Text: Psalm 1: 2b-3; 1 John 5: 12a, 13; John 17: 14a, 18
Family trees seem to be a popular pursuit which is now not only a trek to cemeteries to read tombstones, consulting genealogists who search records, and on-line businesses that, for a fee, will draw up an intricate chart of who begot whom,
but also, for a fee, a swab of our mouth, tucked into a container and mailed to a lab to analyze, and report our genetic ties back to the earliest civilizations.
That’s one way to look at the word “Family” – as a tree drawn with generations of branches, tagged with names and marked with genetic labels.
On this Festival of the Christian Home and Mother’s Day Sunday, we listen in on a song the Hebrew people placed first in their prayer-hymnbook titled “The Psalms.”
It goes beyond a family’s genealogy plotted as a many-branched tree, to people being:
like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
“Like trees” –
In Britain the government is spending £4.2 million for trees to be planted in city and towns around London. Areas blighted with litter and graffiti are being transformed into wooded community gathering places.
Annamaria Mignano, who lives in a warehouse conversion in Tower Hamlets in London, says when she first moved into the area it was a tree-less concrete thoroughfare with lots of factories with high walls, it was desolate, the kind of place that you didn't want to be. But once trees were planted in 2000 it really softened the street. It looks more appealing.
She says, “It has definitely made me more happy."
Do trees on the streets make people happy? By Vanessa BarfordBBC News 6 December 2010
“Like trees”… that increase property values as much as 15%, put water back into the air, provide shade in the summer, slow down traffic, and improve health. An American study suggests people who view trees from a hospital room recover better after surgery. (IBID.)
“Like trees”…people are planted by streams of water, and yield their fruit in its season, the fruit of happiness.
For the Hebrew people who were the first to sing those words, that “fruit” they were to yield came through meditating on the law of the Lord,…day and night.
which, in turn, would be the happiness harvested in their life as devotion to God and respect and care for others.
For Christians the “fruit “bears the name “Love,” the love of God in Jesus Christ, which His followers – by being grafted to Him, by “abiding” in Him, delight in savoring and sharing as they live by Christ’s law: “to love one another as I have loved you.”
What we’ve been hearing read to us from John’s Gospel throughout these weeks in the Season of Easter, and, on this Seventh Sunday, this last Sunday, we hear Jesus praying His last words for His beloved friends:
Whoever has the Son has life; I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. I have given them your word,…
As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
The words we hear on the Festival of the Christian Home and Mother’s Day, when we are reminded to celebrate “like trees” bearing the fruits of Christ’s love, which begins in our homes, in our families, where, streams of water, that nourish that love in us, flow from the Baptismal font.
-to live in the faith and family of Jesus Christ,
-to live in -the freedom of new life in Christ,
-to make Him our Lord and Savior,
-to commit to the work and word of Jesus, as best able,
-to grow in the Christian faith, to be a faithful member of Christ's church, celebrating Christ's presence, especially through receiving His body and blood at His table, and being involved in His mission in all the world. (Paraphrased from
the Book of Worship UCC)
This is a good time to revisit the vows, to dip our souls in their watery phrases, and savor the taste of love that springs from God to flow into and through us, and be refreshed with the happiness that comes from remembering from Whom we have come and to Whom we belong?
This is a good time to like trees…planted by steams of waters,” remember and savor Baptismal waters – nourishing us through Baptismal vows.
Martha Spong, a United Church of Christ pastor and author happened to read this newer translation of Psalm 1, verse 3, in the Common English Bible: “They are like trees replanted by streams of water, and she exclaimed, “RE-planted! I love it!” and thought of trees that may need to be moved to thrive, or, like the apple tree from a nursery re-planted in her backyard, Now it has sunk down roots and yields an unexpected harvest of apples.
“Like trees,” which may need to be re-planted, we need to see ourselves as “A Movable Tree” which Martha Spong reminds us has us laboring and taking the risk of re-planting “our life away from the things and people and habits of mind and heart that separate us from God. We have to choose toward God. That’s when we will find ourselves planted anew, by streams of water. "Replanted," Martha Spong, Reflectionary, 2012. …moved to be re-planted by the Baptismal stream where we remember, day after day, the vows that nourish us and carry us on the love of God in Christ.
Trace the word “Reformed” in Trinity Church’s name back to its source in the movement that started in Zurich, Switzerland, to “reform” Christ’s Church back to His intent and His calling to, and mission for, His followers. The site where it began was the Grossmunster, the church that sits high on the landscape above the river. Below it, by the river’s edge, is the Wasserkirche, the “Water Church,” dating back to the 1200’s on the spot where legend says the city’s martyrs, Felix and Regula, were executed by the Romans and became a shrine, which, in the Reformation was called “a temple of idol worshipers,” and became a library and then a warehouse to store crops.
In a 1942 restoration the city gave it to the Reformed church for worship in a setting of stained glass windows that contrast the life of Christ with the life of today’s men and women, today’s world.
As I stood in that setting once dedicated to worshiping idols,
and looked at its Baptismal font by a river, I thought of the vows that carry us on God’s love in Christ;
“Movable Trees” bearing that fruit in our families and wherever we happen to be on this Mother’s Day and every day. AMEN.
Text: John 15: 10-12
“IF…” If I pass the exams, then I’ll graduate with my class.
If this person I’m seeing is a real soul-mate,
then I won’t feel so alone anymore.
If there’s still an opening,
then I’ll have the job I applied for.
If they approve my loan,
then I will be able to get a new car.
If the squirrels and chipmunks and birds don’t eat the bulbs
I just planted,
then I’ll have a beautiful flower garden this summer.
If the chemo works,
then I’ll have years to enjoy my grandchildren.
If I can tolerate the meds, then I’ll finally be pain free.
If the neighbors stop fighting,
then I might get a good night’s sleep.
“If” “Then” - how might YOU complete that sentence,
as you personalize it?
Hear another “if” and “then” from the Gospel according to John, with Jesus being quoted as having said,
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,
with using Himself as an example:
“… just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”
The “if” Jesus raised in the table conversation He was having with His closest friends on the last night of His life
with the dominating word being: ABIDE.
When His Jewish listeners heard that word, it took them back to their ancestors on that forty-year trek through the dessert where, when settling up camp, they had an elaborate tent for meeting and for worship, called the “Tabernacle.” The dictionary definition of the Hebrew word, when translated into English, describes it as:
“a fixed or movable habitation, typically of light construction” with a fuller description being: “the portable earthly dwelling place of God among the children of Israel from the time of the Exodus from Egypt through the conquering of the land of Canaan.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tabernacle)
“Tabernacle” – a place where God would abide with His people and they could abide with God…
which Jesus changed from a physical structure,
to a quality of life, a relationship with God and with one another.
The quality, the relationship, of “abiding” expressed as LOVE, which Jesus made the great “IF.”
“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love,”
In His teaching moment that followed, Jesus defined commandments as the Ten – which with qualifications and further definitions and explanations had been enlarged to 613 –all summarized by Jesus into ONE:
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
The great “IF” of loving God and others as learned from Christ, with the THEN being, in Jesus’ words:
“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”
IF I love as Jesus loves, THEN I will bring joy to Jesus and I, too, will be filled with joy.
If I abide in Jesus’ love, then joy will abide in me.
All sounds so good…until we get up from centering ourselves around them in worship, and walk out into the realities we step into and must live with on the other side of these walls!
All the places where the “Ifs” and “Thens” don’t come anywhere near Jesus’ Gospel conversation.
All the challenges and frustrations and fears and easy-to-loose- our-temper moments, all the situations when Jesus’ law of love doesn’t work in our life and certainly not in our world.
But then we look where Jesus went after His “If/Then” sentence:
to the CROSS, and burial in a tomb,
which was left empty on that third day when He appeared to His closest, grief-filled, fear-filled friends, to whom He showed His nail-pierced hands and sword-scarred side. And sought out guilt-ridden Peter, whose “sentence could have been, “IF He sees me, THEN I’ll be condemned to the fiery pit.”
(where Peter had already sentenced himself.)
But Peter’s seemingly unforgivable sin was dismissed with Jesus’ word to him, “Peter do you love me? Feed my sheep.” (“If” you love me, feed my sheep.”) to which he said, “Yes.” with the rest of the sentence understood to be,
THEN he knew joy; the joy of Jesus’ pardoning love,
and the joy of finding ways to show that love to others.
If we abide in Christ’s love for us,
if we see God meeting us in Christ at Calvary’s cross
the ultimate sign of God’s intention to abide with us,
then we will take the risk of letting that love be expressed, and we will be and see signs around us; right here, right now:
welcoming all who come to us, praying for all we know to pray for, having ASP teams go and then come home to let their love-stories spill out on us.
Here, a people striving to “let the love of Christ urge us on” (2 Corinthians 5: 14) to say a word, to show some kindness that will make a difference in another person’s life, that will bring joy to him or her, and to us.
The IF of love; the THEN of joy.
Tony McAleer, one of the founders of “Life after Hate,” that helps people leave neo-Nazi and other extremists groups, tells of how a colleague was changed when he was waiting to be served in a McDonald’s. An elderly African-American woman, seeing the swastika tattooed on his hand, looked at him and said,
“Oh honey, you’re so much better than that.” (Sojourners, Aug 2017, P 17)
The “if” of expressing love to a seemingly unlovable person; “then” the joy of sharing and accepting Jesus’
“abide in my love” – the IF,
so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” – the THEN.
The perfect “’If” and “Then” sentence. Amen.