This is far from theology, simply the fact that the poorest little wood-cutter or peasant on the heath or miner can have moments of emotion and inspiration which give him a feeling of an eternal home to which he is near. –Vincent van Gogh
Years ago when Sandy and I were coordinating a summer youth hostel ministry in Europe, one of the missionaries we visited said he was taking us somewhere just north of Paris. He wanted to surprise us and so he did not reveal our destination. He drove us to the little town of Auvers-sur-Oise and then to the town cemetery. He walked us to a plot and pushed away the vines covering much of a stone. It was the headstone for the grave of Vincent van Gogh.
Perhaps, you know much of this man’s story. Born in the Netherlands, he learned art from a very early age, but painting did not capture his heart. Jesus did. He was trained as an evangelist and worked among the poor, the working class. Indeed, he adopted their lifestyle and received criticism from his supervisors for doing so. He became disillusioned by a church distracted from her mission. The result was that he lost his mission.
Somewhere along the way, the church had lost her humility. No longer did she see her mission as to love the poor and share the grace of Jesus. No longer were her pastors to be among the people. They were too dignified for that.
Christ labored for thirty years in a humble carpenter’s shop to fulfill God’s will. And God wills that in imitation of Christ, man should live and walk humbly on earth, not reaching for the sky, but bowing to humble things, learning from the gospels to be meek and humble in heart. Vincent van Gogh
I couldn’t help but wonder if the church has always faced this temptation: to turn from the humble love of Christ to other things, from the poor to success, and in the end has lost the glory of Jesus. This morning I am preaching on James 5, the opening verses of that chapter. James’ letter almost turns bitter at this point because he sees believers turning away from Jesus and his kingdom to live for the kingdom of this world. He grieves because they have forgotten Jesus. I worry as I read the text that the “they” is me. Our culture of wealth and status remains alluring and enchanting. My heart can so easily be taken captive by it all. I need to constantly look at Jesus.
I am still far from what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed. I want to be bound to Christ with unbreakable bonds and to feel these bonds. –Vincent van Gogh