Last week I spoke at the 100th death anniversary of Volbrecht Nagel, a German missionary to the South Indian state of Kerala. Though he was in Kerala only for two decades, the songs he composed are still sung in the churches. They also have made into cinematic music. Some are translated into 21 plus Indian languages. He is still remembered, and his contributions are extolled by Muslim, Hindu, and Christian Orthodox academics though he was a Christian Brethren missionary.
Also last week was the first anniversary of the death of a famous apologist of our time. During his lifetime, he faced many allegations against his character. A few months after his death, an investigation by his own organization revealed serious character flaws and sex scandals in his life. The organization that he founded published apologies to the victims of his un-Christian behavior on their website. Now, the organization that he founded has removed all references about him from their website, his books are withdrawn from the market. The reputation that he built by making himself a brand and his ministry a commodity is now being trampled underfoot. All this within an year of his death.
The reputation of the Nagel, the man who wanted to be more like Jesus continues to inspire us. There must be something to learn from the stories of these two people. These are two allegories of two types of Christian lives. The right and wrong beginnings which naturally led to wrong courses and then the wrong end.
Christian discipleship could be imagined using the metaphor of the seed sown, grows, fruits and is harvested.
To live a Christian life, our hearts must be sown with the gospel of God’s kingdom.
In Luke 8, Jesus illustrates this with a parable. The story is about a farmer who went out to sow. While many seeds perished and did not yield anything, he was able to harvest a good harvest. Some seeds fell on the rocks, and they dried up. Some fell on the path and were trampled. What fell among thorns were choked. Several of them were eaten by birds before sprouting.
The soil was the problem, not the seed. All seeds came from the same basket, by the same person, but the place where they landed made all the difference. As with the soils, not all hearts were ready to receive the Word. Some denied it right then without allowing to take roots. A few were choked by hearts preoccupied with worry and anxiety. A word could not grow there because they did not have enough space.
Christian life begins as the Word of God is planted in our hearts. James refers to the seed that begins the Christian’s life as “the implanted Word”. “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).
When James speaks of “salvation,” he refers to the judgment of God. The Word implanted in us will grow to save us on the day of judgment. The Christian life is successful when one has planted a seed in his heart and nurtures it so that it grows and bears fruit. In Hebrews, the writer makes a similar observation about the generation of Israelites who perished along the way. “For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they did not share the faith of those who listened to God” (Heb 4:2, NLT). The hearing of the Word did not profit them for their salvation.
It is sad that many people follow Christ without their hearts being sown by the word. Their journey begins with some miracles in their life, or some needs met in answer to prayer. Their hearts are devoid of the Word and then the wither away when miracles do not happen again when they expect.
People who begin their Christian life without the Word implanted in their hearts are like wild mushrooms. The wild mushrooms are aplenty in the farms though they are seasonal. The people in the countryside gather them on the morning after a night of thunderstorm. They believe that it is the lightning the previous night that caused them to sprout. They are usually found on decaying vegetation. You must pick them immediately before another torrent wash them away, or before the worms begins to feast on them. Not all mushrooms are edible, and some are poisonous. Many Christian journey begins with the splashing display of miracles, answered prayers, or the compelling oratory skills of celebrity preachers. Their hearts are barren, but their appearances are alluring. Though they are beautiful in shape and colour they do not have deep roots. Most of them cannot stand the heat of the sun or the hunger of the worms.
For the sown seed to grow, the soil symbolizing our hearts should be pure. James urges us to remove all filthiness, wickedness and all that turns the soil sterile. We must accept the Word in meekness. Meekness is that quality of our character that makes us low down under the weight of the Word of God. Unless we are humble, we cannot carry the Word in our hearts, and keep it until it sprouts to become a plant yields fruit. Word of God sown in the hearts that are unclean and arrogant cannot grow into plants that productive. They may grow on decaying vegetation, instead of the living Word of God and perish as wild mushroom when the show is over.