I have been spending more time at my wife's parents' farm outside Verona, Missouri lately. B’s mom is undergoing cancer treatments, and it is good to have someone there to help her dad with her mom. Since they do not do much farming there now, and both are retired, things are pretty quiet at the farm these days. They spend their hours watching birds at their feeders, and (recently) reruns of very old shows on a television we just installed in their living room. Oh, and they like to watch the neighbors.
Most of my in-laws’ neighbors are Amish, living on small farms that dot the neighborhood. The Amish are a Christian sect, descended from the Anabaptists from 16th century central Europe who were so named for rejecting the practice of infant baptism, preferring to baptize believers who confess faith in Christ (hence the somewhat derisive name “Anabaptist”, meaning, to baptize again). Pastor Joe has taught us of the Moravians, who are also descended from the same branch of the radical reformation. Today, the Amish, Mennonites, Moravians, and Hutterites are considered directly descended followers of Anabaptism.
A common trait of the Anabaptists is seen as a strict adherence to tenets found within the Sermon on the Mount, which has led the Amish to reject many of the conveniences of modern life, including connecting to the power grid or telephone lines, owning automobiles or tractors, or using power tools. But, at least for most of these neighbors, there are some work-arounds. One has a windmill to operate his sawmill. Another has a phone booth out in their yard to keep from connecting their house to the wires. Many carry cellphones for the same reason. Some will use powered equipment if a Gentile (non-Amish) will pour in the gas. My mother-in-law relates that they tell her that the Amish choose this way of life as just that, a way of living, and that it has much less to do with religion. Additionally, they tell her they almost universally hate school (most send their kids to neighborhood one-room Amish schoolhouses). B’s mom is a voracious reader, and in their home are hundreds and even thousands of books of all kinds. Joann has tried to give books to these youngsters, and they always refuse, indicating they detest reading. Upon hearing this, I replied, “How sad. Their lives seem so small. And, they do not see any value in education and reading?”
In our home church, we are doing a study of the humanness of Jesus. This week's study touched on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. You remember these, where Jesus says blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the gentle, those who hunger, the merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted, and you when people insult you. Why? Because these people will be fulfilled. They are the ones who are to be blessed, not those in high spirits, who are filled, implacable, deceitful, brawlers, and so on. These strivers who have always taken what they desired will, ultimately, become the losers. Why? Because counterintuitively, those in the first group will find their reward in Jesus Christ. While we think those who are driven to get ahead are life’s winners, our thinking, our view of life, and our manner of existence are inside out. The world and our view of it are backwards. How do we know this? John 10:10 tells us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Jesus came in human form to perfectly relate to us and our lives. He knows what it is to be hungry, to mourn, and to be persecuted. He understands, and He has come to bring us fulfillment. In 2 Corinthians 5:17-18, Paul further explains this thinking:
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
As we become more Christ-like, as we conform less and less to this world and the idea of being a success in this world, the more abundance we will receive. Not material abundance, but abundance of life, of joy, of spirit of true shalom (a peace that encompasses our goodwill and surpasses our understanding).
As Joe often tells us, we live in a hybrid world that is neither heaven nor hell; neither the Garden nor the driest desert. So, while we cannot have the fullness of abundance that we will one day possess in heaven, we can, still today, have so much more. Christ brings to us His abundance, and we accept so little. We are stuck living our lives inside out. We only scratch the surface of the fulfillment Jesus offers. No, it is not abundance of money and stuff, neither of knowledge and power. It is an abundance of Him. When we fill ourselves with an abundance of Jesus, we will be among the blessed of the Beatitudes.
In this world and this life, we continue to live inside out, seeking our abundance and fulfillment from this world. That is the intuition of a fallen, corrupted nature that misguides our thoughts and actions. We need to reject the notions of this world, and fill up – obtain fulfillment – in Jesus.
Maybe we have something to learn from our Amish neighbors?