Friday, 15 May 2020

The Tree of Life

One of the things that I notice when arriving in a new part of the world to live has been the emphasis on things rural. I am not sure why but think it might reflect my upbringing. Often this has reminded me of the importance of trees in our life. Where I come from in New Zealand we tend to sadly, take our magnificent trees for granted but since arriving in Australia I have been made aware of how important they are in our lives.

It also reminded me of a time many years ago when I had to take down a tree as a task in Bob a Job for scouts. The person 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, with humanity, as well. We may look fine on the outside, but without the Holy Spirit living within, we are hollow, we’re dead inside. Jesus is telling his disciples in this week’s scripture for John 14 that he is leaving but God will give them an Advocate a Counsellor (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” many times, in ways both practical and spiritual.

Some practical ways are readily apparent - well for those of us of mature years – the wooden chair where we sat at a wooden desk to write with a wooden pencil on paper made from wood fibres or the buildings where we lived and worshiped, 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 said to be 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 favourite) is the type of work trees do to provide us with life. The work of 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.

Jesus was born in a manger (built from a tree), preached in a boat (built from a tree), and died on a cross (built from a tree). I refer you to a legend/story “The Legend of the Three Trees as a helpful exposition of how trees can help our understanding of our faith and relationship with Jesus. Jesus, as the Great Carpenter, knows what needs
repairing in our lives. He looks past the outward appearance and looks on our hearts. He can fill up our emptiness with an Advocate who will be with us forever. Jesus will give us the life-giving oxygen (the Holy Spirit) to live within us, so we won’t be like a hollow, decaying tree. And because of all this, we can be as alive on the inside as we appear on the outside.

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