“I pray . . . you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints . . .” –a portion of Ephesians 1:17-18
When Wendell and I first visited Grace Lutheran in November of 2008 and again in January of 2009, I noticed that there were green bushes around the church. There was so much to take in, and we were here for such a short time. I didn’t pay too much attention to details. Sometime after having moved here, I suppose it began to dawn upon me that many of those green bushes were rose bushes. Yet, I still didn’t pay much attention to landscaping details. There’s so much more green everywhere in western Oregon compared to southwestern Idaho, that I just appreciated seeing green in whatever form it appeared.
Now, here I am writing this article in mid June, and all those non-distinct green bushes have become very distinctive, vibrant rose bushes. They are breathtakingly beautiful! What a wonderful discovery. How much I have enjoyed seeing them. The blooms, of course, won’t last forever. At some point these multi-colored, distinctive plants will return to being similar looking green bushes. When that happens, however, I will never look at them in the unenlightened way I once did. I know of their riches. Even though such richness may remain hidden much of the year, I know that it will appear again. I will look forward to its next advent.
As important as my discovery of the beauty of the roses of Grace Lutheran has been my discovery of the caretaker of the roses at Grace – Stan Miles. Though I have also learned other things about Stan, learning of his association with such beautiful plants points to the richness of Stan as well as the richness of the roses he nurtures.
Stan is just one of many saints that make up the faith community of Grace, the faith community of Corvallis, the state, the country and the world. As I become acquainted with the distinctiveness of individual saints, get a glimpse of each one’s unique form of beauty, I discover how wonderful this inheritance of riches is. When, with Stan’s permission, I cut some of the roses of Grace to gift another, I was quickly reminded of another characteristic of roses besides their beauty. Once contact moves beyond seeing to touching roses, those painful thorns come into play. Ah yes, even roses have to have some vice. So, it is with us saints as well. As Luther put it, we are simultaneously saints and sinners.
When it comes to handling roses, one must be very careful and/or wear gloves. It might be well to remind ourselves that we must also be prepared to deal with one another’s thorns as well as one another’s riches. Perhaps, this is where that hope to which St. Paul refers comes into play. As we encounter one another’s thorns as well as one another’s beauty, we are reminded that, individually and corporately, we are dependent upon God’s grace to bring us together and keep us together despite those thorns.
The reality of thorns does not take away the beauty and richness of roses. Neither does the reality of sin take away the beauty and richness of the people of God. It simply points us to the redemptive, transformative power of God’s grace, and the rich inheritance we share. Thanks be to God, the true master gardener.