Mr. Greengrass lived on a quiet street in Flander’s New Jersey, and to satisfy your curiosity, yes had an immaculate lawn. Leighton taught Sunday school for 44 years in the same brick church on Hill Top lane, and never tired of telling me of Christ’s imminent return. One time as we stood on his porch, surrounded by greenery, he took me by the shoulders. “Work hard,” he said eyes bulging from sockets, veins busting from his scalp, “Jesus is coming very soon!” The hair raised on the back of my neck! I loved him, because he never failed to open the Bible in my presence. At 80 years old he went back to school, enrolling in a Master’s course, a five-year stint! “I better get to it,” he once told me, “there’s go guarantees at my age.” The last time we met, I noticed a new picture of him on an end table, cap and gown walking the isle holding up his diploma, grinning from ear to ear! The folks at Moody still talk about him.
Here at the start of a new year, Mr. Greengrass comes to mind, because I learned a lot from him, sitting in that over stuffed flowered swivel chair in his den. He sat in a straight back mahogany, leaning forward, bible in hand pointing with his index finger, gesturing wildly. His convictions oozed out of him, but it’s what he never said that made the biggest impression. Not once did he hint he had it all figured out. Not that he was clueless about the movements and intentions of God, far from it. In fact, as Melville said it best in Moby Dick, “he saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it.”
People generally didn’t know how to interpret him. He pointed to the transcendent mystery of God, rather than to creeds and tenants. He knew and loved his beat up King’s James, underlined almost every word, and was so fast in turning its pages, it was dizzying to watch him get places, sometimes without even looking. But above all I loved and admired what he taught me about how to seek and ask God for an obedient heart. He was old school, and believed that the mark of a true follower of Christ was the intensity of that following. If you didn’t walk with Christ, you did not belong to him. That kind of language threatens the gentle landscape of grace we all enjoy today, but like a coming cloud burst, though it may frighten us, it’s value lies in what’s in the cloud, not what’s booming overhead. He told me once that the Bible should read us, not the other way around. ‘It should act upon us, and we for our part respond in obedience. That’s the kind of relationship that fosters love, joy and peace. It’s what keeps us spot-on the will of God.’ He would smile then, with that gnarly knowing look of his.
I’ve made my goals, and checked lists for the coming 362 days remaining for 2013. I’ll probably hit a few. But I can’t help remembering an old geezer named Leighton, always Mr. Greengrass to me; who cared for his lawn much the same way he cared for his heart. Perfectly? Not by his own admission. Passionately? There you go. This year I want to garden more, let God pull some weeds, and water my most cherished possession—a heart willing to obey His impulse.
What do you do to tend the garden of your love for Christ?
Let us know, so we can learn and celebrate together.