Genesis 2:4b-9, Luke 8:22-25
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
There is a children’s story – called the ‘three trees’ of which we might be familiar. To give you a bit of a taster of how it goes it starts like this. There were three young trees growing on a mountain top, and each had a dream. The first wanted to hold a great treasure, the second wanted to be made into a ship to carry kings and the third wanted to grow so tall that people would look at it and always be drawn to God.
In the story and in different ways each of the trees got their wish. The first tree, once it had reached full maturity was cut down and made into an animal feeding box, which was the one that Mary laid Jesus in as a baby in the Bethlehem stable – hence its dream was fulfilled that the tree held the greatest treasure we have ever known. We have only recently left behind our remembrance of these events, and it is always important to remember the power and the vulnerability that came to earth at the first Christmas.
So what of the second tree? I suspect we have worked out given our gospel reading today, that the second tree, once it too had reached full maturity, was made into the disciple’s fishing boat, and the king it carried was Jesus on the stormy day the disciples’ encountered. I have long loved this story in the gospels, and if I am asked by children what my favourite Bible story is – this would often be the answer. While Jesus slept, the disciples got increasingly agitated as the storm got going. We have had a lot of stormy weather this week to contemplate. We weren’t in a boat buffeted by the waves (or at least I certainly hope we weren’t on Friday) but we can readily imagine the peril and fear. I didn’t particularly enjoy watching the trees being violently shaken (and specifically not the rather wobbly telegraph poles opposite my house shaking in the wind).
I didn’t have the option on Friday to do what the disciples did. I wish I had! As the situation grew worse, the disciples woke Jesus. I have always been very struck by the description that Jesus slept as the storm got up. His connection with God held him and enabled him to sleep (whilst the disciples were getting increasingly panicky!) Jesus rapidly calmed the situation. This must have been so impressive to watch when it happened. Jesus asked the disciples ‘Where is your faith?’ This is a very good question. As we are always beloved children of God, our response to that love God has for us is our faith. This question Jesus asked of the disciples ‘Where is your faith?’ does speak to our hearts today. If we were with Jesus in the boat in the storm – how would we answer? Would we too be both afraid and amazed at his actions and the love he had for us. It is an interesting combination, and one that would leave us perplexed and thoughtful.
The physical storms and the other kinds of stormy times we experience can be very testing. We often describe the difficult times in our lives as storms even if they have nothing to do with the weather. These times when they come along, have a nasty knack of getting us firmly out of our ‘comfort’ zones and happy places. They are never very welcome, but often the times when we learn and grow the most, when we get back to the first principle of relying on God to give us the strength we need for each next step we make. When our faith is a source of peace in the face of adversity, when we find the still small voice guiding us and inspiring us in ways we might never have noticed in better times.
In stormy times, we do really only need to concern ourselves with the next step we need to take, and we need to be wary of making the situation worse by wanting to know more than anyone can about how life is going to turn out? Life in general seems to have been very short on certainties in recent times, and that has been draining! The lack of certainty in our present circumstances has been trying, but there is no lack of certainty in the love God has for us. Sometimes we just need to hand over to God the things that are troubling us the most in our prayers, and the time will come when our prayers are answered to God’s plan and unique design for us (and not our own of course!).
So after that diversion into thinking about the second tree which became the disciples’ boat. What of the dream of the third tree? The third tree wanted to grow so tall that people would look at it and always be drawn to God. Like many of us the third tree had a different path to the one it expected. It didn’t get to grow tall, and the tree was cut down before it reached full maturity. The wood was left in the wood store for many years. Yet this third tree did get to point to God forever and uniquely, because this was the tree that was used for the wood of the cross used to crucify Jesus. The version of the three tree story explains how the tree struggled as it was carried through the jeering crowd and the pain of bearing Jesus as he died. And yet on the Sunday morning, as the earth moved beneath the tree, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. And this made the third tree strong, as the tree knew that when people thought about the cross, they would always think of God’s forever love for us as the tree had wanted.
As our thoughts turn to the cross once more as Lent is looming on the horizon, this is the time to attend to our faith and renew our spiritual walk. I hope we are giving some thought and prayer as to how Lent this year is going to attend to our faith.
One of the things we may need to dwell on in this spiritual walk is given to us in the second account of creation in Genesis, which was our first reading today. A bit like last week with Luke’s beatitudes, we are more familiar with the first account of creation, which gives an orderly account each day of God’s activities. The second account of creation and the chapter that follows it serves a different purpose from the first. Yes, it is important to understand that God made the world in all its complexity, but this second account explains more of the role of humankind, and then goes on to explain how humankind got in its first big messy storm (apples, snakes etc…).
In the Genesis 2 story, we get a much more intimate description of how God made the first man. The man was formed from the dust of the ground, and then God literally breathed life into him. The touch of the creator is on each of us and in each of us – we have not been made in quite this way, but God’s touch in our hearts and lives is just as important. Each breath we take, each move we make, each beat of our hearts, each turn of our fortunes, we are God’s beloved children and we cannot make God love us more or less, God loves us at our best, at our worst and in sorrow and in joy! In our spiritual walk this Lent, we do need to dwell in the love God has for us to feed our faith no matter how stormy our current experiences are.
In the Genesis 2 account, God then makes a garden filled with trees, including the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good or evil. We don’t get another reference to the tree of life until the latter part of the vision in Revelation – where in the eternal city, the tree of life then spans the river of the water of life and produces 12 crops of fruit each year, and has leaves for the healing of the nations. And one day we will see that in all its heavenly glory. This is the second thing we need to dwell on in our spiritual walk this Lent, that God so loved the world that he sent Jesus to save us, so that we can know God’s love for us now, but then more fully for eternity. Yes, we will need to reflect on how the cross made with the third tree’s wood points to God’s amazing love for us, but also see in faith how this opened the heaven’s to us and opened our hearts to the power of the Holy Spirit today.
I talked last week about starting on Ash Wednesday, attending the churches together lent course, and our reflections on the Lord’s prayer in our worship. I hope whatever it is that we decide to do to help us reflect on our spiritual walk this Lent it will help us to rely on God’s love for us, will build up our faith and will draw us to God’s love for us now and forever. Amen
https://bible.org/illustration/story-three-trees The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995