June 17, 2018: Planting

Pastor Steve Mechem

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Psalm 1 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.


The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.


Unfortunately, technical difficulties precluded the recording of the first half of the sermon.


Judi and I lived in Rapid City, South Dakota. It is a truly amazing place - Mount Rushmore, the Badlands, the Black Hills and Bear Butte. Within short drives are hot springs, Deadwood, Devils Tower, Crazy Horse, Custer State Park where the Buffalo, and antelopes, and Mountain Goats roam.

From our home, on the north side of the city, 4445 Dolphin Lane (Seriously, Dolphin Lane in South Dakota- Our Subdivision’s roads all had NFL team names), everything to the West and South were mountains, covered with Ponderosa Pine and Spruce and Aspen and Birch. Gorgeous!

But to the North and East it is High Plains desert- rolling landscapes where you can see forever, the occasional butte bursting up from the flat ground, a big, big sky. In the high plains desert, there is little vegetation and almost no trees. In fact, as you travel interstate 90 through Western South Dakota, or take the numerous gravel and dirt roads which criss cross the terrain, you cannot help but be surprised by the lack of trees.

The only place you see trees growing, apart from in towns, is in the lower spaces, close to rivers and creeks and streams.

The trees grow close to the water. Since the desert has so little rainfall during the year, the only place where trees can sustain life is near places where the water generally keeps flowing.

Trees need water to survive. Simple fact.

As I would drive across the terrain of Western South Dakota, which I did quite often, I was continually fascinated at the landscape- it is other worldly.
I would imagine how these scrub trees got their start. In my reckoning, I imagined any number of birds flying overhead, dropping random seeds along the way.

Away from the creek, the ground is too dry, the air is too arid for the seeds to settle in and take root. The seeds will decay without the opportunity for trees to grow in their stead.

By the creek side, however, where the soil is softer, more welcoming, the seed sinks into the dirt, the seed opens, root systems begin to develop as the baby tree seeks out necessary moisture.

There, in that place, surrounded by high plains desert, the roots find a home and a tree begins to grow. At maturity, the tree will grow to be 15 or 20 feet, its branches gnarly and twisted, its leaves an olive color.
If you could see beneath the surface of the soil, you would see roots, long and thin, pushing out through the soil always bending toward the creek bed.

Just as they say water finds the easiest way to move in nature, so roots find the easiest and least encumbered way to water.

And for that tree in that setting, water is the most important thing. The tree will get plenty of sun, and it will be surrounded by soil, but water, with the nutrients that flow in it, is a precious commodity. Water is the deal breaker for that scrub tree.

In the very first Psalm, the psalmist paints a picture of those in tune with God as being like a tree, transplanted to the creek side, so that it grows and prospers.

Hear:

“Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;

but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.

They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.”

We are like trees, planted. If we are to survive, to thrive, to prosper, we must be planted near water, rooted in soil massaged by waters flow, surrounded by life giving moisture.

And to make it all a bit complicated, there are water types and some water types are preferable, more helpful than others.

Have you noticed in the grocery store all the selections of flavored water you can buy. I am not a big fan. My flavored water of choice is Mountain Dew!

Anyway, imagine that the water that nourishes our spirits comes in a variety of flavors. And the type of water we pursue influences our growth as spiritual beings, as human beings.

Some water is bad for the tree.
salt water,
contaminated water,
poisoned water.

And some of the water which we pursue to help us grow is not good for us,
narcissm
pettiness,
greed
hate.

Unlike the water that a tree’s roots tap, we have freedom to explore the waters and we can choose that which will be positive instruments for our growth.

The waters of Love.
Unconditional, radical, real.
Love that is not a commodity to be earned, but a gift that is given.

The waters of Community.
We truly are in this together. The great lesson of the early church was that faith is lived in community and not in isolation.

I was with a friend exploring Spearfish Canyon which is populated with Aspen Trees and Birch Trees, both of which have white bark. I asked him how I could tell which is Aspen and which is Birch. He told me, and I don’t know if its true, Birch trees grow in Bunches, Aspens grow alone.

Generally speaking, spiritually healthy people grow in bunches, in community.

The water of Truth.
God is truth. Now that statement is not to be confused with what we declare to be God’s truth.
God is truth. Your understanding of God may not be truth.

And I believe, that Truth, wherever it is found, is beautiful and to be treasured. I lived a good portion of my life ignoring truth because it wasn’t labeled Christian. Oh the freedom I have discovered by believing that God speak in various and sundry ways.

The water of Peace.
The world in which we find ourselves is chaotic, loud and contentious, which seems to be the way many people want it.

The Prince of Peace brings wholeness, completeness.

The Prince of Peace urges us to cooperate and live in harmony.

The Prince of Peace urges us to chill out, and experience life. “My peace I give you,” he says.

The water of Kindness
Kindness shows up in our words and in our actions.

The water of Respect. Treat, Respect other people the way you want to be treated, respected. I am so confused that in our culture, choosing to show respect, and deference, and kindness is judged to be political correctness run amuck. I don’t get it.

If respecting people, and being kind is political correct, than label me as politically correct.

All these types of water are waters we pursue. Not all of us have grown up in families where roots were set in healthy, life affirming water.

But, we can still pursue it.
In our relationships,
In our mentors.
One of the things I cherish about Second Baptist Church is that we provide good, refreshing, healthy spiritual water.

And this is important. Not only are we nourished by the waters, we become nourishment to others, as we practice love,
and community,
and truth,
and peace,
and kindness,
and respect.

Be planted. Be a planter.

Amen.