Jesus was green before green was a thing. Our Lord loved using plants for his teaching analogies. Remember his parable of the sower (Matt 13:1-9)? You could almost see Jesus walking with his followers, pointing to the various kinds of soil—the rocky crags, the sun-dried dirt, and the dark, fertile soil. But even before Jesus came to earth, he was speaking “in green” when he was guiding his people in the Old Testament through the prophets. One of God’s favorite metaphors for his people was a vine. God, the songwriter, actually penned a love-ballad for his people using this very picture. It begins like this: “Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard” (Isa 5:1 ESV).
So when we come to our theme passage for Animate 2019, we need to appreciate just how green it is: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Col 2:6-7 ESV). The apostle Paul is actually summoning a very ancient biblical idea, and one that has everything to do with worship. The Psalms, as many know, are God’s inspired collection of worship songs. Have you ever noticed the themes of the first song in that collection, Psalm 1? They’re meant to set the tone for the whole book. In a sense, Psalm 1 exists in its position to say, “This is what a worshiper really looks like.” And what does a worshiper look like? She looks like “a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season and its leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3 ESV). I’m pretty sure Paul had this very worship song echoing in his head when he was encouraging the Colossian church—and us—to remain rooted in Christ.
I don’t know about you, but I for one find it insanely difficult to remain rooted in Christ. I always feel like my roots are being pulled up and blown this way and that by all the stresses and difficulties of life—all of life’s thorniness. Thorns take many forms—suffering, stress, relational strain, sickness, grief. But all the different types of thorns share one common characteristic: they hurt. And as they hurt, the thorny plants tend to choke the life out of the other healthy plants around them. It’s this life-choking, thorniness of the day-to-day grind that I find so often pulls me up by the roots and takes me out of the rich soil of Jesus. How then, midst the thorns, do we heed Paul’s words to remain rooted in the very Christ we first received? This is where worship kicks in.
God has seen fit to build into the weekly rhythm of the world a seven-day cycle of labor and rest. And it’s on that seventh day that God has chosen to grant Christians to set aside to gather, to worship, to get re-rooted. What is it about worship that re-roots us? Listen again to Paul: “as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” What Paul is talking about here is the gospel. How did each and every one of us receive Christ Jesus the Lord? We received him by faith, not trusting in a righteousness of our own (to borrow Paul’s language from another epistle). We received Christ Jesus as sinners in need of a Savior, orphans in need of a home, transgressors in need of forgiveness and grace. Paul is saying to us, “Remember that posture? That place of total helplessness and surrender? Stay in that place. Forever.”
There are certain rhythms that have been a part of Christian worship since the very beginning. They are things like being honest about our sin before God (often called “confession”), and proclaiming publically the good news that Jesus Christ came to save sinners (often called “preaching”). There are practices of historic, biblical Christian worship that support and “re-preach” these things, like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. All these practices are meant to help us get back to that place, that place we understood clearly when we first “received Christ Jesus the Lord.” Worship exists to re-root us, to help press those roots that have been yanked out by the thorniness of life back down into the warm, wet, safe, fertile soil.
I’m thrilled about being a part of Animate 2019. It’s going to help us remember, as young worship leaders, to keep the main thing the main thing. It’s going to help us put our minds, hearts, and souls around those essential truths about worship that will keep us and our fellow believers rooted and built up in him. It’s going to center us on the gospel of Jesus Christ. See you then!