Read Genesis 2:4a-15, Revelation 22:1-7 here.
For as long as there have been humans on the earth, people have been telling stories. In the animated movie The Croods (2013), we see an ancient caveman telling stories of survival by drawing pictures on the cave wall.
There are all kinds of stories. Some are funny. Have you heard the one about the two silkworms that had a race? It ended up in a tie.
Some stories are not funny at all. They’re sad or maddening or inspiring. The process of telling our stories, and retelling them, can be comforting, challenging, enlightening, and healing.
When we tell our stories, we bring things out of darkness into the light. There’s a movie that came out a few years ago about the writing of the novel Moby Dick in which Herman Melville is encouraging a sailor to tell his story. Melville says, “The devil loves unspoken secrets, especially those that fester in a man’s soul.” The man does tell, and learns for himself that when we tell our stories, we get the opportunity to look at what happened from a new perspective. We get to see our stories with new understanding. We get to remember what happened after we know how things turned out so we can see how we got there. Looking back we can often see how God has helped us and redeemed us. Telling our stories helps us grow and heal.
The Bible is a story. It’s the story of God’s great love for us. It’s about how we got from the very beginning to here. And it gives us a glimpse of how the story will end. The stories are instructive and encouraging. Some of them are told to warn us, and all of them are told so that we can know God our creator, Jesus his son, and the Holy Spirit.
I have long been fascinated by the fact that the Bible is a story filled with trees, It’s actually a story framed by trees. In Genesis and in Revelation there is a garden, and in the garden we find rivers and the Tree of Life.
in Genesis we see the Tree of Life before “the fall,” which is what we call the story about how Adam and Eve committed the first recorded act of disobedience. We usually say that the action of eating the apple was the big problem. But I think the fact that they lied about it was the bigger problem. Proverbs 12:22 says, “The Lord detests lying lips.”
What if Adam and Eve had said, “God, we screwed up and did what you told us not to do. Please forgive us.”? But instead they blamed it on each other and on the snake. They told the wrong kind of story, and God banished them from the Garden of Eden.
In John’s vision in Revelation we get to see that Eden is still there, the Tree of Life is still there, and perfect communion with God forever is still possible. John tells us that we will see the face of God (Rev. 22:4), something we learned last week that no person on earth can do and live. But after our earthly lives are done, we get to see God’s face. In the olden days, to see the face of a king meant more than just seeing, it meant having an audience with the king to tell your story. Can you imagine what it will be like to be face-to-face with God? Maybe there’s a bench under the Tree of Life where we can sit together and talk and talk and talk…
On the tree of life, John says there are leaves that bring healing for the nations, meaning there is love and grace and hope for everyone. The message of the gospel is that there is forgiveness and redemption for us all. I love that the beautiful, healing tree bears fruit all year round. Continuous spiritual food.
How do we get there? How do we get to this life-giving, healing tree? By trusting in the story of another tree:
1 Peter 2:24 says “Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
This is the central message of our faith. We will find that healing grace in the story of God who became a man and willingly died on a tree for us.
We are accustomed to the symbolism of a cross, and I frequently wear one as a reminder to myself of God’s amazing love that was shown to us through Jesus Christ, but I also really love the symbolism of a tree. A tree is welcoming and inviting, a place to find shade and rest. A tree is living and growing, strong and silent, and some trees have watched generations come and go. This bristlecone pine tree in Northern California is called “Methuselah” because it’s more than 5000 years old.
Maybe I love trees so much because they remind me that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8), and that things in our past don’t have to keep us from enjoying the present and having hope for the future. Stories also do that. They remind us how we came through the struggles of the past with God’s help, and encourage us to trust that God is still here helping us now, and that we’ll get to rejoice all the more on that glorious day when we see God face-to-face. Telling our stories helps us do all we can to live well, and to help others live well today. Imagine coming to a tree and sitting down beneath it to listen to each other tell our stories about how the one who died on a tree has changed our lives?
(Picture below shows the lucky tree between Hutchinson and Wichita on k96 which has lots of stories.)
Sharing is Growing by Carla Davison
Pastor Melissa has been encouraging us to share our faith stories—our personal stories of how we have experienced God in our lives. Others – Tess, Larry and Arn — have encouraged us, as well, by sharing their stories.
I believe that sharing our stories with each other and with those outside the church is critical to our spiritual growth – our personal spiritual growth and our church spiritual growth. How do I know? Well…let me share one of my stories.
A little background first. I attended church as a child and teen – but maybe like some of you here or someone you know, I went my own way after high school. It wasn’t a rebellious departure – it was more like a gradual drifting away. I then proceeded to make a mess of my life. I was married and divorced twice before the age of 26, and lived what most would consider a very reckless life. All the while I heard a small voice – what I now know was the Holy Spirit – trying to get my attention. I pushed it out of my mind and refused to listen.
Basically, I was lost, with no direction. It wasn’t a life I was proud of. In hindsight, I think that’s one of the reasons I proceeded to join the Army – to make a commitment that wouldn’t be easy to walk away from – and to hopefully, restore some of my self worth. Literally, the day after I signed the papers to join, God delivered Gary into my life. We were married after I completed my basic training, and let me tell you, in my case, the third time was a charm – we will be celebrating 38 years in December.
One of the places we lived while I was in the Army was in Germany—West Germany at the time. We were there from 1983-1986 and I have one particularly vivid memory that is seared into my mind. You ever have one of those? . .One of those very small, seemingly insignificant moments that for some reason your mind captures forever? This particular one of mine was of Gary and I in our apartment, located in a small, German village. It’s so vivid, I can still see the walls that were covered with orange floral 1970’s wallpaper. We must have been having one of those deep conversations about life. Gary remembers me talking about church – which at the time, was not a part of our life. I remember saying to him that one day, I felt like I would be telling my story to others as a way to maybe help someone. It was kind of an uncomfortable, strange thing for me to say because we didn’t really talk much about our faith then. I had absolutely no idea when or where I thought that it was going to happen – I just had a feeling.
Fast forward to 1996 and through several other God stories in my life —one of which led us to find a church home. I started to reconnect with God. I spent the next 10 years involved in children’s ministry, small groups and bible studies. I was on the right path, doing the “right” things. I was comfortable with where I was in my journey.
And then…we got a new pastor.
I very quickly realized God had put this pastor in my path for a very specific purpose. I served on Session at the time and during a Session workshop, he began talking about faith stories – about how important he felt it was for us to start sharing our stories – with each other, with our congregation, with people around us.
And then…he actually asked each of us to consider doing just that.
The very next moment is another one of those particularly vivid memories seared into my mind. I was sitting at a table in our Fellowship Hall and without any warning, tears began running down my face. I immediately thought of the conversation with Gary that I had held onto for more than 20 years, and I knew beyond a doubt, that God was speaking directly to me through our pastor. Finally, someone had asked me to share my story. It was time.
Two weeks later, I did share my story and it was one of the most freeing moments of my life. I cannot begin to tell you how important it was to my spiritual growth. Other leaders were sharing their stories, too. New members were gently led to share their stories, and soon sharing faith stories became part of the culture of the church. The Holy Spirit was moving people through our stories. We all knew it – we could see and feel the spiritual transformation happening. And just as important – those walking into our church for the first time could feel it too.
I’m confident that every one of us has a faith story – or more likely, many faith stories. For some of you, though, just the thought of sharing your story might make your palms sweat. I get it. Mine have been sweating the whole time I’ve been up here. But, I want to encourage you anyway. If you feel a nudge from the Holy Spirit, I pray that God will give you the courage to tell someone. Visit with Pastor Melissa, or someone on Session, or someone on the Congregational Development Ministry Team. It may not be a comfortable part of your spiritual journey, but I know it will be a growing part. And in the process, you will be helping our church to grow as well.
 In the Heart of the Sea (2015) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Heart_of_the_Sea_(film)
 from Moses’ experience in Exodus 33 and 34
 Bruce Metzger, Breaking the Code: Understanding the book of Revelation, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1993), p.103.
 Richard Mouw, The Kings Come Marching In: Isaiah and the New Jerusalem. “The biblical visions of the future are given to us so that we may have the kind of hope that issues forth into lives of active disobedience vis-à-vis contemporary culture” (11). In other words, our perspective on eschatology is as much about what happens now as it is about the ultimate future.