The Tree of Life: Part I

 

At the center of earth’s creation stands a tree.

I have always loved trees.  I think I love trees so much because it’s among the trees that I feel closest to God. All kinds of trees. Some newly formed and just beginning their life span, and some ancient, each ring containing a tale of God’s continuing act of creation.

And I think it’s this love of trees that has lead me, over the course of the past several years, to notice that there are many references to trees in the Bible.  Recently I have focused on six of these references and I have begun to tease out their deeper symbolism.  The result of all this is this six-part sermon series marrying the Biblical concepts “rooted” in these tree metaphors (pun intended) with a deeper understanding of how they connect with our everyday lives.

Now, The Biblical story seems to support this concept.  It begins with a tree at its center in Genesis, the “Tree of Life”, and it ends with a focus on the “Tree of Life” in Revelation. And scattered among the pages in-between, there are literally hundreds of references to trees.  So as people of faith, we “live between the trees.”

Now, this notion of “living between the trees” isn’t one I can take credit for…  It comes to us from a pastor named Rob Bell.  I saw a YouTube video once featuring Pastor Bell planting a tree while asking some very intriguing questions and offering some very poignant remarks.

“We want to know why we are here,” says Bell. “If our lives really matter. How our religion is relevant to this life. Today. We want to understand what significance this minute, hour, week, month, and year has upon our lives. To our world. We need a God who cares about this life, in this world, right now. We want to understand why everything we think, everything we say, and everything we do matters. We don’t want to just sit back and wait for something to happen or someday to come. We want to know if all the choices we make now will shape our world and lives for eternity. Because we want our lives to have meaning today, and our lives today to have meaning forever.”[i]

It’s with this stream of consciousness that I wish to pursue these “tree” texts.  I don’t want to offer you a picture of a God who created and left; something like a “drive-by” creation. I don’t want to offer you a picture of a Jesus who existed and healed and loved only in the past. Instead, as pastor Bell said, we need “a God who cares about this life, in this world, right now!” We need a God who has spoken to us in the past and is Still-Speaking, still creating, in the world today.  We need to know that God is with us and that what we say and what we do, matters.  We need to know that our lives finally matter.

To explore this possibility, however, I think the first thing we need to talk about the meaning of time. The Bible continually portrays God as existing infinitely into the past, and infinitely into the future rendering this realm between the trees, temporary. It’s not how things were before the beginning nor is it how things will be after “the end.” This world that we live in is but a portion of eternity.  But the world we live in, this very moment in time, is our reality. Now, when a Jewish Sage named Jesus comes onto the scene in first century Israel, his understanding of reality and eternity is that eternal life begins right now. In theological terms, it’s called a “realized eschatology.” He teaches in parables about people who do good work with little responsibility, and thus, in turn, are given greater responsibility later down the road. So, the work we do here in this life does matter.  How we love God and love our neighbor, matters.  How we reach out to those in need, whether that need is hunger or thirst, employment or an alternative means to survive, clothing or a roof over a homeless head, what we do, matters.  How we go about reaching out to our fellow human beings, how we care for the environment, how we choose to worship God in the reality of this world has implications in eternity and it matters to God! Real world things matter in eternity!

A few summers ago, we experienced a drought. I would imagine that it’s no surprise to any of you that the scorching heat and the prolonged lack of rain is hard on plant life. So, the Condo association where I was living at the time send out an e-mail asking each resident to water the trees and shrubs on our common grounds. (Even the well-established ones are in danger of withering and dying) Interesting, even though trees are a symbol of longevity and strength they still need a helping hand occasionally.  Now, would all the trees in Wisconsin die if we didn’t step up and water them? Of course not.  The trees will endure.  But they I think they were a little better off because of the refreshing drink of water we gave them during the drought.  In other words, we did make a difference.

And that my friends is where this sermon series on trees will find its roots.  These tree metaphors will symbolically lead us through the Bible touching the leaves and the branches of many trees as we travel along.   It’s a very tactile, “hands-on” journey with a God who happens to also be very tactile and “hands-on.”

One final thought this morning, on many occasions, people have asked me the question, “Where is God?” But maybe a better question to ask would be… “Where Isn’t God?” God’s fingerprints are all over this world, or maybe it’s God’s world and our fingerprints are on it. As Rob Bell once stated, “We live between the trees in a world that is drenched in God.”[ii]

My friends, perhaps our lives, perhaps our faith, should also be “drenched in God” And as we go back out into the world today, may each of us be a hose, a “super-soaker” drenching all whom we encounter with the grace and compassion and understanding and yes, the love we have come to know living here, between the trees.

May it be so. Amen.

[i] “NOMMA Trees/ 003 Rob Bell”  (Video series by Flannel,  Published by Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2005)

[ii] Ibid.

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