|Lent 4, Year B||March 15, 2015||Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year B||Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21|
|Lent 3, Year B||March 8, 2015||Third Sunday in Lent, Year B 2015||Exodus 20:1-17|
|Lent 2, Year B||March 1, 2015||Second Sunday in Lent, Year B, 2015||Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16, Mark 8:31-38|
|Lent 1, Year B||February 22, 2015||Lent 1, Year B||Mark 1:9-15|
|Ash Wednesday, Year B||February 18, 2015||Ash Wednesday, Year B||Matthew 6:1-6,16-21|
|The Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||February 15, 2015||Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||2 Kings 2:1-12, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9|
|The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Year B||February 1, 2015||Luke 2:22-40||Luke 2:22-40|
|The Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||January 25, 2015||Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||Mark 1:14-20|
|The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||January 18, 2015||Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B||I Corinthians 6:12-10|
|The First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||January 11, 2015||First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B||The Book of Common Prayer –Holy Baptism|
|Second Sunday after Christmas, Year B||January 4, 2015||Second Sunday of Christmas, Year B||Luke 2:41-52|
|Two Christmas Eve Meditations||December 24, 2014||Christmas Eve, Year B||Luke 2:1-20, John 1:1-5, 14, 16|
|Advent 3, Year B||December 14, 2014||Third Sunday of Advent, Year B||Psalm 126, I Thessalonians 5:16-24|
|Advent 2, Year B||December 7, 2014||Second Sunday of Advent, Year B||Mark 1:1-8|
|Advent 1, Year B||November 30, 2014||First Sunday in Advent, Year B||Mark 13:24-37|
Pentecost 20, year A
Sermon Date:October 26, 2014
Scripture: Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18, Psalm 1, Matthew 22:34-36
Liturgy Calendar: Proper 25, Year A
"Christ the True Vine" – Icon, Athens, 16th century
In today’s passage from Leviticus, God tells Moses to say these words to the Israelites. “You too shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
And in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says that we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our minds. And we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.
So how do we learn to be holy so that we can keep God’s two great commandments?
Sometimes what we need to know is found in something unexpected—and today we find that something in our psalm.
Trees actually have a lot to teach us about how to live holy lives.
That’s why trees have strategic places and purposes in scripture. For starters, they serve as botanical bookends for our Bible.
In the opening chapter of Genesis, in the first account of creation, God creates “fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it” and sees that the trees are good. And in the second account of creation, in Chapter 2, God creates every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. God also creates the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and these two trees grow in the very heart of Eden, in the center of the garden.
In the New Testament gospels, a tree provides the hard wood of the cross on which Jesus stretches out his arms of love so that all might come within reach of his saving embrace, as one of the prayers for mission in the Morning Prayer service states so poetically.
And in the very last book of the Bible, Revelation, in the very last chapter, — (and you have heard me talk about this vision before, because I find it so compelling) –the water of life flows from the throne of God and the lamb through the middle of the street of the heavenly city, and 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 the healing of the nations.
Now let’s look in the middle of the Old Testament at the Psalms, the collection of prayers and songs composed throughout Israel’s history for use in worship.
Trees appear in the very first psalm–
And the psalmist uses these trees as a way to help us understand how to live holy lives.
The trees in Psalm 1 are planted by streams of water.
Like all living things, trees need water to live.
And holy people are born out of living water and continually need to immerse themselves in that water in order to thrive.
Martin Smith talked about this idea of immersion into God at the fall clergy retreat I attended at Shrine Mont this past week, and the following thoughts are inspired by what Fr. Martin had to say about our immersion into living water at our baptisms.
This baptismal water into which we are immersed is the living water that washes us clean.
It is the living water that Jesus offers to the Samaritan woman in the gospel according to John. If she drinks this living water, she will never be thirsty again.
It is the living water of salvation that pours out of the side of Jesus as he hangs on the hard wood of the cross.
Because we human beings are prone to wander, we might not stay by this stream of water, but the trees in the Psalm remind us of the necessity of planting ourselves beside this stream, immersing our very roots into this baptismal and living water of God’s love, because without that water our leaves certainly would wither away and we’d never bear fruit.
So the first step toward living into our holiness is to immerse ourselves in God through prayer, the prayer that yearns for and longs for and desires God, prayer that thirsts for God, returning the yearning and longing and desire that God has for each one of us.
This is the wordless prayer through which we enter as God’s beloved into God’s presence and simply long for God, sinking deep down into God’s love, with our total focus on God.
This is the prayer we pray when we are truly loving God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind.
And the more we pray this prayer of the heart, the more we find ourselves living out the results of loving God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds in prayer by being holy people in the ways in which we love our neighbors as ourselves and long to do whatever we can to bring about the best for them.
Trees have even more to tell us about how to love our neighbors.
The psalmist talks about the fact that the trees planted by streams of water bear fruit. On the physical level, fruit feeds people.
Going deeper, Jesus is the food that feeds us each Sunday as we gather at the Eucharist, when we are fed with the holy mysteries of the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ, as the BCP Rite I post communion prayer puts it so poetically.
And then the Apostle Paul’s list of the fruits of the spirit in his Letter to the Galatians comes to mind—the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
When we bear all these fruits in our lives, we are bearing God given, holy fruit, and these fruits make a huge difference in the ways in which we relate to others. And these gifts of the Spirit keep our relationships with one another lively and delicious.
Now here are a few things the Psalmist wouldn’t have known about trees, but we can put these facts about trees to work in helping us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Trees are a source of healing.
According to the website, www.treepeople.org, “studies have shown that patients with views of trees out their windows heal faster and with less complications. Children with ADHD show fewer symptoms when they have access to nature. Exposure to trees and nature aids concentration by reducing mental fatigue.”
And not only that, but trees reduce violence. Again, from the website we learn that neighborhoods with trees have fewer incidences of violence than neighborhoods that lack trees. “Trees and landscaping also help to reduce the level of fear.”
As holy people, we too can be sources of healing and peace for others simply by being a calm presence that is rooted and grounded and immersed in God’s love.
But most importantly, “trees counteract the greenhouse effect here on earth, by removing and storing carbon in the air and releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere. In one year, an acre of mature trees can provide oxygen for eighteen people. Trees also absorb pollutant gases such as nitrogen oxides, ammonia, sulfur dioxide and ozone. Trees planted in cities can cool those cities by as much as ten degrees and can decrease the use of air conditioning in homes by up to 50%.”
I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the best ways to love the people around me is to be with them in a way that absorbs negativity and breathes out love, just as trees take in carbon dioxide and release life giving oxygen.
On his website, www.EnlightenedBeings.com, Jafree Ozwald explains that “our hearts are always pumping in oxygen deprived cells and pumping out oxygen rich cells.”
So when we confront negativity from our neighbors, instead of responding in kind, we can pray for them by consciously breathing in the negativity, and then as Ozwald suggests, on the out-breath, “slowly breathe out love and a soft peaceful energy into that negative source.”
The culmination of this very ancient meditation happens on the cross, as Jesus takes into himself all of the hatred, negativity and death dealing forces of evil loose in the world, and with his last dying breaths, breathes out God’s forgiving, healing, restoring, resurrecting love for all of creation, and for each one of us.
As God’s holy people, we are the ones that God now calls on to practice this prayer of the heart, breathing in negativity, breathing out transforming love,because this way of prayerful and tree like living will immerse us more and more deeply into God, and into more deeply loving relationships with one another.
And this prayer of the heart, practiced day in and day out, will transform each one of us into the holy people that God yearns for us to become.
Notes from the Diocese of Virginia Fall Clergy Retreat at Shrine Mont, October 2014, led by The Rev. Dr. Martin Smith.