“Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow…the tree of life…in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Gen. 2.9)
+ In nomine….
The American preacher Rob Bell described a few years ago how we are a people living between two trees. On the one hand, in Genesis, in that story of origins, God creates two trees: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. Adam and Eve seize the fruit of the tree of knowledge before they are mature and ready enough to handle moral freedom. Adam and Eve find themselves in a world still beautiful but now broken, divided from one another and from God. On the other hand, in the final book of the Bible, Revelation, we see a vision of God’s kingdom: God lovingly brings us back and finally gives us the fruit of the tree of eternal life.
For Rob Bell, we live in the midst of these two trees. We have a sense that the world is full of beauty: as one poet describes it, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.” (Gerard Manley Hopkins, ‘God’s Grandeur’) But from the disaster in Haiti, from our own lives, we also have a sense that things aren’t quite right, that the world’s hurting and broken in some way.
For Rob Bell, however, it’s not that we are patiently waiting for our arrival at the Tree of Life where everything will once again be made miraculously right. Bell says that “we live between the trees in a world drenched with God. And some people seriously ask: where is God? Maybe a better question would be: where isn’t God? I mean, His fingerprints are all over the world.”
I love Bell’s idea of living between the two trees drenched in the love and presence of God. But I wonder, what are the challenges and hopes we have living between these two trees, this grand expanse of time where God is active in our lives, creating, sustaining, and redeeming? How do we live together and with God?
Today’s readings give us some wonderful pointers about how to live in a world drenched with God. Our first reading from Genesis offers us a beautiful vision of who it is that God makes us. We so often see Genesis as a problem: we see it as a story about how sinful we are; or we’re embarrassed that it seems to conflict with the theory of evolution. But Genesis is simply a story about two symbolic people: a man and a woman and what happens to them; about how we actually behave, and what we experience the consequences to be. The really heartening thing in the story is that God creates us full of His “breath” or “Spirit of life.” We are made full of God’s energy and reflect His nature: an ability to love, be creative, and understand. Men and women are full of God. Whatever we do, however we are, that can never be destroyed.
As we live together, Genesis shows that we must value one another, our men, our women, and God’s world. We must protect the resources of the world as wise stewards: maybe we must sacrifice our greedy consumption of fuel and products. And we must protect the dignity of human beings: we must challenge our leaders to protect the asylum seeker, the poor, the homeless, the elderly, and the minority. Pay attention to the news, then, and to how we talk and act. Show yourself drenched in God’s breath and Spirit by acting like God is here, in and with you. God fills and shows you have to live as a people made in His image.
Of course, it is hard to stay focused and positive in this calling. In today’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are travelling in a boat. A storm threatens to overwhelm their boat and possibly take their lives. Amidst all the worry and panic, Jesus “rebukes the wind and the raging waves” and restores calm. The story reveals, of course, a lot about our life together as the Church. Christians often depict the Church as a boat, travelling between the two trees, from our creation to our redemption. The storm reminds us of the challenges to our discipleship.
What fills you with fear? What threatens to overwhelm you? There is a lot to shake our faith here: unemployment, house repossession, family difficulties, the disaster in Haiti to name just a few. We may have our own crisis of faith: worship may leave us feeling lifeless, or we doubt God, or we struggle to live together. But, present with us, so confident as to even be sleeping in our little boat, is Jesus. You can face whatever the world throws at you: Jesus will never abandon you and He will always sustain you on your journey.
Today’s Gospel, with its story about the boat and the storm, reminds us to trust here in Jesus. With a similar image, Jesus tells us to be fishers of men: we are to go out now, not in the future, but now to share the Good News of Jesus with everyone. Be confident. Be strong in the faith, even when times are hard. Invite your friends and family to worship; serve in big and small ways those whom you meet in your week. It doesn’t matter if it’s perfect, if you fail sometimes, or if you struggle. For God walks with you, as close as your skin, drawing you inwards like a breath into the Church and then breathing you out into the world, time and time again. You are full of the breath and Spirit of God, just as Adam and Eve were. Why be afraid? As Jesus says, “where is your faith?”
Finally, we see in Revelation that our end is God, just as our beginning was and our present is. God is constantly with us. In Revelation, the heavenly hordes sing God’s saving praise: God freely and lovingly creates, sustains, and redeems us. God is everywhere, drenching us with love. Revelation isn’t so much a vision of some heavenly future where everything bad will be made right. Revelation offers us the vision of what God’s breath, what God’s presence is doing in us now. The worship of heaven is not remote from us: it is inside of us, even now, drawing us to our perfection. As we sing, pray, and struggle to live together, God unfolds eternity out into our lives. How else can we respond but with joy? So, let’s be a joyful people, rooted and committed to worship that can remind us of and shape us into what God intends us to be – free, beautiful, good, now and always. For we’re God’s partners, in His image, creating, sustaining, and redeeming the world.
How do we live between the two trees then? We God see that is present with us now. He was present with Adam and Eve, filling them with His Spirit of life. He was with them, and with the disciples, when they messed up and lacked faith in Him. He is with us now. And He will be there, waiting for us at the Tree of Life whose branches bring healing to all people (Revelation 22.2). So we partner fully with God, with all of our hearts, and minds, and voices. We care for the earth. We care for one another in all of our diversity. We care for those who have no-one to care for them. We commit ourselves to spread the Good News of Christ in Ingleby Barwick, through our conversations and through our actions. And we remain joyful, joyful, joyful. We walk between the two trees confident in our God and partners with Him.
I’ll finish with a prayer by Rob Bell that he uses to close his thoughts on living between the two trees:
May you trust Jesus when he says that death has been taken care of.
May you believe that you can be a partner with God in redeeming and restoring this broken world.
May you be the kind of person who, when you live this way,
the very trees of Paradise are being planted. Amen.