The Three Trees of the Christian Story

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Traditional Sermon Lent 3

The Gospel from Luke 13 begins in a way that’s a bit more like the way I receive my morning news rather than the way I like to receive the Good News.

It begins with people coming up to Jesus and sharing news of Pontius Pilate, the Governor of the land, committing an egregious act of violence in a sacred space.

This news sounds similar to our present day, where we are often bombarded with news of heinous acts and violence–often committed out of a radicalization, based on lies and justified in false, tyrannical beliefs.

And very much like those who sought out Jesus, we find ourselves asking, “Why?”
Why did this violence occur?
Was it something they did? Some sin acted out?
Why did God allow this?

And Jesus responds to the questions of why with a parable about time and a fig tree.

Trees a good subjects for stories, parables, and tales.

It was two years ago that our Christmas Eve Family service featured “The Tale of the Three Trees.”
Three trees felled and crafted into objects that touched the three stages of the life and ministry of Jesus.
Three trees–
one became the manger that held the Christ child,
one became the boat that carried the disciples and Jesus through a storm
one that would become the cross on which our Savior was crucified.

Trees are indeed a good bearer of storytelling. I too have a story to share of three trees. The three trees of the Christian story.

The first tree was in “in the beginning” of the story.

The story told about this tree tells of a wonderful, peaceful and tranquil garden for the tree to grow. It is the tree of the garden where all of creation is in harmony.

We don’t know much about this tree–only through tale and poetry can we imagine it.
But with the tree there was God. Always.
In fact God made this tree.
God made the cosmos, the sun and planets, the vegetation, the animals, and the people to be around this tree. And around this tree there were no wars, no hunger, no deception.
One would say about this tree that, “It was good.”

But you know and I know that something went wrong.
Something went terribly wrong in the place of this mythical garden, and the harmony and goodness that was shared around that tree could be no more.
All of the cosmos seemed to be turned on end…uprooted, one would say. Separated from the very life-giving force that is God.

Now we’re going to fast-forward through the pages of the story to the end. And here we meet the third tree.

This is the last of the three trees.
When the prophetic poets of the Bible describe this third tree we see visions of lush growth, fruit of every kind, places for animals to find shelter, and enough bounty for all to share.

All who are gathered around this tree experience paradise, where there is no more death, no more tears, no more weeping or grieving. Only life, with the leaves of the tree offering healing and wholeness and gathering all to be within its branches.

Those are the two trees of the Christian story–the tree of the garden and the tree of paradise, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. In our poetry and doctrines we speak and sing about these two trees as a place far in our past and as a way point of hope for our future.

But what about that tree in the middle? What about that tree of today?

In the tale of the three trees of the Christian story, what does this “tree of today” look like?

When I’m being honest about this tree of today, it sometimes reminds me of the tree out in my backyard. The Japanese Maple where parts of it are doing okay…but there’s a few parts that just look dead.

And I found myself wondering last summer if I should have it cut down. But like the parable in our Gospel of Luke, I found myself saying, “Give it time. Let’s see what happens next summer.”

But often our tree of today can be in peril of blight.

The blight of violence, and the attempt to fix violence with surrounding ourselves with more weapons of violence.

The blight of hate that no matter how many times we think we cut off a hateful branch, there seems to be another one ready to shoot.

The blight of perpetual winter where we wonder if anything new and good will ever bud.

Out of the three trees of the Christian story, this one sometimes seems the most uncertain, but it’s the one that we have known and seen with our own eyes.

It is this tree that we look to and have faith in the hope of the tree to come. And when we see blight in this tree of today we hear the words of Jesus,

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17

The one who calls us to repent, calls us to be honest about the blight in our life, the broken limbs of our living, and the channels of hate that may be growing in ourselves.

And perhaps as we view this tree of today we are reminded of that tree of the cross. That tree on which Jesus gave his life, so that we could be given new life and new hope in the tree of paradise. But when we are reminded of that tree of the cross, we are also reminded of a gift to be used for today.

As we look upon the tree of today, we can remember the parable shared by Jesus (Luke 13:6-9).

This tree of today that you and I have been gathered around has been given a gift by God the Father through our Savior Jesus Christ.
And it’s the gift of fertilizer.
HOLY Fertilizer!

And this fertilizer, my friends…has the power to burst forth and grow shoots and new buds of life, it gives the power to destroy blight and has the power to reject hate. And from this miracle grow–this gift given–first fruits of the season may come to be.

From your tree of today you could bite into the juicy, fruit and taste new life, new hope, and a new spirit given to you this day.

And as we view this tree before us–we have been given another gift.
The gift of time. We have this day, as the Psalmist reminds us,

“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24

This is the day the Lord has made, a day to repent and cut away the hate that can fester within.

This is the day the Lord has made, a day to use our limbs, our strength, our heart, and our minds for good.

This is the day the Lord has made, a day for your tree of today to bear fruit. The fruit grown from holy fertilizer that rushes your roots–the fertilizer that has brought you here to this place. The miracle grow that reaches through your veins and arteries. The Spirit that gives life and gives you the potential to grow fruit of the spirit.

This is the day the Lord has made, a day to bear fruit of love, peace, patience, kindness, self-control.
Fruit from this tree to be shared today–for that is our work with the tree of today.

One day outside of the time of today we will be gathered by our God, the keeper of today and all time, and we will be gathered around the third tree, the tree of paradise.

But before that day–what will the tree of your today be like?
What fruit will you bear?
This is the day the Lord has made, may this day and the days to come be fruitful.


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Rev. Sarah Teichmann

Pastor of Christian Formation

Pastor Sarah served as Pastor of Christian Formation at St. Peter’s from 2014 – 2021. She now serves the wider church as a partner at Kirby-Smith Associates.

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