Hospitality When You Have Trees in your Gutters

gutter with treesLately, I have been asking myself why we don’t share more of our lives together. Why are we not continually at one another’s homes eating dinner, playing together, praying together, letting our kids play together, and spending our lives together? It’s because we don’t have it all together — and that is hard for us to admit.

We have little trees growing in our gutters; our child is just a little too excitable and rambunctious; we have shag carpet in one of our rooms. In my case: some of the boards in the back of my house are rotten because our backyard floods when it rains. I don’t know how to fix them — and that is supremely embarrassing.

Here’s the truth. When we have children, we have no idea how to raise them; we know how to scar them for life but we don’t know how to raise them. Every now and then, the dog gets her heart-worm medication after the strict 30-day timeline. We just hope the vet doesn’t find out. Or, there is enough trash in the gutters that trees start growing in them. “Ah,” you rationalize, “I am making new life possible in my gutters.” Confident in your “green” credentials, you go take a nap.

When was the last time you saw confessions like these on Facebook? Usually, we write about some great skill we have, some really well-attended service, or some terrific news (or something cute). Recently, I posted something about one of my son’s accomplishments in catechesis. I did not post the fact that the boy can’t find his shoes unless they are hanging around his neck (even then, it is 50-50). I certainly don’t post that I can’t find my shoes either.

This is the Facebook way of living (it is not really a new thing). If we don’t put our best foot forward we believe that we will be judged. That is the main impediment to a life lived together with Christian brothers and sisters. We relate to each other by the law — by some standard we all accept but that we are powerless to fulfill. All that is left, then, is judgment — and no one wants that. The prospect of judgment, actually, is terrifying. So we isolate ourselves instead of risking the condemnation of the law.

After Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, many things happened. People were converted to Christ en masse from all over the Roman Empire (it is thought by many scholars that this was the beginning of the Church in Rome). What was the immediate result of this movement of the Holy Spirit? We are told in Acts 2:42-47. The people spent their time together, broke bread together, heard the apostles’ teaching, and held all things in common.

When you do all of these things, you get to know all there is to know about other people — all of their endearing qualities and all of their alienating characteristics. These people were close together and became even closer as the persecution they endured intensified. Whatever the first century equivalents of our rotten boards and gutters full of growing trees would have been, they would have been fully and utterly known by everyone else.

What made the difference for them? It’s that the Gospel set them free. It set them free from taking themselves too seriously. It set them free from self-righteousness because they knew their acceptance by God was completely by His grace. It set them free from fearing judgment because all the judgment that mattered was poured upon Christ on the cross. It set them free to love God and love their neighbors because Christ loved and died for their neighbors, too. It set them free because their hopes were in a future to come, not in acceptance by other people.

That means the secret for inter-relational flourishing (and other flourishing) is hearing and understanding the Gospel. Grace is for you — and it is for your neighbor. God loves you at your laziest and most sloppy and alienating. God loves your neighbor in that exact state, too. This is good news because it allows us all to come together.

Now if I can just get those trees out of my gutters.

–David Browder, April 24, 2018