Scripture Lesson: Jeremiah 17:7-8
Sermon: Branching Out
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells
Maybe Colin Tudge, the science writer who wrote The Secret Life of Trees, published in 2006, has been to the Sagrada Familia Roman Catholic Basilica in Spain. Maybe that is where he got the inspiration for associating trees and sanctuaries as we heard in the Call to Worship this morning. [The Call to Worship is included at the end of the sermon.] In that grand basilica in Barcelona, the columns lining the sanctuary rise like tree trunks branching out and supporting the vaulted ceiling which seems to reach to the sky. Apparently the architect, Antoni Guadi, who died in 1926, studied the structure of trees out in nature to inspire his design.
When we go deeper into this association between trees and churches, we see there are many ways the images weave together. Trees support life. They provide homes for plants and animals. On a hike through the Monteverde rainforest of Costa Rica, the guide told us that one tree was a host for 63 other species of plants. That’s before you get to the fungi and the animals. Churches, too, shelter diverse life and provide a sense of home and belonging. Trees provide food for animals and for people. Churches, too, provide food, for the body and for the spirit. Trees nurture other life forms by producing oxygen. Churches also sustain life by sharing stories and teachings that create life-sustaining community. The values of sharing, generosity, concern for the common good, and anti-violence help to support life. Trees provide shade from sun and rain. They offer protection. Churches, too, offer solace from the hard knocks of life, from sorrows and tragedies and grief. Trees lower the temperature of the Earth, they give us cool breezes providing refreshment. Churches, too, refresh the spirit. The church can be a welcome haven after being buffeted by the craziness and trauma of the world. And trees offer beauty to nurture and inspire the spirit. Churches, too, offer beauty in the building, in the meaning, and in the relationships, which enrich our lives.
Like trees, the church supports life, provides a sense of home, family, and belonging. The church is a shelter from the storms of life. The church sustains life with food for the body and the soul. The church offers stories and teachings that root us in life-giving values and behaviors. The church provides comfort and solace when we need it. The beauty of our experience at church, the music, the community, the sharing, the message, the view of the natural world inspire us. Like a tree, the church contributes to sustaining life. Since its founding in 1967, Lakewood United Church of Christ has been doing this in so many ways.
Are there examples you would like to share about how this church has been a life sustaining presence in your life, or in the world ? How have you been nurtured, comforted, inspired, or found beauty in this community?
So, our humble church is no Sagrada Familia. We don’t have tree columns supporting a sky-high intricately decorated ceiling, but we still have a sanctuary that features the image of the tree. First, there are the trees that we see out the glass doors including the huge oak tree that was removed this past summer. That tree has been a guardian of this church. It was there long before the church was built and it has been there providing its shade and inspiration to us for the 52 year history of the church.
We also have the image of the tree on the banner in the back of the church reminding us about Branching Out in Faith and Service. That banner was created for the 25th anniversary of the church. And there is the tree.
For the 40th anniversary, the theme was Out on a Limb for Forty Years. Again, the tree image.
And more recently, the branch has been added to the interior of the sanctuary. The hooks were put in the ceiling for something else. When that was done, the hooks were still there. Then the Advent season was upon us. A shoot shall spring forth from the stump of Jesse. And Colleen Coughenour who shares her inspiration and creativity with the church family mentioned that she has always wanted to hang a branch from the ceiling. So, the branch went up. Advent was over and the branch stayed up. People came to the church for the first time and would comment on the branch. A year went by. The branch was still up. Another year was going by. And we thought it was time to take the branch down. So, one Sunday after church the ladder was brought out for the task. But the people who were still in the sanctuary after the service saw what was afoot and protested. No. Don’t take the branch down. Evidently, we have brought the tree into the church and it is staying. It has meaning. So, the branch is still up. Who knew that we would become so attached to the branch?
Maybe you did not even really notice the enormous oak tree that was just on the other side of the driveway. Until it was gone. But now there is a pile of mulch from the stump. So the tree continues to nurture and sustain life by decomposing and making soil for other things to grow.
Most of the charter members who formed this congregation are gone. Most have died. We still have Vita Uth, Ed Kaspar, and Bill Parsons. Though most of the charter members are gone, their legacy continues in the present congregation. We are here because of them; because of the ministry that they started and supported which has been entrusted to us to continue. What they did is helping us to grow in faith and service. And we, too, foster the growth of those who will go on after us.
In some kind of fundamental, elemental, instinctual way, we are connected to trees. We came from being tree dwellers to living on the land but our attachment to trees is still within us. Not only biologically but spiritually. There are many, many mentions of trees in the Bible. As we heard this morning, life in God is like a tree that is watered and bears much fruit. Strong, vital community life is represented in the image of the cedars of Lebanon. Jesus refers to faith like a mustard seed that grows into a small tree or bush. And there is Zacchaeus who finds new life when he is beckoned down from a tree by Jesus. And there is the cross, hewn from the wood of a tree, that continues to sustain life and hope.
When we think about the many inspiring images and associations we have with trees, it is not surprising that we have become a Creation Justice church committing ourselves to protecting the life of trees and planting more trees. That will be one of our next initiatives.
Just as the trees of the rainforests that encircle the globe to sustain and protect life on Earth, so the church is tasked with protecting and sustaining life around the globe. This has been the legacy of Lakewood United Church of Christ for 52 years, and with the branch to remind us, it will continue to be an image that leads and guides the ministry of this church. May we continue to branch out, to go out on a limb, serving and sustaining life on Earth. Amen.
A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.
Call to Worship used in worship on Sunday 9.15.19. It is an adaptation of an excerpt from the book The Secret Life of Trees by Colin Tudge. It was read responsively by the congregation.
Groves of redwoods and beeches are often compared to the naves of great cathedrals: the silence; the green, filtered numinous light. A single banyan, each with its multitude of trunks, is like a temple or mosque – a living colonnade. But the metaphor should be the other way around. The cathedrals and mosques emulate the trees. The trees are innately holy.