May16SunMay 16, 2021 by Carey Meadows-Helmer
Come away with me into this sermon time.
Whenever I start to write a sermon it’s like going to the well with a bucket. I’ve been to the well before to draw living water, but the bucket needs to refilled often. It’s certain that since the last time I preach on a text the world has changed, and I have changed. With fresh new eyes the word opens up. The nearly empty bucket dips into the deep well full of living water. You know the living water is there. And you lower the bucket to bring some of that living water to the surface. You need to drink from it you know. Often.
When I first look at a text to preach - I look for a a few words or phrase that resonate. What caught my attention in the texts this week is this: the themes of mutual relationship, the gift of joy and the tree as an image that ties it all together.
Jesus prays to the father, before leaving the world. All mine are yours, and yours are mine. Protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. There is a lot of talk about giving, in fact the verb is used 10 times. It must be an important part of mutual love. Why this prayer, we ask? So that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. The prayer teaches us about mutuality and joy of discipleship.
That caught my attention, yet sometimes John’s words are circular and wordy. So the earthy image in the psalm - that the faithful are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit invites me in. Happy are they who delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on God’s teachings day and night. One scholars suggest that happiness is much more than the emotion we know. This Hebrew word for happiness is experienced in following the instruction of God because it allows the individual to “move forward, to develop, to grow in life” (1). To evolve. So this psalm marries happiness and purpose.
Yes, the faithful are like trees planted by streams of water.
It seems fitting, that as I was beginning to write this sermon at the office, Sebastian sent me a text with a picture of our front lawn. I had to look closer, because at first glance I could not identify the reason for the picture…No, the kids weren’t in it. No, the lilac wasn’t in bloom yet. Yes, there are quite a few dandelions. And then I saw it. Sigh of relief …Finally … the city planted a new maple in the bare space where the former ash tree grew. The long awaited tree baby has arrived after a few years of waiting. Trees make me happy. This little bit of tree good news brightened my day.
Right or wrong, sometimes, coincidences make me continue on a pathway. So I continued delving into the presence of trees and gave my sermon an early title, What the Tree Tells Us About Mutual Love - better yet - What Trees Tell Us about the Interconnectedness of God’s Creation.
Before we go any further let’s pause for a moment to try something different. Let’s imagine ourselves as the strong tree planted by the stream in Psalm 1. I invite you to close your eyes for a minute. Stand up if you are able. Plant your feet firmly in the earth. If you are a yoga person you could even stand in tree pose to engage your whole body. (That’s when one foot is planted firmly and the other bends to rest on your calf or thigh). Are your eyes closed? Are you standing if able? Imagine your roots growing deep. Being nourished by the soil. Grounded you are. A strong wind can blow but you still stand firm. Feel the soil and grass that surrounds, or the ferns and trilliums on the forest floor. Listen for a moment to the birds, and squirrels scampering and insects that buzz around. Hear the rush of the water. Feel the cool splash upon your warm trunk. Drink the quenching waters with your outstretched roots. You sense that roots from other sturdy trees are nearby, almost connected drinking from the very same waters. This gives you strength. You are not alone. Your branches stretch and reach outward and up to the sun. Your leaves are bundles of energy about to burst open into lush leaves. Receptors to the warmth. Blossoms burst with soft colours. A sign of the fruit to come. Stand tall little tree. Drink from the waters that give you life. Be nourished by the warmth of the sun. And the life that surrounds. Breathe deeply. Now open your eyes. Sitting is optional.
Trees have something to teach us about living together. The psalm compilation for this morning touches on this. Trees are strong and splendid, firmly planted, ever branching, always changing, living and giving as a tree. They are trees of wisdom, justice, plenty, promise and grace.
We are like the trees….
Trees, in fact, are far more interconnected than we know. If you’ve read Peter Wohllehben, the author of the Hidden Life of Trees (2), he suggests, trees communicate with other trees in many ways. After spending a lifetime working in forests, he writes about these trees saying such things as, Trees need each other. They have a sense of smell and taste. They even experience pain and have memories. They communicate through electrical impulses.
A story is told about the acacia trees in Africa. When a giraffe starts eating the leaves, the tree releases a gas into the air. The chemical tells the other trees that a threat is near. As it drifts through the air, other trees ‘smell’ this and respond by pumping tannins into their leaves that are meant to deter the giraffe’s from eating their lush leaves.
Remarkable, isn’t it? I find this rather mind blowing in a good way. It puts into perspective how we are such a small part of creation. It puts into check our egos with the audacity to say look how the cosmos communicates / lives without us… Humans are not the centre of the universe, although we often claim this as our inheritance. We are often the destructive forces in creation. Creation doesn’t’ need us to survive but we sure need it to live.
Another interesting hypothesis is that the trees in the forest are social. He came up with this idea after finding a very old felled tree stump. After cutting back some of the bark, underneath green was found which is a sign that chlorophyll is present, which in turn is a sign that life is present. How could a century old tree stump still have life, he wondered? Other trees in the forest, maybe the parent trees had been nourishing the felled stump for centuries, feeding it sugars and nutrients to keep it alive.
Aside from these theories being fascinating, these insights into the hidden life of trees give us some good food for fodder on what it means to live in mutuality with each other and with the earth. They tell us that God’s interconnectedness with us and with creation is far more complex than we’ll ever fully know - a masterpiece for sure. And we stand in awe at all that is unseen. There is always so much left unturned. So much that we do not know about creation and each other. The resurrected life of Jesus opens up to us pathways (among us and in our communities) that move us from death to life. We catch a glimpse of the very life of Christ that interpenetrates our lives and living.
The readings these past weeks have brought with them a series on love.
The part of love we hear today is mutuality.
But what does it mean?
The dictionary says, the sharing of a feeling, action, or relationship between two or more parties. It has to do with reciprocity, respect, of something borrowed, or interchangeable and an exchange of sorts. It is something shared in common and involves an intimacy of relationship.
Sebastian, in one of his recent sermons said, We are invited into a mutual abiding relationship with God.
Just like a loving spousal relationship where the partners are intertwined, where one partner brings out the best in the other and vice versa.
This resonates - this is a life giving quality in relationship.
In popular music, mutual love might be understood in the lyrics of a U2 song called One:
You got to do what you should
With each other
Sisters and my brothers
But we’re not the same
We get to carry each other, carry each other
In communities of faith, mutual love is sometimes referred to as the mutual consolation/conversation of brothers and sisters. Luther says this is a means of grace. It is when Gospel happens. We we hear grace-filled words in our conversations with others. Sometimes it involves story telling.
You may have heard that a few of us have been meeting for a bible book club - an initiative of the ELCIC. Together - that’s the important part - we try to make sense of faith, the world and our lives. What is happening here is mutual encouragement in our faith journeys and this is an important piece as we continue to grow together as a faith community. Thanks Bible Book Club. You are a blessing.
Paul says, in Romans 1: I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gifts that may strengthen you. That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
Since this church started in 1904, a key part has likely been the little conversations about faith that happen between you and the faith conversations that continue to take place. During fellowship, or phone calls, bible studies, prayer groups, retreats, quiet time, serving in different ways, and yes even during meetings. Sometimes I think St. Matts has a lot of meetings but perhaps they are also serving the function of mutual consolation and conversation.
These important conversations may happen in your household, between family members, at work, school, with your neighbours, or maybe even some random encounter….where God’s grace fills your bucket through word and deed.
Matthew 18 says it: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” And the purpose might be the happiness described in the psalm that helps us ‘to move forward, to develop, to grow in life and in faith’.
We are strengthen in faith by these conversations with such fruits as gratitude, freedom in Christ, healing and reconciliation, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity or self control…
Yes, we are like the trees….
Side by side.
Planted by the stream…
Drinking the living water that will produce fruit in its season.
I think the sounds of Mutual conversation and consolation can sound scary for people who are private. No one wants to be forced into sharing. Nor are we to be pressured into sharing. Sharing is the decision of the person who holds the story. But there is power in story. When one person shares a meaningful story that helped them navigate faith and life it opens up a new world for the hearer. Sharing stories of faith - fill buckets for both the sharer and hearer. Maybe it’s a story about generosity, or forgiveness or love or calling or gratitude or making sense of loneliness or finding community or knowing god’s presence even during difficult times.
Stories fill our day to day life. They make up a life time. Good stories create easy conversation and can put people at ease. We make meaning out of stories and reflect theologically through them. The stories we tell can be a gentle witness of the Gospel we live. We Lutherans (mainline protestants) are less likely to directly quote scripture we find meaningful to those we encounter but we are perhaps more likely to sit and tell a story of how the Gospel good news has impacted our lives. Let’s talk about that….
What are the re-occurring stories and memories of your life? If you haven’t already, take a moment to ponder God's faithful presence in that story. Write down the story or tell someone the story. You don’t even have to mention God but know this - God is present in the telling and the living. And God’s word doesn’t return empty.
May our joy be complete. Amen
Norton, Yolanda. Commentary on Psalm 1. Working Preacher. 2021
Wohllehben, Ben. The Hidden Life of Trees. Greystone Books. 2016