is best for the world and for my own life. It gives me the freedom to put my life at the feet of others and at the feet of Christ and say “your will be done.” This hasn’t been easy for me, since I am stubborn and I am great at convincing others and myself that my way is the best way. Staying in the south end of Sarnia for me is a disciplined practice – that will continue to get older as we start to have kids and our illusion of safety is threatened. Staying with the Free Methodists and submitting to the authority of the bishop and denomination is difficult when there is differences and disagreements that I have. Staying with theStory, and submitting to the lead team is difficult when I have other things that drive me and different convictions. Staying in my marriage is hard when things get tough. Staying in Sarnia is hard sometimes when there is opportunities elsewhere that seem like they would open up better doors for me. The longer I am here, inside of these commitments though, the deeper my love grows for them.

So this morning, I want to infuse some new meaning into the idea of Rooted. We aren’t just rooted as Christians into God’s story. But we are rooted into our community. We are rooted to eachother. We are rooted to this city. We are rooted to this downtown and the neighbourhoods we live in. The painting here animates this rootedness into a geographical place – that we shouldn’t be able to easily move away from because as we invest our time and into relationships our roots grow deeper. We should seriously consider the consequences of what happens to the tree if these are ripped up.

We must start with the roots. In a world where fewer and fewer people go to church, church starts by planting deep roots in community with each other and neighbourhoods with real people that are part of our lives. The church is like a slow-growing tree. Every church must start by submerging deep roots of relationship among people, a neighbourhood, around its tables. This is indeed where church starts.
-Dan White Jr

Let’s pray together.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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