Dr. Roy Lauter was a professor at Asbury College while I was a student there. He grew up in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, spoke with a thick mountain accent, and loves to tell stories (some of them true- others just because he's a good preacher) about the life he knew growing up there.
One of his stories had to do with a cousin, Rembrandt Tacket. Rembrandt was not his real name, but that is how he came to be known to family and friends because he was an enormously talented painter. Although he never had any desire to give up his hillbilly lifestyle, he became known as one of the most talented folk artists in Kentucky.
A wealthy horse farm owner from Lexington became familiar with Rembrandt’s paintings, and wanted to hire him for a project. So she drove out into the mountains one day and tracked him down, finding him sitting in his yard in his overalls. She introduced herself and explained that she would like to hire him to paint a portrait of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples.
Rembrandt began to protest, saying that he wasn’t much of a religious guy, but when the wealthy woman mentioned that she was prepared to pay $25,000 for the work, he agreed and said he would have it ready in a week.
The week passed, and the wealthy woman returned to see what Rembrandt had been able to do. He unveiled the painting, and it was beautiful. She had trouble believing that an artist with no training and so little education could produce such a wonderful piece. As she studied the painting, however, she noticed something wrong. She double-checked to make sure, “1,2,3,4,…13! Mr. Tackett, there are 13 disciples with Jesus in your painting!”
“Is that a problem?” Rembrandt responded.
“Yes, it’s a problem. I’m not paying you $25,000 for a picture of the Last Supper that has 13 disciples!”
“Don’t worry, ma’am. I can fix it. Just come back tomorrow, and I’ll have your painting with 12 disciples.”
She left and returned the next day. What was Rembrandt’s solution? He had taken the extra man in the painting, and added a sign hung around his neck that said, “I’m not a disciple. I just came for the food.”
The author of the book of Hebrews gives us a similar image to encourage his readers to go on to maturity in Christ:
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. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Hebrews 6:7-8)
It’s easy in our Christian lives to settle for showing up for the food, or to be the land that drinks in the rain without ever producing the appropriate fruit. In a culture like ours, where even in financial times like we are experiencing now the large majority of us still live very comfortably and free from persecution or danger in our lives with God, it seems that the option will always be available to us to show up, enjoy the good things about being a Christian and being part of a good church, but never seriously enter into Jesus’ school of living as one of his disciples.
The author of Hebrews goes on to say that we cannot stay where we are in our relationship with God, but that we must continue pressing on, all the way to maturity in Christ. May it be so for each of us.
Imagine what it would be like if all of us decided to fully pursue the life that God has for us: if we set ourselves to learning daily from God how to live our lives through reflecting on the Scriptures, if we committed ourselves to finding ways to do good to others around us, and if we took any means necessary to rid our lives of the things that hold us back from God’s best for us.
It is wonderful to think about, and the best part is that because of God’s limitless grace given to us in Jesus, it is possible. For you, for me, and for all of us together, full and abundant life in Christ is available, at hand, and waiting to become a reality among us.
We can begin by thinking of a way that each of us can live our lives as God wants today, and then make it happen. We will all be in it together, and God is with us.