Sunday's Sermon

 

"A Tree Planted by Water"

 by Wayne L. Derber, Pastor

February 17, 2019 - Sixth Sunday after Epiphany - C

Sermon text: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.  They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8

 

My dad liked trees.

My dad liked to plant trees.

Over the years he planted hundreds of trees!

He planted many trees in the yard of my childhood home.

He planted many trees in the crick bottom pastures on our farm.

He planted trees by my family’s church and nearby cemeteries.

He planted trees by my family’s grade school.

He planted apple, pear, cherry, oak, maple, ash, and pine trees.

 

My dad died two years ago.

His farm, my childhood home, was sold three years ago.

But most all of the trees that my dad planted in all these places

            are still flourishing and growing quite well.

 

Like my dad, I also like to plant trees.

In the yard where Melody and I currently live

            I have planted many trees.

I had to stop and count them all – 24 trees I have planted.

Last spring I planted a tree in memory of my father.

 

It has been said that one does not plant a tree for oneself,

            but for the benefit of future generations.

This would have been okay with my father.

            and this is also okay with me.

 

I am reminded of a well-known poem by Joyce Kilmer

            entitled “Trees:”

 

      “I think that I shall never see

      A poem lovely as a tree.

 

      A tree whose hungry mouth is prest

      Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

 

      A tree that looks at God all day,

      And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

 

      A tree that may in summer wear

      A nest of robins in her hair;

 

      Upon whose bosom snow has lain;

      Who intimately lives with rain.

 

      Poems are made by fools like me,

      But only God can make a tree.”

 

Yes, there are many benefits to trees.

Trees are beautiful.

Trees provide cooling shade on hot summer days.

Trees are homes to bird, squirrels, and other animals.

Trees keep soil from eroding away.

Trees absorb harmful carbon di-oxide

            and release helpful oxygen back into the air.

Trees can be harvested for their lumber

            which can be used in building houses

                  and in woodworking projects.

Trees can produce fruits such as apples, pears, and cherries.

Yes, there certainly are many benefits to trees.

 

A planted tree is an illustration used by Jeremiah

            in our first Bible reading for today.

These are the words that Jeremiah used:

      “…like a tree planted by water,

            sending out its roots by the stream.

      It shall not fear when heat comes,

            and its leaves shall stay green;

      in the year of drought it is not anxious,

            and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

 

For what purpose does Jeremiah use this illustration of a tree?

Who is “like a tree planted by water?”

Jeremiah gives the answer in the preceding verse:

      “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,

            whose trust is in the Lord.

      They shall be like a tree planted by water…”

 

Jeremiah actually uses two illustrations in this reading today.

One is a flourishing tree planted by water

            and the other is “a shrub in the desert.”

 

Jeremiah gives this description of the shrub:

      “…like a shrub in the desert,

            and shall not see when relief comes.

      They shall live in the parched places in the wilderness,

            in an uninhabited salt land.”

 

Who is like a shrub in the desert?

Jeremiah says that a shrub in the desert

      illustrates the people he describes with these words:

            “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals

                  and make mere flesh their strength,

                  whose hearts turn away from the Lord.”

 

In other words, “a shrub in the desert”

      represents individuals who put their trust in people

            and not in God.

 

The image of “a shrub in the desert”

            made me think of the tumbleweeds so often

                  shown in many of the old cowboy western movies.

When a cowboy would be in a deserted area

            or happen to come across an abandon town,

      often there is shown tumbleweeds blowing about.

 

There is even a cowboy song with the words:

            “Drifting along with a tumbling tumbleweed”

      (“Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” written by Bob Nolan, 1930)

 

Tumbleweeds start out as certain plants that grow in very dry climates.

In time, the plant dries up and breaks off from its roots.

The plant then gets blown about by the wind.

It literally becomes a “tumble weed.”

 

 

Such is the illustration that Jeremiah uses

            to describe individuals who trust in people

                  and not in God.

 

Why should we not put our ultimate trust in people?

A few verses later, Jeremiah gives this reason:

      “The heart is devious above all else;

            it is perverse – who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

 

“The heart is devious above all else.”

People will sooner or later fail and disappoint us.

Jeremiah said: “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals.”

 

Those who trust people rather than God:

      sooner or later will be disappointed by the people they trusted…

      sooner or later, will dry up and have no hope or purpose...

      sooner or later, will produce no good fruits…

      sooner or later, will break off from their roots…

      sooner or later, will get blown about

            by the winds of popular opinion.

Without God in their life

            each will become like a tumbleweed,

                  or as Jeremiah described them “a shrub in the desert.”

 

The contrast Jeremiah is making is clear.

People who trust humans are like “a shrub in the desert.”

People who trust God are “like a tree planted by water.”

 

According to the prophet,

      people who trust in the Lord have three advantages,

            just as does a tree planted by water.

Jeremiah put it this way:

      “They shall be like a tree planted by water,

            sending out its roots by the stream.”

 

Several days ago I was traveling on roads by the Fox River

            not so far from here.

I find the roads near the river to be very scenic.

One big reason for this is all the trees along the river.

 

This is true for most all rivers and streams.

They are almost always lined with many trees.

Why do so many trees grow alongside of rivers and streams?

The answer is obvious.

Trees need the water.

The water table is always very high alongside of rivers and streams.

This is why trees grow so well next to these waterways.

 

When I plant a new tree,

            I water it every day for two weeks.

Then throughout the remainder of the summer,

            if there is a week without at least an inch of rainfall,

                  I water the young tree again.

Trees need water!

 

We also need water to grow well…

            not just water for our physical health

                  but also water for our spiritual health.

We need the water of Jesus.

He once described himself as “living water” (John 4:10)

      and spoke the words:

            “…those who drink of the water that I will give them

                  will never be thirsty.

            The water that I will give will become in them

                  a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14).

 

Just as trees need their roots to reach water

            so do we need our roots to reach the living water of Jesus.

 

We need to be rooted in Christ.

We need to be rooted in our baptisms…

            rooted in Christian fellowship…

            rooted in Holy Communion…

            rooted in reading God’s Word…

            rooted in devotions and prayers…

            rooted in trusting God’s promises.

Yes, we need to be rooted in Christ,

                  the one who is the living water!

When we are so rooted in Christ the living water

            then, according to Jeremiah, we

      “shall be like a tree planted by water,

            sending out its roots by the stream.”

 

According to the prophet,

      people who trust in the Lord have a second advantage,

            just as does a tree planted by water.

Jeremiah further described a tree planted by water:

      “It shall not fear when heat comes,

            and its leaves shall stay green;

                  in the year of drought it is not anxious.”

Sometimes we have droughts.

Sometimes we have hot times in summer

            when there is little or no rain.

When this happens, grass and many other plants turn brown,

            but the leaves on the trees stay green.

Why is this?

The answer is simple.

The roots of grass and many other plants are shallow

            and cannot reach water during droughts.

Tree roots are deep and can reach water during such dry times.

 

We also need to be deeply rooted…

            deeply rooted in Christ.

Then we will be able to withstand the droughts of difficulties

            that sometimes come into our lives.

 

Jeremiah said of a tree planted by water

            “its leaves shall stay green.”

If we trust in the Lord, then when droughts of difficulties come our way

            the leaves of our hope will not dry up, but will stay green…

            the leaves of our love will not dry up, but will stay green…

            the leaves of our peace will not dry up, but will stay green…

            the leaves of our faith will not dry up, but will stay green.

 

The words of an old Pete Seeger song put it this way:

      “We shall not, we shall not be moved,

      We shall not, we shall not be moved,                                           

      Just like a tree that’s planted by the water

      We shall not be moved.”   (“We Shall Not Be Moved” by Pete Seeger)

Yes, when the difficult drought times of life come,

                  if we are deeply rooted in Christ,

            “we shall not be moved,

                  just like a tree that’s planted by the water.”

 

The book of Revelation tells us

            that there will be a tree planted by the river

                  that runs through heaven.

The author of Revelation put it this way:

      “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life,

                  bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God…

                        through the middle of the….city.

      On either side of the river is the tree of life…

            and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

 – Revelation 22:1-2

I must confess that I don’t know what is meant by the words

            “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

But this sure is a comforting thought.

There certainly is a lot of strife and violence between nations.

But in heaven,

      “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

 

And when here on earth we have drought times of trials and tribulations,

            our leaves of our faith, hope, and love will stay green.

So our leaves of faith staying green even in droughts of difficult times

            is a second advantage of those

                  who are like trees planted by water.

 

According to the prophet,

      people who trust in the Lord have a third advantage,

            just as does a tree planted by water.

Jeremiah further described a tree planted by water:

      “…in the year of drought it is not anxious,

                  and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

 

A tree planted by water might bear fruit

                  such as apples, pears, or cherries.

A person who trust in the Lord bears good fruit

            such as the fruit of the Spirit mentioned by Paul:

      “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,

            generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Like a fruit tree has the purpose of bearing fruit,

      so do Christians have the purpose of bearing good fruit.

We are to bear the fruit of feeding the hungry…

            bear the fruit of welcoming the strangers…

            bear the fruit of caring for the sick…

            bear the fruit of visiting the prisoners…

            bear the fruit of sharing with the poor…

            bear the fruit of making peace…

            bear the fruit of loving our neighbors…

            bear the fruit of forgiving those who have hurt us…

            bear the fruit of sharing the gospel…

            bear the fruit of reconciliation.

So bearing good fruit even in droughts of difficult times

            is a third advantage of those who are like trees planted by water.

 

Now I’ll read again the Word of God from the prophet Jeremiah:

 

      “Thus says the Lord:

            Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals

                  and make mere flesh their strength,

                        whose hearts turn away from the Lord.

            They shall be like a shrub in the desert,

                        and shall not see when relief comes.

            They shall live in the parched places in the wilderness,

                  in an uninhabited salt land.

 

            “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,

                  whose trust is the Lord.

            They shall be like a tree planted by water,

                  sending out its roots by the stream.

            It shall not fear when heat comes,

                        and its leaves shall stay green;

                  in the year of drought it is not anxious,

                        and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

 

Yes, “blessed are those who trust in the Lord,

                  whose trust is the Lord.

            They shall be like…

                  a tree planted by water.”

 

      Amen.