What sets us apart from the rest of God’s creatures is that we have vision. We have the ability to think of alternative worlds and ways of life, whether utopian or dystopian. Rather than simply reacting to what’s in front of us, we have the capacity to think beyond it. The ever-expanding universe of sci-fi literature and films proves the point. In the ancient Near East, different creation stories were told to make sense of life as it was. They mainly described a world that was made through conflict between gods, what we see around us being collateral damage from this divine carnage (e.g. the oceans being the watery carcass of a dead god). Within this negative vision, humans were cast as slaves to the gods, toiling under their fickle gaze. Within this marketplace of creation stories, the Book of Genesis envisioned a radically different reality. In this Hebrew vision there is only one God, who creates the world, not through battle, but through his gracious word — all of creation is pronounced good. And, within this garden state, God makes humans in his own image, and calls them friends and stewards. This startling story of the world’s origins is given an even more incredible climax in the Book of Revelation, when God comes to live among his people in the eternal garden city — the New Jerusalem.

So, we arrive back at our question: what is the church for? What is its purpose and why do we need it? The vision of life described in Genesis and Revelation are both so radical because they were written at times when God’s people lived at the mercy of brutal empires. In each case, the biblical vision called them to live another way from the dominant culture around them — to foster a community of difference. We, too, live in a world animated by goals and rhythms that can feel more like the dystopian creation stories of old, than the divine vision in Genesis. We live frenetic lives, often reacting to obligations, expectations and schedules that seem beyond our control. “Life is busy” has become our worshipful refrain. Working and worshipping halfway down Symonds Street vividly expresses this intense reality.

Within this context, we’re called as a church to cultivate a garden in the heart of our city, that embodies and witnesses to a different vision of life. What could this look like? Well, throughout July we looked at what it means to be Sabbath-Carriers in every part of our lives. Just like in Genesis, this begins in the garden state of the church; the place where God meets with his people and breathes life into us through his presence and friendship. This spiritual garden is a place where everyone gets to participate, everyone expressing their gifts and God-callings. It’s a place where we honestly describe the world as it is, and as it should be. It’s a place where we seek to take this vision out into the world beyond; from the big picture of caring for God’s creation to bringing care and dignity to the homeless concentrated in the Queen Street valley on our doorstep. Becoming a garden state in the heart of our city will take courage, conviction and action. It will take a community of people who are convinced by and committed to that vision of the world expressed in Genesis and Revelation. How is God calling you into cultivating that eternal garden today?

Blessings, Rev Jonny Grant