June 13, 2012
Beautiful Dead Trees
Are we cultivating living disciples that produce good fruit, or merely decorating the dead?
Trees are a reoccurring symbol in the Bible. There is a tree at the beginning in the garden, and a tree at the end in the city. There is a tree in the middle on which Jesus was hung. Trees are also used to describe the people of God. Psalm 1 says the righteous man is “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” And Jesus uses the imagery of a tree to describe our communion with him in John 15: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Likewise, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:15-20) and again in Matthew 12:33 Jesus compares people to trees. A person, like a tree, is known by its fruit. A good tree yields good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. The principle is simple and profound. As a friend’s bumper sticker reminded me: Fruit Happens. Who we are will ultimately be revealed by what we do. If our lives are marked by love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness we can conclude that what is in us is from God and good. But if our fruit is anger, discord, jealously lust, hatred, greed, selfishness, and pride...
Still, despite the simple nature of this truth, we are stubbornly reluctant to accept it.
We want to believe that we can be full of rotten fruit and still be well-intentioned and good trees. And rather than having our old self (tree) uprooted and replaced with a new self, we’d much rather keep our gnarled old stump and branches and merely decorate them with glittering, fake ornaments.
We’d rather be dead Christmas trees with our roots cut off sitting around in pots of stagnant water for a little refreshment on Sunday mornings--drawing a tiny sip each week to keep our dead needles green. And rather than producing real fruit, we’d rather hang all kinds of lights, and tinsel, and ornaments on our atrophied branches--the kinds of glittering things that people stop to look at and notice with “oohs” and “aahs.”
But in the end, no matter how beautiful and decorated they may be, Christmas trees are all dragged to the curb, taken up by the trash collector, and thrown into some landfill or fire.
I know some Christmas trees. I know some churches that are full of them. They really are beautiful. And sometimes it’s nice to be around their lights and colors and spray-on evergreen scent if only to be reminded of how stunning our fear of death can be.
But some Sundays I much prefer to walk in the forest among the living. The trees there are not electric. They are not waiting to be noticed, and many are not very big. But they are growing. They do not expect to sip water from pots. Instead they wait patiently for the rain that will come in its own time. And they do not expect to be sheltered under a roof or viewed behind a window. They open themselves to the world and invite every creature to nest in their branches.
And when I walk among them, when their season has come, I see fruit--real, natural, nourishing fruit. I know the fruit will not last forever. Its season too will pass. But I take comfort in knowing that long after the Christmas tree shows are over, the living trees of the forest will still be there with their limbs growing inch by inch, year by year, closer to the sky.