[In the audio podcast of this service, the Scripture reading begins at 14 minutes 12 seconds and the Sermon begins at 17 minutes 20 seconds.]
Scripture: Luke 11:1-6, 17-26
Sermon: “Sabbatical Learnings: Roots”
THE MEANING OF LIFE. What is it? Studying theology I’ve read many thick books on the THE MEANING OF LIFE for meaning is what theology is all about. Being a pastor I’ve sat with people who looked like lost Basset Hounds searching for their purpose in life. Being a preacher I’ve made sermon references to the first Q and A of the Westminster Catechism that asks in 17th century language What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. I’ve taught a class here on the Purpose-Driven Life. All well and good, but some of this search for meaning leaves me cool.
What warmed me up was the only quote that I can remember of any Preface to any book that I’ve ever read, and I read a lot! It was from Hebrew Testament scholar, Walter Bruggemann’s book The Land, where I paraphrase his words to be:
Westerners are preoccupied with questions of meaning, but the Hebrews who received God’s promise of land knew that it was roots that mattered.
Yes! I’ve thought. So how does God call us to tend our roots for greater fruit today?
Though I am hardly as rootless as African slave Kunta Kinte, I have often felt this need to search for roots. Having moved from Grand Rapids, MI to Yokohama, Japan to NS Branchburg, NJ I feel a bit like each transplant has yet to give me the time to send down deep roots. And so part of what God sent me to the Netherlands to discover on this sabbatical trip was my roots. And this was a God-thing because little did I know that when I first sent a request to the Dutch Reformed Church denominational newsletter for another pastor interested in an exchange that God would prompt Sita Hofstra to answer from the region from which Grandpa Buurstra immigrated 101 years ago. The family story has it that my swashbuckling grandfather came here because otherwise at 18 he’d have to join the Dutch cavalry and he was afraid of horses. A noble reason, no?
So Sita called the few Buurstras remaining in Sint Annaparochie asking if they might have had family immigrate around 1907 named Foppe or Frank. She found this motley crew whereby my great-grandfather and her grandmother were sister and brother. How cool is that? We’re exchanging old pictures, and comparing genealogies here.
And then Sita took us to the very street on which Foppe Buurstra grew up. Though it had changed some when I stand there I wonder how 19 year-old Foppe screwed up the courage to leave his family and everything he knew to come to America.
Indeed the root of the fascination with roots can be found in the way God wired us. Why are there so many passages in the Bible like 11:27…? In the KJV days we called these begat passages because Jamesian English read Terah begat Abram who begat Isaac… Because God’s way with Abraham teaches that one place where we find our roots is people. Our ancestors reveal our physical and metaphorical DNA.
God’s way with Abraham shows us the other place we find our roots is in place. People and place. Place shows us the soil and nutrients into which we were planted. God gave his people a place that they called “the promised land.” Even as I write this Obama is visiting Jerusalem where Jew and Arab are still fighting over that land. For God gave that land to Abraham’s children which included both Isaac (Jew) and Ishmael (Arab).
People and place show us our earthly roots which, to the extent that those people and places are Christian, help us be be rooted in Christ, our ultimate root. And being rooted in God through people and place gives Abraham the courage to find his wings to fly from Ur to the Promised Land. Without strong roots he might not find his wings.
So what about your roots? What value does being rooted in Jesus through people and place have for you? How do your roots bless you to be a blessing to others?
Tending our roots nourishes our sense of self and destiny. When I found that she teaches a Bible study at her home my call to teach/preach the Bible was confirmed. When I saw how tidy the streets of St. Anna Parochie, I was reminded again why Americans call me a neat freak. When we found a similar, unnamed, old lady’s picture that we both had in our family archives, I felt a closer connection across 4000 miles.
However, when we look at our roots we may also notice disease. In many families there is buried the secret of alcoholism. Knowing this is very helpful in deter-mining, with God’s help, to reverse the don’t talk, don’t touch and don’t feel rules of an alcoholic family by talking, touching appropriately, and sharing feelings in our family.
So, the God of Abraham’s people and place calls us to tend our roots by paying attention to the special places and people in our lives because well-tended roots bear greater fruit. Will you confirm your desire to tend your roots by standing to read with me that familiar poem, Roots and Wings, as printed in your bulletin? Make this your prayer.
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