Pando Believers

Blind Faith (No. 31, 2015)
Weekly Devotional for July 30, 2015
Pando Believers

The Pando grove in the Fishlake National Forest in Utah is one
of America’s greatest natural wonders. The grove of quaking aspens is
located 1 mile southwest of Fish Lake on the western edge of the Colorado
Plateau of the Rocky Mountains at 8,848 feet above sea level, covering
around 106 acres. In comparison, the Bankhead National Forest in Alabama
covers 181,230 acres. What makes the Pando Aspen glade special is not the
acreage it covers, but the fact that it is one single organism, reportedly
the largest and perhaps oldest living body on earth! Particularly at high
altitude, an aspen tree proliferates from a single seedling by spreading its
roots. The roots produce shoots (called ramets) which emerge from the soil
to grow as what appear to be solitary trees. However, the ramets are all
genetically identical and connected by the single root system. The Pando
aspen consists of more than 40,000 apparently individual trees, together
weighing over 13 million pounds! Its unitary nature was discovered in 1968
and celebrated by a U.S. postage stamp in 2006 as 1 of the 40 “Wonders of
America.” This single organism is estimated to be older than 80,000 years,
although the average age of the individual trees growing from the ancient
root system is 130 years.

Several Christian authors have highlighted the Pando aspen in
recent years as an illustration of what followers of Jesus Christ should be
like. New Testament writers followed Jesus’ example in using metaphors of
growth and the composition of a healthy body to explain the relationship
between Jesus and disciples that spread and emerge throughout the world and
across history. The essential core of the metaphors is that Jesus is the
unique identity that unites all faithful individuals into one single body to
give glory to God. Relating the Pando grove to language specifically
mentioning organs and human body parts is not doing any mixed-metaphorical
violence to the scriptures. The purpose remains unchanged: believers are
one, united as Jesus lives in us.

Even the name of the Aspen grove points us toward authentic
relationship to Christ. Pando is Latin for “I spread.” It is a marvelous
shorthand explanation of our role as followers of Jesus. The last word Jesus
gave his disciples – and us, by extension – to follow was to replicate
themselves, and through new shoots from the root, to spread the essential
grace of Christ, himself. Jesus said, “Go and make followers of all people
in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the
Holy Spirit. {20} Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you, and
I will be with you always, even until the end of this age.” (Matthew
28:19-20 NCV) Pando – “I spread” – should be the nickname of every faithful
follower of Jesus.

Helping other disciples to emerge through faith in Jesus is very
important, but it is not the central focus of either the Pando Aspen or the
New Testament images to which it can be linked. We tend to expect that the
individual disciples we help to propagate will look, sound, and act with
strong resemblance to ourselves. The individual members of the Pando aspen
do share similar patterns of growth and displays of foliage. But they also
present a great diversity. Some trees in the grove bear deep scars from
fires. Others have been broken by windstorms, or struck by lightning, or
beset by insects or fungi. Some have thrived with ample water while others
have endured marginal hydration. They shelter many different species of
birds and other wildlife in a rich variety of nests and habitats attached to
the trees. The trees look like individual organisms that happen to live
together in a forest. The reason that Pando was recognized as a single
organism as late as 1968 is that confirmation of the identical genetic
makeup of the trees only came into place around that time. The trees having
the same DNA trumped all similarities or differences in how one tree might
differ from or resemble another. They are of the same nature.

Jesus and New Testament writers uniformly stress that the
disciples who crop up by faith in Jesus posses the indwelling, exact nature
of Christ. Acts 11:26 reports that believers were first called Christians –
Greek, Christianos, or “just like Christ” in Antioch. Paul uses the image of
a single body to describe how each Christian believer grows in organic unity
with Jesus. He consistently taught that “we are all one body, we have the
same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. {5}
There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, {6} and there is only one
God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.”
(Ephesians 4:4-6 NLT) Paul expands the figure of speech in several texts to
address just how different various parts of the body may look or function –
just as the Pando aspen trees vary – but that the nature of Christ present
in each disciple is the crucial element. Just as the Pando aspens (more than
40,000 individual trunks currently standing, and perhaps 600 successions of
trees before them) grow from the roots spread from one original seedling,
every believer springs from Christ. As Paul puts it, “It is from [Christ]
that all the parts of the body are cared for and held together. So it grows
in the way God wants it to grow.” (Colossians 2:19b NCV) Our spiritual DNA
identifies us as parts of the single body of Christ living today . and
forever!

Jesus used images of growing in organic unity with himself the
last time he met with his followers before his crucifixion. He emphasized
that he was the root-stock from which all disciples grow. He said, “I am the
true vine.. {4} Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch cannot
produce fruit alone but must remain in the vine. In the same way, you cannot
produce fruit alone but must remain in me. {5} “I am the vine, and you are
the branches. If any remain in me and I remain in them, they produce much
fruit. But without me they can do nothing. {8} You should produce much fruit
and show that you are my followers, which brings glory to my Father.” (John
15:1a, 4-5, 8 NCV) He went on to say that people would be able to identify
them as disciples to the extent that they exhibited his essential nature,
love. Jesus also prayed that his own nature that he had implanted in the
disciples would demonstrate their organic unity both with himself and with
God. Jesus prayed to the Father for us: “I have given these people the glory
that you gave me so that they can be one, just as you and I are one. {23} I
will be in them and you will be in me so that they will be completely one.
Then the world will know that you sent me and that you loved them just as
much as you loved me.” (John 17:22-23 NCV) Indeed, as detractors in Antioch
first observed, faithful followers of Jesus are to be organically “just like
Christ.” It is what Jesus intends and creates in us.

If you claim to be a follower of Jesus, do your best to be a
Pando believer. “I spread” is a fitting mission statement for every
Christian. Making sure that you remain true to your most essential nature –
your unity with Christ – and consistently give evidence of it in your life
is the enduring challenge of faithfully living as a Christian.

– J. Edward Culpepper