Epiphany 6 – Jeremiah 17:5-8
Trees belong in a category unto themselves when it comes to plant life. There is perhaps no living plant based organism that is harder to sustain through the early years of its life, but at the same time, once established, no living plant based organism that is more resilient through the harsh realities of life.
A perfect example of this was seen while driving to a meeting this past week. For while driving along the highway, we drove over a valley; and at the lowest point, there was a puddle of water, the result of all the snow and ice that has come through this winter. And in the middle of that puddle, in the lowest point of the valley, were two trees, growing in a place that they otherwise had no business growing in.
Everything that was elevated on the plain, was as flat and as barren as outsiders imagine western Kansas to be; but in that valley, where there was a source of water, there were two trees, firmly rooted, and freely soaring.
What happened to the other trees, the ones up above that should be visible on the flat plains? Surely some squirrel would have planted a nut that could have grown into a tree over time. Surely some bird would have dropped a seed out of its beak that could have given birth to a new tree. Surely the wind, surely the wind, could have blown in some fresh twigs that could have taken root and sprung to new life.
And the truth is all of those things probably did happen at one point or another.
But without the water source, without being able to place down deep, solid roots; whatever sprang up, quickly died when the winds blew long and hard; or when the sun burned hot; or even when the rains came and washed away everything not nailed down.
Which tree are you?
Are you the tree that finds the water source and sends out its roots, yielding long life? Or are you the tree that thinks it can make it on its own, only to find the realities of life a bit too much to endure, so that you wither and die?
Well, surely no one wants to be the foolish tree that withers and dies; and so no doubt, you stand here today and confess that you will be the tree that stays near the water source that yields eternal life.
But here is the thing, sometimes water is not always in the most attractive place. The valley looks wonderful when you are standing on top and looking out over it; but in the midst of the valley, suddenly life is not nearly so appealing, surrounded by walls on every side, with no view, and where no one can see you.
Life in the valley does not always allow one to see the bright lights of the world; life in the valley is safe and secure, but that means that the excitement of life is rare, if not totally absent. Life in the valley can in fact be bland and boring most days.
But life on top is so much more alluring. The bright lights, the noise, the excitement, the fun and games. Life away from the water source is where life seems so much more worth living.
Again, you say not I; as one could easily expect you to say on a Sunday morning, where you have forsaken all the other possibilities with which one could spend their time, in order that you might come here and hear the words of an Old Testament prophet.
But what about the other six days? What about the rest of your life?
Here is in fact where roots are firmly planted; in the church, at the font and the altar.
Notice that the tree can go a long time, but it still needs the basics to survive. How long can you go without word and sacrament? We’re here every week. But that seems excessive to many; can you go without food and drink for more than a week? A month? Longer? How long before your roots attach themselves to something else, anything else, because they need to be sustained, even if it is by the poison of the world?
And if your roots are not being fed here; then how often is a church, with font and altar, sought after when deciding where to go to college? This is your forsaking the bland and vanilla, with the opportunity to go anywhere to learn; and yet, what about your roots in the faith? Will that faith be fed and nourished?
And then you come home, to wherever you have decided to make home, what now? Where will those roots be planted now? Will they seek out a font and altar? Or will they sustain themselves solely on the junk food diet of work and pleasure?
And what happens when you take a spouse and you yield forth new seedlings of your own, where will they be rooted?
Suddenly you see why there are so few trees in the valley; the appeal is never in the valley; it is always elsewhere, even when elsewhere is not near the source of Word and sacrament.
And when you look elsewhere, what do you see? You see a flat plane that stretches forth for miles, because the trees that tried to take root there, had nothing to sustain them when the realities of life struck.
Where were the baptismal waters when the fires of temptation burned hot? Where was the nourishment of Christ’s body and blood when you needed some assurance that you were not alone? Where was the absolution, when you noticed how deep you had strayed from the truth of God’s Word?
If you are not near the source, then when you need what the source offers, you will never find it.
The world is the barren wilderness that Jeremiah describes this morning. You can lurch out into it; you can look around; but you will soon find yourself far away from the water source that offers life and salvation, and without that water source, you will soon die, alone, and apart from Christ forever.
Jeremiah describes the one who strays from the water source as cursed; and indeed, cursed are those who reject the things that lead to eternal life. Cursed are those who turn their backs on the very thing that can save them. Cursed are those who do not have roots firmly planted near a source that can continuously refresh them and sustain them in the parched wilderness of this world.
But Jeremiah does not just describe the one who is cursed, but also the one who is blessed. Blessed is the one who sets their roots out near the streams of water that give life for eternity. Blessed is the one who is regularly refreshed here at font and altar where the Lord comes to us Himself and offers His life giving, life sustaining gifts that offer not just the needed refreshment to survive in this world, but that which is needed to live forever in the world to come.
Now one may hear these words and think that the church is a ball and chain, which one can only travel and live within a reasonable driving distance from, for if one strays too far, they will go from being among the blessed to among the cursed.
There is in fact much to be said for that; that whenever one makes a decision in life, whether it be work or education or even an extended vacation, the question should always be asked: where will I be sustained? Where will my roots stretch out to?
But instead of looking at the church as a chain that only allows you to travel the radius of one hour, instead, look again at the tree.
Trees start out as all plants do, as seeds, some almost microscopic. And yet, what happens to the tree? What starts out so small, when it takes root, will soar high above all else; lifting up, out of the valley, and into the heavens.
That is what strong, deep roots do. They take hold, firmly clinging to that source of life, and then they can reach up into the heavens, far above all else, dwarfing all those whose roots are connected to the poison of this world.
Let your roots reach out to the source of eternal life; let your roots cling to this font and this altar all the days of your life; let your roots find themselves deeply wrapped in the words of Jesus; let your roots be planted deep in the Father’s love, so that you may soar to the heavens and live with your Father for eternity.