Year C - Trinity 13 ( UK ) : Psalm 1
When I was at Oak Hill Theological College we used to retain links with former students of the college who were called "Old Oaks"! So Ken Horleston, Will Slater, and myself are all "Old Oaks"!
I would like each one of us to think what if we were a tree what type it would be. Would we be an evergreen, keeping going all year? Or a deciduous, giving up our leaves in autumn and being exposed and hibernating during the winter. Do we see ourselves as a thin but strong and supple willow? A pretty cherry blossom? A prickly holly tree? A redwood, the biggest and oldest of trees. 400 feet high, over 30 feet thick and living for up to 2,000 years.
I would like us to imagine that each of us is a tree. I've yet to see a tree sitting down so let's stand, spread out our branches and imagine that we are a tree. A specific type of tree. Of course I'd have to be an Old Oak.
Its always windy in Talke so we can sway gently in the wind. A few weeks ago my wellington boots needed replacing. I knew that when I started getting wet feet. I'd like you all to imagine that you have wet feet. Both of them, because your feet are your roots. Like a tree planted by streams of water as Psalm 1 says. The roots absorb water and dissolve minerals. The trunk carries the sap, along the branches and hold the leaves in the sunlight. The leaves make food.
Healthy trees will produce fruit. Look at the ends of your arms, and imagine the fruit that your tree produces. It may be a fruit, like an apple, a berry, like a holly tree, or a nut like an oak tree. Let go of your fruit. It may be difficult to do this. You've spent a long time growing it but the Psalm says that trees must yield their fruit in season.
Please sit down.
I don't know if you have ever travelled through a man made forest where all the trees are the same, probably fir trees, and they are all planted in lines. Very neat and ordered, but very unexciting and predictable. All the same type and ages the same distance away from one another.
If I were to ask each person here today what type of tree they imagined they were I guess there would be many different types. Different ages, some closer to some trees than others. There are times when I might long for an unexciting predictable forest, but God's forest is a mixture. A variety, each one of us different, producing different fruit for the benefit of the forest, and of the world.
The forest would benefit from the fruit that falls giving its seed to produce a young tree. So we need to be involved in sowing seeds some of the gospel. Sharing with others in word and deed what a difference Jesus makes to our lives.
Fruit from an apple or pear tree can provide food fro people. Giving them pleasure and sustenance.
Some trees are grown to give wood. Just look around our church today to see the many things made of wood. Wood featured in Jesus life. He was born then placed in a wooden manger. Learned to be a carpenter. Died on a wooden cross. Just as wood is sacrificed to provide furniture, boxes, paper today, so Jesus was sacrificed to give us life. Life in all its fullness.
As a walked up Crown Bank this week I noticed how some of the twigs at the end of the tree branches were changing colour. Signs of spring and new growth. Between the bark and wood is a layer of cells called cambium. This is a perpetually youthful tissue. So the cells at the tip of every twig grow like cells in a newly sprouted seedling. Each year the cambium adds a new layer of cells to the older wood. From this we get the rings that enable us to tell the age of a tree.
Psalm One paints this picture of a believer who is supplies and nourished by God. By his law, the Bible. By streams of living water, the Holy Spirit who lives within us. Yielding fruit in season, with healthy leaves, prospering. Not in a material way, but in our relationship with God.
The rings of a tree can be different. Where there is good rainfall there is healthy growth and a thick ring. Where there is drought and little growth there is a thin ring.
As a tree if you or I were to be cut open and look at our rings I wonder what we would see ? We might be able to look back with fondness on some years where there is a thick ring. Yet there are others where the ring is thin. I wonder what the last few outer rings are like ? If there has been healthy growth and good fruit. Or if it has been a time of drought. Perhaps going on in our own strength, seeking to seek out our own water our own strength rather than the river that God provides for us. At our side. Waiting to provide for us.
God's grace, his undeserved favour is given to us and our discipleship of him is rooted in this. Like the tree with the roots in the waters of the stream.
Growth is rooted in God's grace, fed by his word the Bible. Read Psalm 1:2.
This is why it is so important that we understand the Bible. To feed us, inform us, enlighten us about the way that god wants us to live in his love.
In Israel this was never an individualistic private, thing but involved the whole community. The family and the nation. There was always the company and support of others. Older people encouraged and guided the younger members who, in turn brought their own energy and enthusiasm.
We all need the care and support of the church community to grow. This has to involve everyone. There is no Biblical support for an individual Christian existence, or a reliance upon an individual, or a few individuals to do everything.
We might feel that our trust in God is small and appears week, but Jesus told the parable of the Mustard Seed ( Mk.4:30-32 ) to illustrate how God's kingdom or rule can grow in a spectacular fashion. The mustard seed is minute yet can produce a treelike shrub 10 feet high. God's kingdom began in a small and insignificant way. On a cross. But one day it will be great and powerful. It can start in small ways in a person, but grow to be something really spectacular and fruitful.
You see God expects us to bear fruit for him, because of him. The fruit shows us what the tree is like. READ Matthew 7:15-20.
In Jesus' day the black berries on buckthorn could be mistaken for grapes. Some flowers on a thistle could be mistaken for figs. Yet a closer examination would soon reveal the truth.
Jesus is teaching that the fruit that we produce, what we say and do, will show what type of tree that we are. For a while some people may put on a front of living according to God's ways. Yet time will tell says Jesus. If we are rooted in God's love, sustained by his word in the power of the Holy Spirit we will be loving, welcoming, humble. If we are not then this can lead to insecurity, self-justification, trying to further oneself and blaming others.
In Jesus teaching and in Psalm One there is the doctrine of God judging those who do not grow and bear fruit. God is patient and merciful, but he expects us to rely on Him and to produce fruit. The fruit of the Spirit : love; joy; peace; patience; kindness; goodness; gentleness; faithfulness; self-control. All of them. Growing, slowly, not instantly, but growing, steadily in God's grace. They are fruit of the Spirit. Not of our own will or strength, but by letting God the Holy Sprit be God in our lives.