“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.” Hebrews 6:7 (NIV)
The author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.” Hebrews 6:1-3
In essence, some spiritual teachings are foundational, even “elementary.” Repentance, faith, etc. are the basic materials for establishing a foundation of faith. Good, strong foundations are important. But, foundations are meant to be built on. A solid foundation is essential. But, a foundation is only a foundation. Therefore, “let us move beyond elementary teaching about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.”
My particular brand of Christianity is Methodist. One of my favorite things about Methodism is our belief that, following conversion, God begins a new work in us, growing us toward full maturity in Christ. We believe, with God’s help and our active participation, we will become like Jesus. According to Hebrews 6:1-3, the “elementary” teachings about Christ are simply the raw materials for establishing a foundation for a life of faith.
For years, I’ve participated in home construction in a small Mayan village in Guatemala, called Chontala. Most families in Chontala have traditional homes, made of adobe brick, like ones built by Mayans for millennia. The main benefit of adobe is it’s free – just made of mud and straw. The problem with adobe is it becomes brittle and unstable in earthquakes. The homes we build are concrete block construction, which tend to be more stable in earthquakes and storms.
Before we can build the walls of a concrete block home, land has to be cleared, trenches have to be dug and leveled, and foundations have to be created from rock, sand, re-bar, cement, and concrete blocks. Those are the elements of a solid foundation. But, as Hebrews describes, the foundation is just the beginning. Upon the foundation will be added walls, doors, windows, electrical, and a roof. Then, families will add furnishings and personal belongings to make a new house a home. Of course, most important are the beautiful families who will live in these homes.
Surrounding most of these homes are corn fields. Corn is the primary crop of Guatemala, and a mainstay of a Mayan diet. Corn seed, saved from last year’s harvest, is planted in fertile volcanic soil, and grows rapidly throughout the rainy summer months. For countless generations, corn has been annually planted, harvested, and dried. Some is eaten, and some is saved to be planted the following year. It’s a simple, reliable, dependable, repeatable process, vital to Mayan life.
Daily, corn is ground and cooked into tortillas, tamales and atole (a corn-based hot drink, I don’t particularly like) – the basics of the Mayan diet. From infancy to old age, corn nourishes the daily life and work of every Mayan.
This is how I imagine the metaphor Hebrews 6:7 describes,“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.” Our spiritual lives can be like those Mayan corn fields; abundantly fertile, sown with ancient seed, watered with dependable rains, producing fruitful harvests, nourishing the daily lives of many, passing on seed to generations of planting and harvesting yet to come.
Mayan corn is a dependable crop. It always has been, for countless generations
Likewise, spiritual growth and maturity is a dependable process, with God’s blessing and our participation.
The question is, are we still focused on“elementary teachings?” Or, are our spiritual lives growing, like “Land that drinks in the rain?”
As Paul writes, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)
My Mayan friends have no control over the rains. They simply plant their crops, and trust the rain to come and do its work. Similarly, we have no control over the “spiritual” rains that fall upon us, or the crops we produce. Our job is to faithfully plant the seeds of God’s word in the soil of our souls, and to place ourselves under God’s rain as much as we possibly can.
And, where does God’s rain fall? Worship. Christian friendship. Prayer. Study. Sacraments. Contemplation. Service, mercy, and justice. Silence and solitude. Spiritual direction. Place yourself where the rains of God’s grace flow, with an open heart and mind, and we will grow.
We will become like Christ. We will become who we were created to be.
Thomas Merton writes, “The secret of my full identity is hidden in Him. He alone can make me who I am, or rather who I will be when at last I fully begin to be. But unless I desire this identity and work to find it with Him and in Him, the work will never be done.”
What do you desire? Elementary teaching? Or, to become like Christ?