I’ve long been impressed by the biblical images of God as a gardener. One of the implications of that concept is that theology needs to include a place for compost. I have been engaging in a bit of theological composting and here is some of what I think this means.
Composting is a word which speaks of natural processes, closely related to gardening, and growth. But it also relates to rotting, taking time, the end of some things and the promise of new things.
Composting involves the gathering up of scraps, cuttings, things that have blown in or blown over, things that had to be dug up, swept up or weeded out, the clippings, and things that have simply died: all this has to be gathered up and pushed into the right space, a warm, moist and fecund place, where it can be re-born.
Worms do their work, breaking down what is waste and restoring the potential of all that is rich and resource-filled.
Composting is a time when in silence, in darkness, in unknown ways, life is very richly, very effectively restored.
I have been composting. Or if you prefer, I have been allowing the worms of the Spirit to do their work.
Here is one thing that has emerged from my compost— and I hope there will be more posts to come, on this theme.
Romans 12, 1-8:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
I will not attempt an exegesis of the text, as such, but I note a number of things.
First, is the dynamic of the passive and the active.
There are things we need to do and things only God can do for us and in us. We can make ourselves available, by presenting our selves, each of us, making ourselves available as living sacrifices to God.
In doing this we will not be conforming to the ways of this world. We will not be allowing the society or indeed our own ambitions and needs to set the agenda.
We will be making an active choice: offering ourselves to God.
But then notice that it is God who will transform us: who will make us to be what is good and acceptable and perfect.
There is much to be said for discovering the passive mood in scripture: what we allow God to do, to make of us, to work within and through us.
With those two things clearly in sight, not one without the other, but both of them, we proceed then to Paul’s advice: verse 3, make a ‘sober estimate’ of yourself.
Do not think too highly, nor too lowly, but with a sober judgment, recognize what it is that God has given you. Think of yourself according to the grace you have received.
It’s good to recognize that this term we often translate simply as gift is actually also the word for grace.
The gifting we have is fundamentally a work of grace.
The measure of grace: this is what we are to recognise, soberly, and this is what we are to be, indeed it is what we are to live: this grace, this gift.
Think with gratitude of the measure of grace you have received, and that is your gifting for ministry, for life.