Story is communicated through relationship. When Jesus wanted to show us the story of Eden, to give us a glimpse of how the world was meant to be, he didn’t do it through proclamation. He did it through relationship with people. Sure, Jesus preached and taught, but the majority of his time was spent walking with people and living among them. John 1 lets us know that Jesus dwelt among us (v14) or as Eugene Peterson puts it, he “moved into the neighborhood.” Jesus tells a story in the context of relationship. He’s not interested in intellectual affirmation of his message. Jesus wants relationship with us and participation in his story of good news.
We see, more than that we feel, the story of the good news because of relationship with Jesus. It’s a mystery that can’t be fully explained through logic or reason, but it can be felt in the gut. Donald Miller talks about the reasons for love. When you ask a man why he loves his wife, he might say that it’s because she’s pretty, funny, smart, loving, kind, etc. But, if you offer him a woman who’s prettier, funnier, smarter, more loving and more kind, he won’t accept. Those aren’t the reasons for love, but the explanation we develop for the mysterious connection we feel. Our hearts love and then our brains seek to explain it.
So, starting with an intellectual explanation of Jesus and his story is a poor way to help people see the good news. Rather starting with love, mysterious and mystical, gives people a way to experience good news before they can understand or explain it. That can only happen in the context of relationship.
Relationship is the seed-bed of the gospel. It’s the ground that must be tilled before it’s ready to accept the word, it must be watered so that the truth of Jesus’ love can germinate and it must be kept clear so that the story of the Spirit can grow up into the lives of people. Without relationship though, none of the rest is possible.
I’m thinking about the time I spent as a farmer in Ireland. It was a summer of hard work. We first had to clear the planting area which was waist high with a mix of thistle, stinging nettle and bind weed (which would bind it all together). Once all the obstacles were removed and the earth broken open, then the seeds could be planted. Then it was time to wait. Perhaps a week went by (which was an eternity) and the dark earth showed no signs that our work had been worthwhile. The weeds sprouted almost immediately, but those lines where cabbage and kale, beans and lettuce should have been growing were bare. We could do nothing but wait.
Eventually the plants started growing and we kept watering. And weeding. So much weeding. We went over that garden dozens of times removing weeds that were growing up all around the plants. Every patch of soil passed through my fingers several times over. And still the weeds came. So they had to be pulled again.
Relationship is not so different. It takes touch after touch to keep developing. It takes patience to wait and watch what happens. It takes persistence to cover the same ground time and time again. And, it takes the vision to see that things can be different. The good news is visible through relationships that are tilled, watered and tended – and then God does something mysterious.