November 21, 2017 – The Tree of Life – Genesis 2:9, Isaiah 11:1, Proverbs 11:30, Matthew 7:16-17, Revelation 22:1-5

tree of life

 

Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:9 (NRSV)

The Tree of Life is a metaphor which appears throughout Scripture. In creation God puts the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden as well as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It is interesting that in the narrative of the Fall, God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden, to where they no longer have access to the presence of either tree as a result of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It has been said that pride is the mother of all sins, and in the story of the Fall, we learn that in our wanting to be God, we distance ourselves from Him.

The Tree of Life is a central image not only in the Creation and the Fall, but in the redemption of creation.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah 11:1 (NRSV)

The prophet Isaiah foretold the birth and life of Jesus 700 or so years before He was born here on earth. A descendent of King David (Jesse was King David’s father) would appear- as a new Tree of Life- but not in the way that his contemporaries expected.  The new Tree of Life is Jesus, and He came to give Himself to save us. He defeated death by pouring out His life out from the arms of a dead tree that was fashioned to bring about death.

jesus-on-the-cross

The redemption of creation is, as we are well aware, an ongoing work in progress. We as Jesus followers are invited- and were created to- bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.  We get to participate in God’s great work of redemption, restoration and renewal.

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, but violence takes lives away. Proverbs 11:30 (NRSV)

(Jesus said): You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. Matthew 7:16-17 (NRSV)

This world and this life is not the end, but a beginning, an introduction for us into Life as God intended for us and created us to live.

new jerusalem

 

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5 (NRSV)

Are we getting in on God’s plan for us to be trees of life that bring forth good fruit, and to be light-givers?

December 27, 2016 – Putting the Rubber to the Road- Mark 1:9-13

The Temptation in the Wilderness 1824 by John St John Long 1798-1834

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.  He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. – Mark 1:9-13 (NRSV)

Of the four Gospels, only Mark completely omits any kind of nativity story.  Only Luke and Matthew go into details on the nativity, while John, in his rather otherworldly and ethereal way, makes the parallel between Jesus the Light of the World, and the Genesis creation narrative.

Mark goes right to the rubber hitting the road. Jesus was baptized, approved by God, and no sooner than He could turn around, He was stranded in the wilderness. Thanks, Mark. No fanfare or singing or shepherds or Mary pondering in her heart.  Mark gets down to the nitty gritty right away.

This sort of sounds like the story of most of our lives.  We just sort of end up plopped down in the wilderness at times.  We should expect Jesus in His humanity to be put in that wilderness situation.  God put Him in this world not to stash Him in an ivory tower and shield Him from all the dirty, painful and nasty aspects of humanity, but to immerse Him completely in the human experience.  How else was He supposed to be Emmanuel, God with us?

It’s telling that God equipped Jesus to sustain Him.  He gave Him what He needed to overcome the challenges He faced.  He did not take Jesus’ challenges away from Him.  He did not just snap His fingers and give Jesus an easy, uncomplicated life.  God did not play the old literary device of deus ex machina- literally “the god in the machine” in Jesus’ life. He didn’t just lift Jesus up out of troubles as if He were a hero in an action movie.  Jesus had to endure, and fight and suffer.

God gives us the resources we need to overcome temptation.  He gives us the strength to endure and overcome challenges, but normally He doesn’t just “magically” lift us out of them.

In the words of the great theologian, Mick Jagger, and the Rolling Stones, “you can’t always get what you want/ you can try sometimes / you just might find/ you get what you need.”  God might not give us what we want, but He does provide what we need. He doesn’t always give us what we need in the ways we expect, either.

I’m not sure why God allows us to go through suffering or trials. That to me is a mystery of faith that I will not understand this side of Heaven, and perhaps not even on the other side.  I do know that in suffering and trials He does sustain us and He does give us what we need to overcome and grow through them. That answer just has to be good enough for now.

If the goal in our earthly sojourn is for to become more like Jesus then we too, have to trust God and hang on when the rubber hits the road.  We aren’t called to a pristine, clean and untested faith, but one where we get dirty, make mistakes, suffer, cry out in pain, and struggle with questions and doubt.  Those are also parts of the journey- the one that Jesus came to earth to travel as well.