Summary: A tree-themed sermon for Rural Life Sunday
The Tree of Life
At our youth group last week we were talking, of course, about the retreat and especially the part where the youth were called down to the floor. Angie, Darla, and I told the group that, while that was awesome, there were probably as many, or more, who made the exact same commitment sitting right there in their seats. The point we were trying to get across to them was that they follow the scripture verse they adopted as their youth group motto, 1 Samuel 16:7, which reads, “…the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look upon the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
And this, along with our celebrating Rural Life Sunday and the importance of trees, reminds me of a time years ago when I had to take down a tree. The farmer didn’t tell me why the tree needed to be cut down, I was just told to get it out of the way. The tree looked fine to me, full of leafy branches, a huge trunk, and standing straight and tall. But when I started the cuts to take it down, I found that the inside was decayed. It was all rotted away. The inside of the tree was hollow.
The tree looked fine from the outside, but was dead inside. The same thing happens with us, as well. We may look fine on the outside, but without the Holy Spirit living within, we are hollow, we’re dead inside. So you see, we can’t look at others and know their spiritual outlook. We can’t know for certain if the Holy Spirit is living inside of them.
Jesus is telling his disciples that he is leaving but the Father will give them an Advocate (the Holy Spirit) that will abide with them and will be in them. In this way, they won’t be “hollow” or dead inside.
Trees are used quite often in the Bible. The term “tree of life” appears in Genesis 2:9 and in Revelation 22:14. In between the Bible refers to “tree” or “trees” more than 350 times, in ways both practical and spiritual.
Some practical ways are readily apparent – the wooden chair where we sit at a wooden desk to write with a wooden pencil on paper made from wood fibers or the buildings where we live and worship, just to name a few.
But trees not only serve to meet the utilitarian needs of people, but also serve as metaphors for spiritual growth and responsibility, as well. One example is the giving of one’s life for others. The tree is cut down and made into shelter, fuel, etc. This is a metaphor for the sacrificial ministry of Jesus. A second example is in the living tree providing shade, shelter, and food during a long lifetime.
I think the “tree of life” mentioned in Gen. 2:9 refers to Jesus in many ways. The tree of life was centrally located in the Garden of Eden, readily accessible. Likewise, Jesus is centrally located in both His earthly and His heavenly garden. Another way is that trees are often planted as windbreaks, shelterbelts, and buffer strips along rivers and streams. Psalm 91:1-2 says, “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress…”. We are sheltered by the “tree of life”.
A third way (and my favorite) is the type of work trees do to provide us with life. It’s called photosynthesis. Trees and other plants take carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight to produce sugars that are converted into leaves, stems, and roots. In this process, they give off oxygen. Trees take the carbon dioxide we breathe out and return to us life-giving oxygen.
Jesus, as the “tree of life” has taken our “carbon dioxide”, our sins and “converted” it into life-giving oxygen. In keeping with our theme of trees and the tree of life, I’d like to tell you a story. You might have already heard it but it’s worth hearing again.
The Legend of the Three Little Trees
Once upon a mountain top, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up. The first little tree looked up at the stars and said, "I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world."
The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on it’s way to the ocean. "I want to be traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world."
The third little tree looked down into the valley below where busy men and women worked in a busy town. "I don’t want to leave the mountain top at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me, they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.