One of my favorite things to do is to walk along a path or trail in the woods and sort of meditate on all that surrounds me. Not that long ago, a friend and I were walking on a trail in Bear Meadows in the Rothrock State Forest. It was mid-summer, and it had rained the night before. So you can image the lush greens of the mountain laurel that formed a canopy over much of the trail; the tall hardwoods and spindly pines, whose roots overlapped with one another; and the rushes of grass, cornflower, dandelion and whatever assortment of weeds that grew along the meadow trail. It was absolutely gorgeous, and really one of those rare Thin Places, as the ancient Celtic mystics would call it. A place where earth touches heaven, and that horizon that divides the two seems to blur into one. To look at all that you see in a place such as this is amazing enough. But upon meditating on it further, we begin to think about not only its creation and Creator, but its design. What I mean by that is that there is this great symbiosis happening — this reliance on one plant with another, and even the insects and animals who pollinate, graze and fertilize it. On the surface, we don’t notice these things: They simply aren’t happening before us… They’re invisible. Just like the vast network of roots that lie just beneath the surface — intermingling with one another. Pull up a dandelion with its roots, you get some of the roots of the cornflower or the pampas grass. Disturb the sugar maple’s roots, you disrupt the mountain laurels… And so on… See even the mighty oak holds onto the maple and the laurel and the poplar and the sycamore. The rain that bathes what’s above the surface, sustains that which is below, and even as the plants compete above the surface, they are also dependent upon one another below. On the surface, we see only what we see — a bunch of individual plants and trees. But when we look beneath the surface, we see all of this interconnectivity, this vast and symbiotic network. And it’s only then that we begin to see how this community of plants and trees is nourished and sustained together from above: Sun, air, rain…
Ephesian roots There’s an amazing verse in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which we read a few moments ago. If we go back and read this section — this prayer of petition that Paul is making, we notice a bit of a literary technique that Paul is using as he crafts this prayer in verses 14-19 —especially if we were to read it in Greek: He asks — which is the petition part — then he praises — which is the praise, or what we call doxology. Reading it in English doesn’t exactly line up, but we can still get the idea. And so my favorite verse in this prayer is Verse 17, which tells us this: “…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” That was our lectio divina meditation that we opened the service with. I wanted for us to think about that line, in particular, because it is so relevant to not only Paul’s audience, but for ours as well. See, Paul was writing to a young and confused church in Ephesus, some of the confusion was between the Jews and the Gentiles — that is, the non-Jews— and specifically whether a Gentile needed to follow the Jewish ways in order to follow Christ. There was a large rift between the two communities. But, as Paul writes and Christ has shown, there is no Jew or Greek. There is but ONE community. And that community is simply this: Those who love. And so what Paul does in this prayer is metaphorically peel back the surface — all the stuff we see above ground — so that the roots are exposed. And once he’s able to show them this vast network of interconnectivity, of symbiosis, and of similarity, then these people who believed they were once very different realize not only how much the same they are, but also how dependent upon one another they truly are. Why? It’s God’s design. It’s God’s plan. It’s the way the Creator created us. But it’s not only how we’re created, it’s why we’re created, too. In the very next breath, in Verse 18, Paul writes these amazing words: “I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers.” How do we do that, Paul? Verse 19: “I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.” Paul is showing us that: We all share these common roots by design; When we understand that design, our response is to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth — We grasp these things by seeing that we are a part of a community —“…together with all believers,” Paul tells us; 4. That the nourishment and sustenance is through Christ, who gave us this love in the very first place; and finally 5. this is how we live in the fullness of God. The fullness of God: living into God’s plan. How? Together, rooted in Christ, grounded in love. Made possible by God and God alone. In this context, Paul is using the word “Love” to mean Christ. And since we are all Christ’s body, “Love” means “we all.” And “we all” are the church” Ecclesia. “Love” is the “Church,” here, according to Paul. Getting below the surface The word for that is superficial. Simply means pertaining primarily to the surface. If we aren’t interested in knowing others, we don’t understand them. If we don’t understand them, we can’t really know them. If we don’t really know them, we can’t really love them. They become exactly that: Thems. And we remain the opposite. Uses. And that creates separation and distance. So Paul tells us, “no.” And then he peels back the surface and says “look.” And underneath, we see we’re completely connected, intertwined and even strengthened by one another. And after our minds have been blown and grasp this concept, that leads us to the questions: How and Why? How: God’s design. Just like the rest of the natural world. Just like the Genesis account in which together we are strong. Just like the Gospels in which Christ brings us together so we are strong. Just like the book of Acts in which the church — us, all of us — we’re united, brought together in Christ, to do what? Become strong. So we can grow and flourish. And strengthen one another. And THAT right there is the why. Because God’s plan from long before the day we were born, long before Christ died for us, and long before God even created the world… this was the plan. And when God spoke to the first humans, God blessed them and said to them “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth…” Why? To take care of one another. To help others to grow and be fruitful. To give glory and thanks to God, who loves us eternally. And to spread this love to everyone.
Held This is a great place to start. Or a great place to be reminded of how we are held in God’s hands. When we pull back the surface of what we see, beneath it, we don’t physically see God’s hand holding us. But we do see God’s design. By God’s hand. We see that because of God, we are holding on to one another. We are helping one another. And we are supporting one another — all this despite what we look like above the surface. Go underground Take some time this week, and look around your yard, or the parks or the trails or your garden. Think about that network that lies beneath the surface.
Just like us. Think about how we are in our communities. And see we’re just as connected and just as rooted in the same soil and grounded in love. This is community — how we are all called to be, and how we are called to live That when we spread out our roots, we’re actually strengthening and supporting one another. And that’s God’s design. So that we can find love, we can find Christ, and we can find the Church dwelling in our hearts through faith, as we are rooted and grounded in love. Praise God.