September 14, 2014
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
I have walked among olive trees in the Holy Land. I have touched them. Sat under their branches while taking communion in the garden of Gethsemane. These trees were/are generations old. Old enough that it is probable that Jesus sat under some of these trees. It took my breath away to think of such a thing.
To be with a tree that Jesus himself may have experienced.
That of course, was one of those amazing moments that we have all had in life. Whether it be olive trees in the Holy Land, redwoods and sequoias here in American. Eucalyptus in Australia. Trees in the BWCA, or at your favorite vacation spot. Or even a tree that is precious to you on your property.
Before LoraLee Vrieze-Spencer died she came to visit the parsonage. She was very interested in the Lilac tree in the back yard. She shared that her parents, Jean and Allen planted that tree. She had photos of herself growing up as the tree grew up. Some of you probably remember LoraLee as a small girl playing behind the branches of that tree. She was delighted to see that it was still there and healthy.
I often remember her and her family when the tree blooms in the spring.
You maybe have stories of your own of special trees in your lives.
I love to have those stories of the trees. To connect them with our own stories.
There is a holy mystery about these stories.
We find ourselves filled with awe and wonder in the midst of life.
This morning you will receive a small cross made from olive wood. The olive wood comes from the holy land. From pruned or fallen branches from century old trees. Some of which Jesus may have seen. Think of it.
Palestinian Christians make these crosses in a shop near Bethlehem, as a way to connect with other Christians around the world.
As you experience these crosses I invite you to reflect on the amazing gift of God’s creation in trees and forests.
As UM’s we are directed by our social principles to affirm that ‘All creation is the Lord’s and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings.’
This attitude of reverence and concern for creation is not sentimentality. This is obedience to the commands and the cries of Scripture. According to a Jewish Midrash from the 6th century concerning the garden of of Eden:
'At the time that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, created the first man, The Holy One, took him and had him pass before all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him: See my works, how fine and excellent they are! Now all that I created was created for you. Think about this and do not harm or desolate the world: for if you harm it, there will be none to fix it after you.' (Midrash Koheleth Rabbah). Even in the 6th century, before they knew the importance of trees to the environment, the ancient ones knew that trees were vital.
Now we know that trees provide us with more than simply consumer products. We know that a healthy forest system provides homes for more than half the world’s known plant and animal species; We know that trees protect and enrich soils and sustain water quality and quantity; And we know that trees, by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, give us healthy air to breathe.
Is it no wonder then that a healthy tree is a scriptural symbol of a person dedicated to the work of God in the world?
In Psalm 1we read: Happy are they who delight in the ways of the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by springs of living water which bears its fruit at just the right time and whose leaves don’t fade. In all that they do they prosper.”
What a great image. God’s people as trees. Not just as something large and solid, but as something that provides shelter to those who need a home. As something that provides care and protection for those who need safety and nurture. As something that provides balance and health to the world.
If I were teaching preschool right now I would ask you all to image yourself as a tree. Roots firmly planted near a beautiful stream, roots reaching out to receive nourishment from the word of God.
That beautiful clear cool water entering you like the waters of your baptism, cleansing your cells, renewing your spirit, feeding your branches. Greening your leaves.
I would ask you to imagine those branches reaching up to the sun. Receiving warmth as if from the radiant love of God. Your leaves and fruit abundant and rich.
As the finest of apples, the juiciest of plums. Enough for all your needs and the needs of your neighbors.
And as you breath in and out, imagine yourself as a tree taking in the breath of God. God’s breath filling your cells with life, with love, with worth, with purpose. And as you exhale, you fill the world with all that life, love, worth, with purpose. Cleansing the air around you. Opening up the possibilities that others will experience the breath of God for themselves.