Be Like a Tree

Luke 6.17-31, Psalm 1, Jeremiah 17.5-10

Red Skelton.  I remember watching Red Skelton with my siblings and family growing up.  Our mother’s comment was that we would watch the entire show straight faced, not cracking a smile, and then after the show was over look at each other and say, “that was funny!”  

Laughter is the best medicine.  Happy people tend to be more positive and healthier.  Similar phrases might include, “look on the bright side,” or “stay on the sunny side of life” (which is an old Bluegrass song).  

What makes you laugh?  What makes you smile?  What gives you hope and brightens your day?  Laughter helps us forget our troubles.  We can laugh easier when we feel safe and secure.  When we feel and experience true love, God’s love, the best love of all!

Listen to these quotes from a first grade class our member Bonnie (Mrs Rembacz and Julie Anderson) back in May of 1990.  These are popular phrases or colloquialisms that they asked the children to complete.  Think of how we answer them, and listen to their answers.  It will make you smile.

never underestimate the power of… power lines

laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you… are sad

do unto others what you would… do unto mom

time heals all … people

do unto others who you would … be nice to others

strike while the … baseball is there

there’s a time and place … at McDonalds

We all want happiness.  It is the American Dream, the pursuit of happiness.  How do we define happiness?  What does it take for you and I to be happy?

  • good health
  • success—having enough money to be provided for
  • to be safe and secure, to know we are loved and valued 

Jesus’ definition of happiness in this Sermon on the Plain in Luke is balanced between current unhappy circumstances and future resolution of those circumstances.  Happy are those who are poor and hungry and sad because you will be rich, fed and joyful in the future.  Happy are those who are mocked and marginalized because of their identification with Jesus. 

Then Jesus balances these blessed statements with a series of “woes.” Woe to those who are rich and well fed now. Woe to those who have all their needs met now because the time will come when the tables will be turned and you will be in want! 

Jesus sums up this part of the Sermon on the Plain with the Golden Rule. “Do to others as you would have them do to you” Luke 6:31 which will be in next weeks Gospel reading.  It can be summarized as “treat others the way you want to be treated.”  It is as if Jesus is saying, think past yourself.  Be concerned about others.  Open your heart and mind.  Think about what you are doing.  Would you want to be treated the way you are treating others?  True happiness is when we love others the way God loves us in Jesus. 

Now look at the readings from Jeremiah 17 and Psalm 1. They contrast trees and chaff.  Trees are alive.  Chaff is lifeless.  Trees are grounded and stable.  Chaff has nothing—no stability, no roots, no substance.  Trees have a steady source of water through healthy root systems even during times of drought.  Chaff is dry.  Wind may affect trees, but most trees can even survive strong winds.  Chaff gets blown around by even slight breezes.  Trees are interconnected.  Trees support and strengthen each other through root systems and providing wind break, etc.  A tree in a grove or shelter belt is stronger and healthier.  

Which do we want to be?  Be like a tree or be chaff?  

We can choose to be one or the other by how we think, act and live.  God does not choose who will be chaff or a like a tree.  We do. 

When you give in to peer pressure and allow others to have more influence on your values and life you will be like a desert shrub lifeless chaff.  Psalm 1:1 talks about letting wickedness or sinners guide and instruct us.  When we become negative and scornful we have succumbed to false thinking.  That is like being windblown and lifeless chaff.  The same is true if we are greedy or stingy and do not share with others.   

If you want to be blessed and have genuine happiness—if you want to be like a tree then be kind and generous, live past your narrow self and see your connection with others.  A tree has deep roots.  A tree is grounded and shares the shelter and root system of other trees—we are interconnected!  We are not independent.  We are inter-dependent.  We need each other.  A tree bears fruit—has meaning and purpose in life and does good for those around it—and produces oxygen while taking carbon dioxide out of the air.  Trees benefit the whole environment.  They are life giving.  Chaff is lifeless and useless.

Do you want to be safe and secure in the storms of life?  Do you want stability when the winds of chaos and change disrupt and torment us?  Christians are not protected from the stuff of life.  We have troubles and disease too. We get sick and die like anyone. But we have an anchor and source of strength that the world cannot offer.  Look for the bright side of life.  Focus on God’s presence in, with and through you.  Listen to God’s Word.  Get God’s input into your life.  Worship with other people in a setting where you are not isolated or alone or cut off from others.  Be humble.  Be teachable.  Be flexible and let God bend and shape you, mold and fill you.  We are interconnected.  Be in the Word.  Being in the Word with others keeps you from bending God’s Word to fit your own purposes and designs.  It keeps us centered and balanced.  Stay in worship and fellowship.  

Jeremiah 17:9-10.  

9   The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, 

and desperately wicked. 

Who really knows how bad it is? 

10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts 

and examine secret motives. 

I give all people their due rewards, 

according to what their actions deserve.”

There is grace and mercy in these verses.  The prophet might be talking about our unexamined sub-conscious self.  We can “tame the tiger” within by letting God speak to us through His Word and through the context of fellowship with other believers.  We can find the courage to be honest and open; to accept ourselves rather than hide who and what we are.  Through the process of dialog with others, through honesty, openness, confession and forgiveness we can accept our humanity and brokenness and finally be at home in our own skin.  We can experience happiness and contentment, have the strength and stability of a tree by accepting God’s love for what it is.  Unconditional love.  Empowering love.  Life-giving love.  When we accept the power of that love then we can be lovely people.  When we accept the power of that love then we can change, adjust our attitudes, change our actions and grow strong like a tree.  And that is a lovely thing indeed, the source of true happiness and joy.  The best Valentine gift ever.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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