Sunday, September 23, 2018

"Harvest: Trees & Fruit" from "Season of Creation," sermon September 23, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy

“Season of Creation – Harvest: Trees & Fruit”
Rev. Andrew Davis
September 23, 2018
Psalm 1

One of the many wonders about living here in Quincy is that we live among many trees.  How many varieties of trees can you name that are around us?  <Pause for answers>
            Of course, this is the time of year that I love the most, as we see the brilliant shades of gold, red, and orange beginning to appear on the tress around us.  During my first Fall in Washington, DC and when I began my time as director of music at Hope Presbyterian Church, I had never seen brilliant colors like I did back East that first Fall, which made the 45-minute to hour-long drive to Mitchellville more beautiful, especially once I learned some of the back roads and how to bypass the DC Beltway.  Being from Sacramento, I’m used to summer lingering well into October and even warm Novembers, so it was a treat having a real Fall, complete with the brilliant colors and cooler temps, especially since the humidity broke in mid-September.  As I was exploring my new neighborhood around the WTS campus that would be home for the next four years, the colors in the Spring Valley neighborhood, along with the rolling hills of Maryland and Virginia was a feast for the eyes each Fall and Spring.  During my last Fall in DC, we experienced an unseasonably warm Fall and the Fall colors weren’t as brilliant considering it wasn’t as rainy that summer as they had been in the past.  Yet one Friday sabbath day, I decided to go to the Tidal Basin where the cherry trees are at and it was a feast for the eyes seeing the cherry trees in shades of red and orange and hardly any tourists around either, as many of the tourists flock to see the cherry trees in their full glory each Spring, which is a sight to behold too. 
            It seems like the trees planted by the water looked more brilliant that Fall, which I even see up here along the creeks and along the lakeshores when the dog-days of summer roll around.  Like we talked about last week when we look at the sky, then as we talked about looking at the mountains a couple weeks ago, when I look up at Claremont Ridge behind us, I love how the trees cover the mountains and are under the sky of God’s great dwelling-place, rising above us in majestic fashion.  And even within the trees themselves is an ecosystem, home to many insects, birds, spiders, and other living organisms.  And trees are varied, ranging from the majestic redwoods and ponderosa pines, to aspens and dogwoods, all the way to fruit and nut trees. 
In Genesis 1: 27-31, God creates humankind in God’s image and gives humans the trees, particularly the fruit trees to provide food, which also provides food for every living creature too from the fruits and from the various plants.   If we think more about trees throughout scripture, the scriptures are filled with many images of trees.  In a new book that’s set to be released this coming April, BlessedEarth cofounder, Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth’s Reforesting Faith “addresses the importance of trees in the Bible.”[i] In a little preview of his book, here are some quotes about the importance of trees in the Bible:

“With the exception of God and people, the Bible mentions trees more than any other living thing.”


“If I had to pick one subject other than Jesus to corroborate the inspired origin of the Bible, I’d pick trees. Why? Because while the Bible was written by many people over numerous centuries, the consistent use of trees throughout points us to one author.”


“I’ve come to understand that one of the most important reasons God chose trees is that at every stage of their lives, trees give.”


“One of the reasons I believe God blazed a tree by every important character and event in scripture is because of trees’ nearly universal presence. There are trees virtually every place that humans live on the planet.”


“You, me, earthworms, ants, bees, tigers, sloths, and aphids: we all run on trees.”


“By definition, planting a tree is the only thing that you can do in your backyard that can make the whole world better.”


“Most of us spend far more time sitting in the glow of a screen then the shade of a tree.”[ii]

            In Psalm 1 that we just heard Ron read for us, we get a mention of trees and how trees and faith are similar.  In this case, it is how those who live lives that are holy are compared to trees and those who choose a path of wickedness shrivel up and blow away like chaff, away from the source of life.  In periods of drought, we have seen trees that are shriveled up and dried out, yet when we drive by a life-giving water source, such as the river or creek, the trees seem to look a bit more lively and healthier.  In the psalm, the wicked are compared the trees that shrivel up, with shallow roots that are not able to withstand the heat or drought, more like as this one song goes, ‘dust in the wind.’ It’s not exactly one of those feel-good, warm and fuzzy feelings, but is a guide that when we live lives that are holy, or righteous in God’s eyes, we will be more like trees with strong root systems underneath, making them strong enough to withstand the winds that come up, or other forces of nature, well maybe save the woodsman’s saw or chainsaw. 
Living a life that is holy is what Methodism’s founder John Wesley calls sanctification, which is what we as Methodists strive for in our path towards salvation (or our soteriology).  In one of the books on United Methodist Doctrine in my office bookcase, Bishop Scott Jones explains sanctification as a way of growth, much like a tree that has been planted by the water and nourished.  As Bishop Jones explains,
sanctification ought to be understood in conjunction with the creation of humanity in the image of God…[furthermore] images of growth are also used.  In sanctification, one grows to be more like Christ.  As one becomes more like Christ, the power of sin gradually decreases.  More and more, the Spirit shapes the believer’s faith, hope, and love.  The Christian life is one of growing in grace toward perfection in love, until one attains the mind which was in Christ Jesus.[iii]

            When we move towards sanctification, we are growing our roots deeper, as our faith increases, so can our roots become stronger.  Of course, as John showed the kids during the children’s sermon by drawing on his experience as a state parks manager and forest ranger, all trees and plants begin as a seed and our faith too has its seeds, just as the oak trees grew out of the acorn.  Yet for seeds to become a tree over time, those seeds need nourishment and water in order for the tree to grow.  When we thing about faith is like a growing tree or ‘tree planted by the water’ in the psalm, we need the community of faith to support and nurture each other, encouraging each other, and watching over each other in love. 
Even as we watch over each other in love, we have a responsibility to watch over all of God’s creation, including the different plants, trees, and natural world, as “part of our sanctification, then, is being a good steward of all that God has entrusted into our care as well as nurturing and advocating for the resources of God’s creation to benefit our neighbors.”[iv] It’s all in how the path God wants for us is that of LIFE, except not just life, but ABUNDANT LIFE!!  I believe that God wants us to become like trees that are planted by the water, the trees of the field who will clap their hands for joy, trees with deep roots, along with the trees that bear much fruit as we grow into the likeness and come to have the mind of Christ. 
Like the quotes from Dr. J. Matthew Sleeth’s new book, maybe we need to spend a little more time among the trees than with our electronics, or compare our faith to a tree, seeing our faith grow bigger over time just like trees do from one small seed.[v] When we spend time among the trees around us, whether on a hike, or even venturing into our yards, we are spending time with God.  As I shared a couple weeks ago, I finally got out of my house on my day off and spent some sabbath time on the Mill Creek Trail along Bucks Lake, out of phone service and away from the TV or computer.  When I’m in the midst of a forest or a grove of trees such as being among the cherry trees in DC or a grove of oak trees along a bike trail in Sacramento, I feel like I’m on sacred ground, one of those thin places between God and the world.  Whenever I’m out in nature, on the trail, in the trees, or near water, I get this feeling that I can have what one of my seminary professors, Dr. Paul Cho explains as
[an honest presentation] of all the parts of our human soul before God.  [Such a presentation] requires us to give heartfelt thanks and praise, joining the heavens, the earth, and even the sea. It also requires us to cry aloud from upon the ash heaps in complaint, in sorrow, in anger, in protest to God.[vi]

            It’s in those thin places where we can praise and where we can lament, as we need space for both, just like in worship, as there’s a time to clap for joy and a time for reverence and silence.  We praise God for the trees, for the fruit of the trees that produce fruit, and for this great creation that God has given us. As we reflect on how our faith can grow like trees, we have each other to nourish and tend the seeds that were planted, whether they were planted long ago or recently.  At the same time, we can be happy in receiving the instruction of God, although we do have the choice of following the path of wickedness, which may not be the path of life and carries its own consequences.  Nevertheless, when we think about the trees, fruit, abundant harvest, and life, let us imagine going “back to the beginning in the Garden of Eden, [as it] points us to the end with a new heaven and earth.  [We are reminded] yet again what the Bible is all about – life and our journey towards righteousness [or living a life that is pleasing to God].”[vii]
            As we begin a new week, spend some time among the trees.  Think about your own journey of faith and when the seeds of faith were planted.  How has your faith been nourished and grown along the way?  What has been pruned or withered?  And, what seeds of faith are you planting in someone else, encouraging them along, and helping them to grow deep roots? 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!! 

[i] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed September 20 2018.

[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Scott J. Jones, United Methodist Doctrine: The Extreme Center (Nashville: Abingdon Pres, 2002), 197. 

[iv] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed September 20 2018.

[v] Ibid. 

[vi] "Commentary On Psalm 1 By Paul K.-K. Cho". 2018. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed September 20 2018.

[vii] Ibid. 

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