Sunday, January 17, 2016

The true meaning of life is to plant trees

You might have thought it was easy enough to make
good sense of the Bible … and on many, many
occasions it is. But there will always be bits of the
Bible that prove difficult to make sense of at all! It’s
so easy to give up on reading the Bible when you
come across those bits! And yet often it’s the bits you
have to wrestle with that can become most rewarding.
Starting this Tuesday we are running a course over six
sessions, with a break in the middle. Called ‘Making Good Sense of
the Bible Together’ it seeks to do what it says. On Tuesday evenings
at Explore we will explore different ways of making good sense of the
Bible. Doing that together means that we will be able to learn from
each other. That’s one of the wonderful things about the Bible – it’s
not just down to those you might think of as ‘experts’. Actually we
each have something we can share and we each have so much to
learn from one another. Do come along and join us on Tuesday
evening from 7-15 for coffee and cakes and then a 7-45 start to our
evening. This week’s text for the week is Philippians 2:13. As we
begin a couple of weeks looking at Philippians and the real people at
the heart of the Christian faith these words we can all take to heart:
“God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey
his own purpose.” What a wonderful thought!

A seed hidden in the heart of an apple is an orchard invisible A Welsh Proverb.

Our National Trust cards and handbook and magazine arrived in the post not so long ago – one of the things I’ll b looking out for this year is Capability Brown’s 300th birthday.   Quite some celebration in store. Croome Court just the other side of Upton on Severn is one of our closest national Trust properties and I have to say has come to be quite a favourite.  We have watched it develop since the National Trust acquired it about 20 years ago.  Croome Court was the very first of Capability Brown’s projects.  It was a revolution in garden design.  He did away with the formal gardens near the house, and for good measure moved a village and demolished a church.  He created remarkable illusions in the landscape:  a river that almost replicates the Severn!  It all looks so natural … and yet it is  wonderfully crafted to lead the eye to the distant horizon whichever way you look.  And to add to it all he had a big hand in designing the new house and its interiors.  Thirty three years after he began work on the project he died, prompting a memorial to be placed next to the lake that looked so like a river

To the Memory of Lancelot Brown
Who by the powers of his inimitable and creative genius
formed this garden scene out of a morass

In 1801, seventeen years after his death the the Annals of Agriculture described Croome as “second only to Kew” for its botanical diversity.” accessed 17/1/2016

One sentence on the website caught my eye.

“The planting carried out at Croome was extensive and many of the trees planted by Brown still survive in the park today including Planes, Cedars and Oaks”
I don’t know much about trees.  But I know enough to think that in the thirty three years between starting work on his project and Capability Brown’s death those Planes and Cedars and Oaks would not have looked the way they do now!  They would still have been very young.

That’s the exciting thing about the vision of Capability Brown and indeed any who deal in planting trees.

You don’t live to see your plans come fully to fruition.  It’s long term garden design!

He who plants a tree
Plants a hope.
~Lucy Larcom, “Plant a Tree”

The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit. ~Nelson Henderson

One way to read the Bible is to read it as simply words on a page.  The words begin to come to life as we think of them as words passed on down through the ages by real people living in the real world.  In some ways the world they lived in is very different from the world we live in.  And yet at the same time there is a familiarity about the world they diescribe.

Sometimes that familiarity is disturbing.

There is something chilling about the opening words of Jeremiah 32.

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. 2At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, 3where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

I had never really listened to Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony before.  Over the New Year weekend we stumbled across a programme telling its story.  It was the kind of programme I didn’t want to watch but I felt compelled to see it through to the end.

The programme told the harrowing story of the memories of people who had been caught up in the siege of Leningrad during the war.  Shostakovich wrote his symphony as a protest against the siege and it was performed in the city by musicians in the extreme stages of starvation.

What made the programme so harrowing was the news coming out of Syria of whole towns that were besieged.  The descriptions we have been watching on the news do not bear thinking about.

This was what Jeremiah faced.  We skirt over the words.  But this is the experience of the horror of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian world empire.

In the face of the siege Jeremiah on the one hand could see that there would be devastation for a generation and more.  “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” Jeremiah 31:15.  But at the same time he had a hope.

And here in Jeremiah 32 he expresses that hope in the most wonderful of ways.

He buys a field.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. 10I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. 11Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; 12and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. 13In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, 14Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. 15For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

For Jeremiah the true meaning of life was not so much to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit, but rather to buy a field whose green pastures you will never enjoy.

And his confidence was rooted in that sense of the presence of God with him that was so dear to his heart.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

These are words that can fill us with hope because they come out of the middle of the awfulness of a siege that tore Jeremiah’s life apart and tore apart the lives of so many.

It was into the world of Rachel’s lamentation, Rachel’s weeping over children that Jesus came and we have marked his coming in our services over Christmas and the New Year.  It was the presence of Jesus alongside people who themselves experienced devastation that gave hope to those who followed him.

And among those who followed him and discovered this hope was Paul. These words from Philippians 1 are not simply words on a page.  They give a glimpse of a real person in a real world who was up against it and yet had hope.

They had tried to silence Jesus only to find his spirit let loose in the world at resurrection.

And now they were trying to silence Paul only to find that his voice was heard all the more.

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

I get emails regularly from Middle East Concern – they invite prayer for people who are facing situations beyond our imagining around the Middle East.   And yet with those harrowing emails comes also a sense of hope.  Hope that is rooted in the presence of God with us.  There may be fearful situations we too face closer to home.  It is this hope that we are to hold on to.  It is a hope to inspire us, a hope to keep us going.  A hope we may not see come to fruition, but a hope to underpin all we do.

 It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

In the face of things that devastate – let’s plant a tree even though we know we won’t sit under its shade.  Let’s purchase a field though we won’t enjoy its green pastures.  For me there is one tree in particular I would turn to in order to find meaning in life at times of great distress.  The tree on which Christ Jesus was crucified.

To turn to him and discover his transforming resurrection power let loose in our lives is to find hope a hope that will not let us down.  It’s the hope that will prompt us to plant those trees, purchase those fields and be defiant in the face of despair.

Psalm 48

this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
   He will be our guide for ever.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
   in the city of our God.
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
   is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
   the city of the great King.
Within its citadels God
   has shown himself a sure defence.

this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
   He will be our guide for ever.

Then the kings assembled,
   they came on together.
As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
   they were in panic, they took to flight;
trembling took hold of them there,
   pains as of a woman in labour,
as when an east wind shatters
   the ships of Tarshish.
As we have heard, so have we seen
   in the city of the Lord of hosts,
in the city of our God,
   which God establishes for ever.

this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
   He will be our guide for ever.

We ponder your steadfast love, O God,
   in the midst of your temple.
Your name, O God, like your praise,
   reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with victory.
   Let Mount Zion be glad,
let the towns of Judah rejoice
   because of your judgements.

this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
   He will be our guide for ever.

Walk about Zion, go all around it,
   count its towers,
consider well its ramparts;
   go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation

this is God,
our God for ever and ever.
   He will be our guide for ever.

Lord Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, the life
Guide us in the way that lies ahead
Guide us towards the truth of the God who is love
Guide us to the life that can be lived to the full
That we may pass on to the next generation
The Good news that the God who is love
Will be our guide for ever.

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