Love is Like a Tree

Trees remind us of the evergreen life we have in Jesus.  This Sunday we’ll be telling the story of his birth and celebrating the new life we have in him.

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Job 14:1-17, Isaiah 11:1, Matthew 13:31-32

As we worship God today, it is appropriate to recite a poem about trees. This one is by [Alfred] Joyce Kilmer.

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree…

This is a poem some people love, but others love to make fun of, and that’s probably why this poem has inspired Columbia University to have an annual Kilmer Bad Poetry contest.[1] 

I think we should just leaf it alone.

I do like the third stanza:

A tree that looks at God all day, / And lifts her leafy arms to pray…[2]

Such a lovely and admirable thought.  A tree has no choice but to be still and know that God is God. Trees only move with the Holy Spirit wind.

In today’s scripture reading, Job is envious of a tree, because he sees more hope for a tree than for a human being. He says,

Even a tree has more hope!  If it is cut down, it will sprout again  and grow new branches.” (Job 14:7)

Now, I know that many of us have a tree standing in our living rooms that has been literally cut down and it will never sprout again.  In fact, it is already dying, maybe even already losing its needles.

How many of you have a real Christmas tree?

But if a tree has been pruned or coppiced, which means it has been cut back to just the stump, then it can sprout again.

Job laments that, unlike a tree, people die without hope of revival. He asks,

Can the dead live again?    If so, this would give me hope through all my years of struggle,” (Job 14:14)

He didn’t know it, but we can see that Job was longing for Jesus centuries before Jesus was born.

We really can’t blame Job for feeling hopeless.  He had lost everything, and he had a lot to lose. He was the richest man in the land. In the first two chapters of the book, Job loses his seven sons and three daughters, 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 teams of oxen, and 500 donkeys.  When he learned of all the deaths and losses, Job tore his robe in grief, but he did not curse God. Instead he said,

“I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me all I had, and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:27)

But then Job’s health takes a nosedive, and he is covered with boils.  His wife says something quite helpful…she encourages him to give up and die. But instead Job says, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” (Job 2:10)

Then Job’s three friends come to try to console him.

[3] The friends see Job from a distance, and because he looks so bad, they start wailing loudly, tearing their robes and throwing dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. Then they sit on the ground with Job for seven days and nights, and no one says a word to Job for the entire time, because they see that his suffering is too great for words.

Seven days in silence. Can you imagine sitting in silence for seven days? This practice is called “sitting shiva.” (Shiva means seven.) The friends don’t speak until Job speaks.  And when Job finally speaks, he still doesn’t curse God, but he does curse the day he was born.  Job sounds like George Bailey in the 1946 classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life.  Or rather, George Bailey sounds like Job when he says, “I wish I’d never been born.”[4]

In the movie, Bailey learns, with the help of an angel named Clarence, that his life does matter, and he gains new perspective and new life.  Now instead of seeing everything as bad, he sees how life is wonderful, and he’s thankful for even the smallest things.

Maybe you think that the movie It’s A Wonderful Life, like the poem at the beginning of this sermon, is sappy and unrealistic.  In the midst of our suffering, in the midst of grieving our own losses, in the face of the challenges of our world, we can be tired and cynical, and it can be hard to remember how much God loves us.  Sometimes God’s love seems too far off and too small.

Job struggles with this. He says to God, “I wish you would hide me in the grave and forget me there until your anger has passed.” (Job 14:13)  But Job has a tiny seed of hope, a vague sense of what God might do.  “Can the dead live again?” If so, this would give me hope through all my years of struggle.”  It’s as if God has given Job a small glimpse of the hope we have in Jesus Christ, who died and was resurrected, and who will come again.

Jesus said a tiny seed of faith is all we need.  He said the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that grows into a tree and creates homes for the birds.

[5] Here in Kansas, we might say that the kingdom of God is like a maple seed that spins like a helicopter as it flutters to the ground. Maples put forth an abundance of these spinning seeds every year, so many that we have to rake them up and throw them away. If a tree could talk, I wonder what the tree would say about how we disregard its abundant gift of seeds.

What if the kingdom of God is like a tree in that God’s love is poured out to us in similarly overwhelming abundance, and we take it for granted or treat it as rubbish?

Isaiah 55:13 tells us that when trees grow, they are a sign of God’s faithfulness and a monument to God’s power and love.  Trees remind us of God’s presence.  Trees remind us of hope. Trees remind us of God’s love.

In the book Advent in Plain Sight, Jill Duffield says, “Seeing the glory, tenacity, longevity, variety of the trees that surround me reveals God’s goodness, all the time, when I am awake enough to pay attention to them. . . They are life-giving reflections of our life-giving God. They persistently dot the landscapes around us and remind us that God is good, all the time…”[6]

Out of a small seed, giant trees grow.  Out of a small gesture of kindness, love grows.  Smallness does not mean insignificance.  Especially in the kingdom of God.

[7] Think of the last time you held a newborn baby.  Every time I do, I am amazed at how small they are. How amazing it is that God, whose power and love is greater than we can imagine, came to earth as a tiny little baby. Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us.  And that this tiny baby grew up to be our savior who suffered and gave his life for us, nailed to a tree.

God became flesh and dwelt among us.  And because of this, we can be sure that he knows our suffering, and he knows how hard it is for us to hold on to hope in the midst of everything, and so God gave us an abundance of ways to be reminded of God’s love – through the people around us, through the sight of trees, and through Jesus.

This is love.



[3] Photo by William Krause on Unsplash


[5] Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

[6] Duffield, Jill J.. Advent in Plain Sight (p. 84). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[7] Photo by Jill Sauve on Unsplash

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