Genesis 2:8-9 & 15-17
I’m told that Surrey has more trees per square mile than nay other county in England. You only have to walk or drive a mile or so outside most of our towns to see that. I’m sure, as soon as trees are mentioned, many of us will immediately think of the late Gordon Hartman, with his immense love for, and knowledge of, trees. And trees are the thing that our Bible readings have in common today. Trees, I learned in biology classes more years ago then I care to remember, are essential to life because they absorb the carbon dioxide we breathe out, and breathe out oxygen themselves, which we absorb, so as we create more carbon dioxide, we need more trees, not fewer, for the delicate balance that preserves life to continue. You can see, then, why the Bible begins and ends with trees, and the prettier parts of Surrey are an example to everyone else.
So, Genesis begins with a tree in a garden. A garden full of trees was the starting point for human life – we were created to be surrounded by trees. Trees are good for us. God made us to live in a tree-filled environment, and we thrive physically, mentally, and spiritually, when we have trees around us. The Bible is clear that all of this wasn’t created just for us human beings, but for all the plants and creatures. As we destroy forests around the world, we destroy the habitats of many of our fellow creatures. When the forests have gone, Orangutans and Amazonian Parrots have nowhere else to go. Trees are vital for the diversity of life, a diversity which God cherishes and calls us to serve and preserve.
There are two special trees in the garden: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the one of which Adam and Eve are told not to eat the fruit. It’s a curious story, because it sounds as if God doesn’t want them to have knowledge, but that makes no sense – it’s clear that God doesn’t want us to wallow in ignorance. Rather, I think it’s the way we go about getting that knowledge and what we do with it that can be the problem. A little learning is a dangerous thing, the old saying goes. In the context of what we’re thinking about today, I think God wants us to use the knowledge with which we’re gifted to care for the trees, for all of creation, not to abuse for short term purposes. That’s why, I think, the Bible ends, in our other reading, with the vision of God’s new creation when all that is wrong is no more, and that vision contains the tree of life – planted on both banks of the river of life, and bearing fruit every month, fruit that brings healing and restoration.
Of course the other great tree in the Bible is the cross on which Jesus was crucified. Throughout Christian history, the cross has been seen as the great tree of life: rejected in the Garden of Eden, but replanted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and finally bearing full fruit when God’s kingdom is complete.
There are two ways of seeing the world. Is it a place of vibrant, varied life, each part miraculously infused with God’s touch, or is it simply stuff to be grabbed, exploited, consumed and destroyed? We know the answer, but the challenge is how we respond to that, and do the best to continue to be worthy of our eco-congregation award. What can we do to try and avoid the mistakes others have made before, and do our bit to work towards bring the vision of the kingdom, with the tree of life, just a bit closer?
We all know the personal and lifestyle choices which continually challenge us and our church. I’m not going to repeat them again, but here are two new ideas:
Get to know some trees – we have some here at church. Perhaps you have some trees at or near your home or work, or some you pass regularly. Don’t just ignore them, but learn to appreciate them.
What about planting some trees? You may not be able to physically do it yourself, but you can always club together and pay for some trees to be planted somewhere in the world that really needs them. Millions of trees were planted in Kenya, and the person who inspired it said, “After all, Christ was crucified on the cross. In a light touch, I always say, somebody had to go into the forest, cut a tree, and chop it up for Jesus to be crucified. What a great celebration of his conquering [death] it would be if we were to plant trees on Easter Monday in thanksgiving.”
What trees need is very simple: deep roots into good soil, plenty of sun, and rain in due season. What we need is equally simple: to be rooted deeply in dependence on God, and to know our place as stewards of God’s creation. Jesus talked about God’s Kingdom growing like a tall tree growing from a tiny mustard seed. Perhaps we can learn that our little bit can make a difference bigger than we can imagine. Let us learn from the trees, and help to sustain the Tree of Life as we do what we can to bring God’s kingdom nearer, so that, as Isaiah said, “the trees of the field will clap their hands”.