University Congregational Church
June 28, 2015
“A Tree Planted by the River of Water”
Hans Christian Anderson wrote about a butterfly who said, “Just living isn’t enough… one must also have freedom, sunshine and flowers.”
As you know, we’ve been learning from tree stories in the Bible the last few weeks. We started with the lessons from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in Genesis. We looked at the call of God through the story of Moses and the burning bush. We watched as Jonah sulked under the shade of a large vine. And next week, we’ll revisit the famous story of Zacchaeus and his sycamore tree.
Today, our tree isn’t specific… but rather a metaphor for our lives as believers.
How well God must like you—
you don’t hang out at Sin Saloon,
you don’t slink along Dead-End Road,
you don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.
Instead you thrill to God’s Word,
you chew on Scripture day and night.
You’re a tree replanted in Eden,
bearing fresh fruit every month,
Never dropping a leaf,
always in blossom.
You’re not at all like the wicked,
who are mere windblown dust—
Without defense in court,
unfit company for innocent people.
God charts the road you take.
The road they take is Skid Row. The Message
We are to be like a tree, planted by the rivers of water, bringing fruit in our season and not withering when life is difficult. The tree was a good metaphor for the people of ancient Israel, who were well acquainted with the importance of an adequate water supply. They lived in a semi-arid environment. Any tree in that part of the world had to be rooted near a good water supply in order to grow, prosper and produce. Otherwise, it would wither and die.
So today, I want each of us to examine our lives to see if we are like the tree planted by water, blooming and producing fruit, never giving up or dying off. Let me caution all of us, however, that it is easy to look at someone else’s life and criticize them for failing to live this way. Instead, what I’m asking is for each of us to hold a mirror up and consider our own lives, not others.
I don’t know about you, but when I do self-examination, I’m often startled by how much energy I can give away to resentment, insecurity, and grudges. This is what our scripture warns against. Specifically, we are advised not to take bad advice, follow bad examples, or hang around with people who belittle God. When we give energy to these things, no one is better off, especially us. We feel depleted, empty, and unhappy. Instead, we could invest that energy in productive, blossoming ways –
- writing encouraging notes to people,
- making phone calls to friends we’ve not spoken to,
- praying or meditating on scripture or other uplifting material
- reading to enrich our lives,
- exercising to strengthen our bodies…
These efforts will leave us feeling relaxed, happy, fulfilled, and at peace.
Take a moment to do a personal inventory. What do you give energy to that zaps you and makes you feel depleted, empty or unhappy? Or, using the tree metaphor, what things have you put roots into that dry up your life?
Our spiritual lives can also become routine and rote, until we feel like our spirituality is a sack of concrete we’re lugging around. Prayer isn’t something we do out of duty or obligation, rather it is something that enriches and strengthens us. Attending church isn’t something we do because we ought to; instead, we come together to be a part of relationships that nurture our lives. Is it always fun? No. But we are bonded together in covenant with one another and are strengthened by our connection over a period of time.
Thomas Merton said the vast majority of us spend most of our lives distracted by three things: what we have, what we want, and what we believe others expect of us. These distractions form a powerful and destructive trinity: having, wanting and living via others’ expectations. Merton went on to assert that the “Christian’s first mission is to live as a person who has been freed by faith from the world’s myths, idolatries, and confusions”.
To be like a tree planted by a river of water, we must be rooted to life-giving nourishment. Our relationships, our spirituality, our work, our hobbies and activities, even our possessions … each of these elements of life should have a nourishing effect on us. This is not to say that we use people and things to get our needs met. Rather, it’s about how we order our lives so that we are exposed to and nourished by the right things.
What do you do if various aspects of your life are zapping your energy, your passion, or your hope? It depends. There might be parts of your life you need to eliminate. If you drink too much or you worry excessively, perhaps you need to work on eliminating those dried up roots from your tree.
There may be parts of your life that don’t enrich you, but you cannot avoid. These aspects of your life may need to be changed. For example, if it’s your job that drains you and dries up your life, you probably can’t quit. You can, however, make changes in your attitude, make changes in your career choice, negotiate your workload, and reduce the pieces of your work that create the problem.
If it’s your relationships that don’t nurture you, or if you are in an unhappy family situation, ask yourself what you could do to reinvest or renew your zest. Perhaps you need to prune away certain parts of your relationships, or deadwood them. Or more likely, perhaps your roots need to go deeper and you need to prioritize those relationships so that they will blossom and grow.
Psalm 1 describes a spiritually mature person as one who thrills to read God’s Word, to pray and to meditate on God’s principles. When we do this, we are like a blossoming tree planted near a river. Again, let’s take inventory. Do you take part in any spiritually enriching activities regularly? Do you have quiet meditation, deep breathing, spiritually enriching reading, family devotions, Bible study, or prayer time as a regular part of your routine? Are your roots firmly connected to Jesus’ living water? If you are looking for more spiritual rootedness, I would be happy to work with you on ways to connect your life at a deeper level.
Jesus was always cautioning us against being attached to the wrong things. Better to trust a lily than things that will rust and corrupt. A lily is a fleeting, fading, exquisite thing, but we get a glimpse of eternity in it. And when we glimpse eternity, we see what’s really important.
So line up the stuff in your life – material, emotional, spiritual, and social – and begin discerning the essential, life giving roots, the eternal from the mere stuff. Here are some questions that can help:
Dos this help me notice God, or does it distract me?
Does it enrich my relationships with friends, family and church?
Is it life giving? Does it have eternal value?
To end, I want to read a part of Erma Bombeck’s reflection after she found out that she had a terminal illness.
by Erma Bombeck
The following was written by the late Erma Bombeck
after she found out she had a fatal disease.
If I had my life to live over, I would have talked less and listened more.
I would have invited friends over to dinner even if the carpet was stained and the sofa faded.
I would have eaten the popcorn in the ‘good’ living room and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.
I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.
I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.
I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.
I would have sat on the lawn with my children and not worried about grass stains.
I would have cried and laughed less while watching television – and more while watching life.
I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband.
I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for the day.
I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn’t show soil or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.
When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.”
There would have been more “I love you’s”.. More “I’m sorrys” …
But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute… look at it and really see it … live it…and never give it back.
“Clearing Away the Clutter”, by Bessler Northcutt, Disciples World, January/February 2003