Be Trees, My Friends
February 13, 2022
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany | Year C
Psalm 1 (NRSV)
- Streams of living water are all around us.
- Stretch your roots, find water. Bear fruits, like a tree.
- Is there such thing as a selfish tree in this world?
- Only when rooted in Christ, we can give ourselves to others without exhaustion or burnout.
For the past weeks, we have been focusing on the theme of love, starting from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians to Luke’s Gospel last week. We were reminded that if we do not have love in whatever we do and whatever we say, then we are nothing. And our call to follow Jesus Christ is our lifelong journey of practicing how to love as Jesus loves. And as I said repeatedly, this love is different from the one we celebrate on Valentine’s Day. God’s love in Jesus is described as agape love — the selfless, self-giving love for one another.
And in this post, I want to talk about how the best way to engage in this lifelong journey of practicing agape love is to live as if we are trees. Happy are those who live like trees that bear the fruit of love. To be like trees planted by streams of water. Allow me to expand on this metaphor further.
My first point is that it is suitable for trees to be planted by streams of water because water is the most critical life source for trees. Simply put, trees cannot survive without water. And thus, being planted by streams of water is the best possible situation for trees since they have easy access to water.
What happens when a tree no longer has access to water? It loses its vitality, withers, and is unable to bear fruits. And in the end, it dries up and looks like chaff that the wind drives away.
Perhaps, we are more familiar with us being the branches.
Jesus tells us in John 15,
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower… [And] you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
In this metaphor, we are branches attached to the vine. In the same way, it is also possible to imagine ourselves as trees attached to rivers of living water. And who is the living water? Yes, it is Jesus Christ who is the source of life. What God desires of us is our constant communion with Jesus Christ, like the master landscaper who wants his trees planted by rivers to have easy access to water. And I think our master landscaper plants us by streams of water in so many ways beyond our imagination.
Charles Spurgeon calls these streams of water: streams of pardon, streams of grace, streams of the promise, and streams of communion with Christ. These streams of water are all around us and are flowing through us, waiting to quench our thirst, nourish our body, revive our soul, and give us life. God has carefully planted all of us by these streams of living water. And the Lord watches over us so that we may live, bear fruit, and prosper in the divine loving care.
But it is neither the proximity nor the accessibility between trees and water that is exclusively significant. And this leads to my second point, that it is important to know that, behind the scenes, trees constantly push their roots towards the water. In Jeremiah 17:7–8, it is written:
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust in 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.
Perhaps, we have met people in our life whom we consider as men and women of great faith. No matter what kind of trials and tribulations, we see them standing tall in their faith and without losing their trust in the Lord. And we ask ourselves, how is it possible for them to continue bearing fruit when their life circumstances seem so dire and unpredictable?
Well, what we do not see in their ever-peaceful, non-anxious presence is how deeply their faith is anchored in the Lord, just like how trees are deeply rooted in the ground. And as Jeremiah writes, their roots are not just for gaining stability but also for providing vitality by absorbing and storing water found in the soil. Beneath the surface, trees continuously push their roots looking for water, always looking to find their source of life.
And this is also true for people of great faith. Beneath the surface — even when no one is looking — they continuously push their roots to find the source of life in Jesus Christ. Today’s scripture describes it as “delighting in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.” This law of the Lord, in other words, is God’s instruction, which includes God’s teaching and revelation through scripture, as well as through tradition, reason, and experience. Whether through praying, reading scripture, or participating in Holy Communion, they constantly and repeatedly find ways to stay in communion with the Lord. And it is because of their constant, continued life of spiritual discipline they can stand tall, remain peaceful, and bear fruits despite trials and tribulations.
Trees planted by streams of water but do not use their roots will soon eventually die. And it is the same case for us. Even when we have easy access to our faith, what is the point if we do not practice it regularly? We are to be like trees planted by water, sending out our roots by the stream. When we are in constant communion with the living water, we shall not fear when heat comes, and our leaves shall stay green. Even in the year of drought, we shall not be anxious, and we shall not cease to bear fruit.
And this fruit is my third point. What does it like for trees sustained by the streams of water? These trees are full of life, non-anxious and grounded, and have leaves that do not wither. But most importantly, they bear fruit. Again, those who abide in Christ and Christ in them bear much fruit, which is, according to Paul in Galatians 5:22–23, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
Perhaps, it is worth asking ourselves whenever we fail to bear such fruit, Have I been negligent in sending out my roots by the stream? Have I been inattentive in my communion with God?
When life is hard, we find it difficult to bear such fruit that Paul mentions. When we face things evil, we are tempted to use evil devices to overcome our situations. This is when we forget the selfless agape love and are rather driven by selfishness. This is when we follow the advice of the wicked or take the path that sinners tread or sit in the seat of scoffers. And the result of such a lifestyle is obvious, according to Paul. This is how Eugene Peterson paraphrases Paul’s words in Galatians 5:19–21.
It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on. This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.
Maybe I can stretch a bit more with this metaphor of trees. Can trees sustained by streams of water live a selfish life? I don’t think so. A tree’s entire lifespan seems to be about self-giving, like Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree, how the tree was so happy that she could continue to provide for the boy with everything she has. And perhaps we are to be like trees in this way too. When we are sustained by the streams of water, happy are we who are able to provide abundantly to those around us.
Agape love is giving ourselves to others. This is only possible when we are in constant communion with God, similar to how trees connected to streams of water can continuously give themselves for others. If our faith does not bear agape love, then we must question our rootedness in Christ. In the same way, if our agape love is not sourced by Jesus Christ, then we must expect impending burnout and disappointment.
All of us are trees planted by the very hand of God. Our Creator has planted us in the garden and by streams of living water. Our God is our Gardener and our source of life.
All of us are “trees planted by streams of water.” And because of Christ’s self-giving agape love, these streams of “living water” are now all around us and are flowing through us — waiting to quench our thirst; waiting to nourish our body; waiting to revive our soul; and waiting to give us life.
And as if we are trees, all we have to do is to stretch our roots to connect ourselves to the source of life. And the fruit we bear is simply a joyful consequence of our communion, our constant relationship with the triune God. Happy are those who are always connected to God the Father, now through the Son Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Minoo Kim is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving in the Virginia Annual Conference. He will very much appreciate it if you like and follow his Medium profile. Peace!