To begin today’s sermon I want to ask what at first might appear to be a strange question: Do you have any pleasant memories with trees? Are you the type of person who enjoys spending hours in the forest? Do you ever sit under a tree and enjoy its shade while reading a book? Have you ever decided to hug a tree? Or perhaps when you were a child you hung a rope from a tree, You may have collected sap from a tree, You may even have enjoyed eating fruit right off the tree.
When I was much younger than I am now, my parents owned a little farm just down the road in Wheatley. My Dad who is a lover of cedar trees, also decided to plant several fruit trees on some of the acreage. We would haul the water over to the trees and let it sink into their roots. This was no small feat for a child and it was rather tiring. The problem is, that the trees never produced much fruit. Some years there would be an apple or two, but they were scraggly and not good to eat. The reason is because the trees were not properly tended to. They weren’t cared for throughout the week. They were not properly sprayed to keep bugs from devouring them. They were not inspected or monitored to check their growth. In fact, the only thing good about it was that they were straight because we forced them to grow straight, although they never did become big, beautiful trees that produced luscious sweet fruits.
This morning we read a passage from Psalms and from Jeremiah. Both of these passages are very similar because they describe a Christian believer as being a tree. They also demonstrate the difference between how a righteous and unrighteous person will bear fruit.
I think for the most part we all desire to be productive, loving, and caring people. Yet, we live in a world that requires a lot of discernment. Even though I am only 30, I look at the world that our children and teens are growing up in and I see how it’s a very complicated society. Youth these days have so many different opinions being given to them on social media, amongst their peers at school, within their families, and at church. Just think of how difficult it can be for a youth to discern right from wrong and truth from falsity when the news, social media, and their friends are all saying different things. Even as adults we see our world being divided and arguing over many things including the colour of someone’s skin, their ethnicity, or their religion. Every time we turn on the news we can see desperation, desolation, and destruction. There’s also been a surge of what is known as “fake news” in the past decade or so. Sometimes it’s complicated to even know who to trust and what to believe.
In Psalm 1, we see the contrast between the one who is following God and the one who is following worldly standards of greed, prejudice, hatred, and strife. Yet, the journey all begins with a path. And the correct path all begins with that sense of discernment. It is a journey of choosing what to think how to behave and where to belong. Some would simply call this “spiritual maturity.”
The Psalm is the most concerned with what a person DOES. Let’s first draw our attention to the righteous person. Someone who is following after God is Spirit-Driven. They are careful who they take advice from. They delight in God. They meditate on Scripture.
Who do you go to for advice when you are having a bad day or when you need to make a major decision? We all thrive best when we are part of a community of faith such as this church. It is good to take part in corporate worship because it feeds our souls. It’s not just in the message, the Bible reading, or in the songs, but it’s because it takes an active commitment to be part of a group of people. As we form a congregation, we hopefully become friends for the journey. The more we get to know someone, the more we see both their strengths and their flaws. The more invested we are into someone’s life, the more we are able to encourage them and help them grow more into who God has made them to be.
The ungodly are not like this. In fact, the Psalmist calls them “know-it-alls.” These individuals don’t grow because they don’t allow themselves to grow. Anytime someone gives them constructive feedback they either retreat or justify themselves. Anytime someone questions a decision they are making, they move on to another friend who will fully support them. They keep asking around until they find people who agree with their choice even when it’s self-destructive. They don’t open themselves up to new experiences. They don’t want to get out of their comfort zone. They don’t want to progress to the next level. Some might even say, they are stuck in the past. Not so much the past of tradition (which is often sacred) but stuck in the past of who they were and what they did before rather than who they are and who God is transforming and shaping them to be today.
But a righteous person, lives life as an adventure. They are comfortable not having all the answers. They search out people with more experience than them and ask questions. They open their minds by reading books, attending educational events, or even just talking to people who are different than they are. Their mind is a sponge, soaking up all the information rather than acting rashly. They consider their path, they make plans and goals to accomplish their dreams, they ponder over advice they’ve been given, carefully weighing the pros and cons and deciding which path is best for them. Just like Philippians 4:8 suggests, they fill their minds not with mindless entertainment, unhelpful thoughts and images, or things which make them feel worse about themselves or about society, but with things that are: true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, praise-worthy, and will build community.
The next characteristic of the Godly person is that they delight in the Law of the Lord. We all have to obey certain laws every day even if we don’t actually stop to think about them. There are driving laws, public health guidelines, and criminal justice laws. There are also unwritten rules and codes that we have to follow for pretty much any social situation we find ourselves in. Rules like common courtesy, treating others with respect, and the Golden Rule. Sometimes laws can be cumbersome. Psalm 1 was written in the First Testament so you can imagine how many laws were given back then, especially in books like Leviticus. Yet, the Psalmist doesn’t just say that the righteous FOLLOW the Law of the Lord, but that they DELIGHT in it. Why would anyone delight in laws? The reason is because the righteous person sees that laws produce boundaries and barriers which keep us safe. If you have children or grandchildren you may have witnessed them growing up and becoming defiant, refusing to follow the rules, and maybe even arguing with you about why they had to do certain things. Yet, as a parent you knew that the reason these rules were in place were to help them be happy and healthy, to avoid getting in trouble at school, and ultimately to make them mature adults who would go on to lead productive lives. Rules like doing homework before watching any TV might not seem fun or delightful for a 10 year old, but when they are 20, they may realize the discipline instilled in them from youth is why they are now excelling in their university course.
The third characteristic of a Godly person is that they meditate on the Word of God daily. I don’t know if anyone here is into meditation. I have tried meditation many times, and I always find it hard to empty my mind and focus just on my breath. I began to grow frustrated with my lack of ability to be calm and relaxed as my mind would rush to an endless to-do list. It wasn’t until I heard someone say that meditation and worry were basically the same thing, so if I knew how to worry, I knew how to meditate. Worry means focusing on all the negatives, whereas meditation is focusing on all the positives. Meditation is more than just counting our breaths, it’s also about counting our blessings.
Meditating on God’s Word can look different for each person. Some people enjoy reading a short devotional book such as “Our Daily Bread,” some people enjoy reading or listening to a Bible passage, others simply might reflect on a particular verse from a motivational calendar, and still others might just reflect on general Biblical themes like love, acceptance, grace, and mercy. There is no right or wrong way to meditate on God’s Word, but by having a daily practice, we are able to develop what is known as a “Spiritual Discipline.” And Spiritual Disciplines are again what help us to grow and bear the Fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.
Going back to my original analogy of all those fruit trees in Wheatley which had the potential to bear fruit, but ultimately never did, I pray that we will see the ways our own growth has been stunted and the ways in which we are thriving. God has given us a blueprint for how to become solid trees where others can rest in our shade. It can be hard to grow when we are fully isolated, but with community it becomes much easier. In community where we have love, joy, and peace modeled to us, we also learn how to model it to others. I pray that this coming week we will find pockets of that same community everywhere we go. May our hearts be receptive to the seed which has been planted in us, may our minds be watered with the goodness of God, and may our feet dance through the orchard rejoicing in the God who brings in the harvest.