Tag Archives: Tree of the Cross

The Message of the Trees: The Tree of Life

Sunday, February 11, 2018 arrived coated in ice, therefore no service was held due to the road conditions.  We will resume next Sunday with a recap of this final sermon based on the trees of Church of Resurrection’s stained glass window in Leawood, KS.  As Feb. 18 begins Lent, we will also
begin a series 

images

based on Old Testament families.

 

Scripture connections: (using New Living Translation)

 

Genesis 2:9

The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

Proverbs 3:18 and 11:30

                  3:18Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
happy are those who hold her tightly.

 

11:30The seeds of good deeds become a tree of life;
a wise person wins friends.

 

Revelations 22 (esp. 2, 14, 19)

Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit,[a] with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

                                    3 No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.

                                    6 Then the angel said to me, “Everything you have heard and seen is trustworthy and true. The Lord God, who inspires his prophets,[b] has sent his angel to tell his servants what will happen soon.[c]

“Look, I am coming soon! Blessed are those who obey the words of prophecy written in this book.[d]

                                    8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw all these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me. But he said, “No, don’t worship me. I am a servant of God, just like you and your brothers the prophets, as well as all who obey what is written in this book. Worship only God!”

                                    10 Then he instructed me, “Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.”

                                    12 “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

                                    14 Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life. 15 Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie.

                                    16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne.[e] I am the bright morning star.”

                                    17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. 18 And I solemnly declare to everyone who hears the words of prophecy written in this book: If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book. 19 And if anyone removes any of the words from this book of prophecy, God will remove that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city that are described in this book.

                                    20 He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

                                    21 May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.[f]

 

Reflection:

 

Yes, in our community we are in the dead of winter and grasping for the seasonal change with spring breezes, warm sunshine, and glimpses of yellow and purple blooms of jonquils and crocus peeking up at us. The cycle of life is repeated every year, and yet somehow humans fear the cycle of human life. Birth and death are simply part of the life cycle, yet fear and trepidation develops between the two seasons.

Looking at the COR’s stained glass window and considering the messages of the trees might help us manage some of the irrational and emotional fears that develop as we journey through our lives. The first message we considered was that of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. We accept that as humans we err; we fail to trust that God will provide for all of our needs; we fail to love one another in almost every way one might imagine.

The second tree, the Tree of the Cross, provides hope. God loves us so unconditionally he kept giving his people opportunity after opportunity to make the right decision. And the people failed. Not just once, but generation after generation after generation his people failed to trust that God would provide. Yet God never gave up and decided to join the human world in the body of Jesus Christ and teach and demonstrate the simple principle of “love one another.”

The Tree of the Cross reminds us that even as God walked beside us, we failed. The gospels share the story and show how evil forces tried to destroy God’s message by destroying the human body. Yet, God’s message delivered through Jesus Christ is alive and that leads us to the third tree in the stained glass window: The Tree of Life.

Introduced in Genesis 2:9, the Tree of Life is mentioned as planted in the Garden of Eden alongside the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet the significance of the Tree of Life is more fully explained in the last book of the Bible: Revelations 22, the final chapter in the final book of the Bible.

And that leads us to ask, “What is the message of the Tree of Life?”

The Tree of Life is personal to me. Certainly being raised on a farm with a mother who loved nature has contributed to my passion for trees, but I also feel drawn to the Celtic image of the Tree of Life. There is no logical explanation for my love of the image, but maybe, just maybe it is because my grandpa was born on March 17 and was Welsh-Irish. At least that is how I was raised and have not found anything to repudiate that understanding.

Still, the Celtic image of the Tree of Life explains visually what I understand developed in scripture. The Genesis verse simply mentions it, and not until reading the adages in Proverbs does the phrase return:

 

                  3:18Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
happy are those who hold her tightly.

 

Wisdom goes back to the message of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Wisdom is knowing what is good and choosing to make good choices in our lives. The result of growing in wisdom leads to a happy life—remember the Christmas gifts that won’t break: hope, joy, peace, and love. Living life making wise choices results in a life filled with hope, joy, peace and love. That is a complete formula for happiness and in this proverb wisdom is a tree of life.

The second proverb that refers to the Tree of Life shows that those who are wise, who have found true happiness, are to share that wisdom:

 

11:30The seeds of good deeds become a tree of life;
a wise person wins friends.

The meaning of the Tree of Life in these proverbs creates an understanding that living a wise life, choosing and sharing good deeds, creates a happy life filled with hope, joy, peace and love. The message of the trees could end there, but look at the last chapter of Revelation and the significance of the imagery extends beyond our human experience. And this brings me back to the imagery of the Celtic Tree of Life.

Googling the Celtic Tree of Life, the explanations all say the same thing (and when searching the web, one must be diligent not to be misled). One of the most straightforward explained the symbolic drawing:

Celtic knots are known as endless knots because they don’t have a beginning or end. They represent how nature is eternal. Celtic Tree of Life knots represent the roots and branches of a tree woven together without end, showing the continuous cycle of life on earth. [Accessed on February 8, 2018 at http://www.astrologyoftheancients.com/celtic-tree-of-life/

]

Even Wikipedia and other sites defined the symbolism of the Celtic Tree of Life like this.

Study the image included in the bulletin/post today. The artist draws the Celtic knot even in the roots of the tree. The knots remove time. In fact, as the explanation shares, the Celtic knots represent how nature is eternal—there is no beginning or end.

The Tree of Life in Revelation 22 continues God’s promise that if we trust in him and live life loving one another, life continues even after our worldly life journey:

1Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.

                  3 No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and his servants will worship him. And they will see his face, and his name will be written on their foreheads. And there will be no night there—no need for lamps or sun—for the Lord God will shine on them. And they will reign forever and ever.

 

Reading prophetic words can be difficult; and John, who wrote Revelations, understands this as he continues this final chapter:

 

10 Then he instructed me, “Do not seal up the prophetic words in this book, for the time is near. 11 Let the one who is doing harm continue to do harm; let the one who is vile continue to be vile; let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.”

 

As Christians, the Bible repeatedly tells us that we are to not only live faithful lives, but we are to actively share God’s message and love one another as we want to be loved. Following the Bible’s instruction is how we “sow seeds of good deeds that become the tree of life.”   Sowing seed of good deeds continues the life cycle as visually represented in the Celtic’s Tree of Life images.

Returning to the COR’s stained glass window, the vitality of the Tree of Life is clearly contrasted to the wilting, yellowing leaves of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and the harsh, dead wood that is used in the Tree of the Cross. The message of the Tree of Life, first introduced in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, and included in the adages of Proverbs is the concluding message of the Bible in Revelations.

Being disciplined to read the Bible is key to finding the wisdom for life in this crazy evil-filled world. Joining in conversation with others reading the Bible and making life decisions of good versus evil makes our life journey easier. How this is done is revealed in the images surrounding the Tree of Life in the stained-glass window—the church lives in the works of faithful who are planting the seeds of good deeds.

Together we are the church spreading the good news of God’s unconditional love for all of us and as we spread the good deeds, The Church as the Tree of Life flourishes.

John writes in Revelations

. . . let the one who is righteous continue to live righteously; let the one who is holy continue to be holy.”

                  12 “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

                  14 Blessed are those who wash their robes. They will be permitted to enter through the gates of the city and eat the fruit from the tree of life.

 

The message of the Tree of Life concludes with the promise of eternal life along side God and his lamb, Jesus Christ.

Closing prayer:

Dear patient and loving Father,

 

We see your message

as shared in a magnificent window

teaching us about living faith.

 

We read The Word

in the books of the Bible

seeking wisdom to live faith-filled lives.

 

We join in Christian fellowship

through study and worship

working to strengthen our faith.

 

Open our hearts

to see evil

but choosing good.

 

Open our minds

to hear you speak

guiding our deeds.

Open our doors

to welcome others

seeking unconditional love.

 

May our lives

demonstrate our faith

accepting your grace,

sharing your story,

leading others to you

so they may know

hope, joy, peace and love. –Amen

 

2 Comments

Filed under Religion

The Message of the Trees: The Cross: A man-made tree

This is the second of three sermons spinning off the Church of the Resurrection’s stained glass window as seen below.  The website is https://sacredspaces.cor.org/leawood/

images

Scripture connections:

 Old Testament: Isaiah 53:7-12 (NLT)

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
he was led away.[a]
No one cared that he died without descendants,
that his life was cut short in midstream.[b]
But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.

10 But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him
and cause him grief.
Yet when his life is made an offering for sin,
he will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands.
11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish,
he will be satisfied.
And because of his experience,
my righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for he will bear all their sins.
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier,
because he exposed himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

 

Gospel: Luke 23:44-49 (NLT) [also found in Matthew 27:45-56, Mark 15:44-49 & John 19:18-27]

44 By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.45 The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle. 46 Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”[a] And with those words he breathed his last.

47 When the Roman officer[b] overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.[c]” 48 And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow.[d] 49 But Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching.

New Testament (from Paul’s letters)

I Corinthians 1:18-21 (NLT)

18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. 19 As the Scriptures say,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise
and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”[a]

20 So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. 21 Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe.

Galatians 3:1-3 (NLT)

Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

Reflection:

As I started working on the images of the three trees in the COR’s stained glass window, I struggled to understand how the cross could be identified as a tree. Trees are living, breathing organisms, and a nature-loving mother raised me to respect them. The cross was not a living organism so the only correlation I could make was that it was made from a tree.

Last week we talked about the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The image in the window is surrounded by the visual representations of the Old Testament stories. The Tree of the Cross is surrounded by the images that tell the story of Jesus Christ, from his birth in a manger through his crucifixion on the wooden cross.

The cross is a man-made shape used to hang a man. Man destroyed a living tree to destroy Jesus Christ. This tree represents all the evil that God tries to teach us to avoid—and it was man-made rather than God created.

Why, then is the Tree of the Cross the central figure of the three trees? Turning to scripture, references to the cross are buried even in the prophecy of Isaiah:

But he was struck down
for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
he was put in a rich man’s grave.

 

Even though the verses do not use the word ‘cross,’ the typical method of sentencing a criminal, especially if considered a rebel, was crucifixion—a horrible, cruel death meant to serve as a deterrent to others who might encourage rebellion against authorities.

And all four gospels describe Jesus’ death in almost the very same words. The description of the actual crucifixion is minimal, but the method is not as important as the purpose Paul outlines in I Corinthians 1:18-21:

 

18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.

 

The message, as we prepare to come to the table today, is that those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior will be saved—granted eternal life.

Paul continues to explain the meaning of the cross to the Galatians:

For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ.

 

The cross is our symbol of God’s effort to keep humanity from self-destructing. The cross is a constant reminder that God loves all so much that he joined us—all humanity—by stepping into human form as Jesus to teach us how to love one another.

The cross triggers us to remember the stories of Jesus’ teachings and his efforts to model how to love one another. The cross, man-made from a tree, carried the weight of Jesus as the body of God died.

Do not leave worship today without keeping image of the Cross with you. Look around in our community and in our homes to see where the Cross is visible. Reflect upon the cruelty that God endured as he completed his work in the body of Christ.

Yes, the Cross was man-made from a tree. In fact a tree had to be destroyed in order to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. The Old Testament tells the stories of how the ancient Israelites failed to remain faithful to God or failed to follow the Law of Moses beginning with the story of Adam and Eve failing to follow God’s rule. The stained glass artist demonstrated the destruction of the Garden of Eden as God created by the choice of yellowing, withering leaves from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The Tree of the Cross symbolizes humanity’s failure to remain faithful. Even legends have developed about the choice of wood used for the cross. The choice the ancient Romans used cannot be proven because the ancient crosses deteriorated and there is no archeological evidence of the wood used. Possibly it was olive wood, cypress, or cedar, but as a native Missourian, I am familiar with the Legend of the Dogwood Tree.

Googling the legend, I found the story:

In Jesus’ time, the dogwood grew 
To a stately size and a lovely hue.
‘Twas strong and firm, its branches interwoven.
For the cross of Christ its timbers were chosen.
Seeing the distress at this use of their wood
Christ made a promise which still holds good:
“Never again shall the dogwood grow
Large enough to be used so.
Slender and twisted, it shall be
With blossoms like the cross for all to see.
As blood stains the petals marked in brown,
The blossom’s center wears a thorny crown.
All who see it will remember Me
Crucified on a cross from the dogwood tree.
Cherished and protected, this tree shall be
A reminder to all of My agony.”

 

[Accessed on February 2, 2018 at https://www.gotquestions.org/legend-dogwood.html]

 

This legend helps me remember the message of the Cross, especially when the dogwoods bloom in the Spring. But, I was curious:  Did dogwood trees grow in Jerusalem? No. I learned that the dogwood is native only in the United States.

The Legend of the Dogwood was created to help remember the story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Other cultures have different legends, and one of them includes a connection to Seth, a son of Adam and Eve. The story is complex, but it challenges our sense of chronology that our human minds comprehend.

In a doctoral thesis by Nicole Fallon from University of Toronto, Canada, legends share that the wood on the cross came from the trees in the Garden of Eden:

The notion that wood was taken from paradise goes back to Jewish tradition . . . [when] Eve and Seth bring herbs back from Eden; another tale recounts how Adam and Eve took wood with them at the time of the expulsion, which was later used as a rod by Moses and was eventually incorporated into the Tabernacle. A third account tells how Moses went to paradise personally and cut his staff there from the tree of life.

[Accessed on February 2, 2018 at https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/19188/1/Fallon_Nicole_A_200911_PhD_thesis.pdf%5D

The Cross represents the story of God as the man Jesus Christ. As we continue to study the Bible and work at hearing God talk to us, it is important to remember that the Bible, like the stained glass window, is filled with stories to guide us in living the very principles God taught us and continues to teach us. In the window, the New Testament images revolve around the Cross, a man-made tree.

We must be disciplined to read The Word as John Wesley instructed the earliest Methodists. Sometimes the scriptures do not make sense based on our personal experiences, but if we study the scripture together in small groups we can help each other find God’s message.

The Tree of the Cross reminds us of God’s promises. This week as we think about the message in the visual images of crosses that surround us in our churches, in our homes, and even around us in our community, we remember God’s promise that those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior will be granted eternal life symbolized by the Tree of Life, the third tree of COR’s stained glass window.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father,

We look at the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

And know we must be disciplined to read scripture

So we can choose good over evil in our lives.

Yet today we know there is much we do not understand.

 

Today, we consider the Tree of the Cross

And remember Jesus Christ is your son

Who died to pay for our sins.

Yet today, we know there is much we do not understand.

 

As we come to the table for the bread and the cup.

We recommit ourselves to be disciples

Who strive to live the life you give us

So that others, too, may understand your love. –Amen

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion