Tuesday, 09 April 2013 00:00

"Planting", April 7, 2013

Jeremiah 17:5-10
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
April 7, 2013
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

When I picked this scripture and sermon title way back last summer, I was sure that by April 7th, we would be enjoying apple blossoms, crocuses, tulips, or at least some green.  But what is not still covered with sandy snow, is now a muddy brown mess.  Who knew?  Is it too much to ask for a little spring to make that green blade riseth?

It was in my plan to talk about planting our gardens, imagining those summer veggies with all of their sweetness and nectar.  Maybe that’s why earth day is not for another two weeks.  By that time, some of the lakes won’t be ice-covered.

But here we are with this scripture reading and this out-of-season season.  Let’s see what they have to teach us.

Jeremiah is not the best prophet to listen to in the post-Easter season.  He’s a much more Lenten prophet.  Jeremiah preached when Judah was on the brink of collapse.  His word from God was that because of their trust in false idols and colluding with evil, they were bound to be sent into exile.  We have false idols these days: celbrity icons, drones, fossil Fuels, hedge funds, tax cuts, the military industrial complex.  We might not appreaciate a Jeremiah these days.  We might think him out-of-season.  At his call, God told Jeremiah: “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (Jeremiah 1:9b-10)

Today’s scripture starts out with a curse.  Not the best way to grow a church.  You can just hear the clamoring for the exits. By the time most of Jeremiah’s sermons were over, he had offended just about everyone. He even goes so far as the say cursed are mortals who trust in mere mortals. So, we’re supposed to be anti-people now?  It’s kinda like a politician being anti-government. And what are you but a people speaking these words Jeremiah?  Tell you what, I won’t trust on you.  What do you think about that?  Jeremiah had that kind of effect on people.


Of course, Jeremiah never trusted people. They had all abandoned him, so turned off were they by his biting words.  So when things didn’t go his way, he railed against God.  Half of the book of Jeremiah and all of the book of Lamentations is Jeremiah whining about his plight and blaming God for forsaking him. We are tempted to do the same thing if we weren’t so dang proper and theologically sophisticated.  I mean, it’s not what miss manners would suggest.  But don’t you find yourself drawn to Jeremiah’s passion?  Drawn and repelled.  Two sides to the same coin.

“Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals, who make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from YHWH.  They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes.  They shall live in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.”

The people of Judah lived in the desert. And they flocked to the places where there was water. This is why there are so many water stories in the Bible. It was the lifeblood of the people. If you were cut off from water, you were cut off from life.   Shallow-rooted shrubs can live, but they are susceptible to harsh winds and will become tumbling tumbleweeds. Such is a life that trusts in just people and not in God.

Jeremiah spoke for God in a time when people were getting lost, but most of them refused to turn toward God and repent.

How many of us know what we need to do, but continue to turn the other way?  How many of us try to do everything on our own without God?

One commentator wrote that most sermons are not about God.  They are about you and me.  God sometimes gets tacked on, often as an afterthought.

So if this sermon is really about God, if Jeremiah was a prophet of God, how are we to plant?

Luckily Jeremiah doesn’t only curse in this scripture.

“Blessed are those who trust in YHWH, they shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.  It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.”

A tree planted by the water is strong.  It absorbs the hidden moisture deep and dark underground.  Most trees outlive us.  They are take time to get strong.  Their roots thrust out to find that which helps them.  Trees drink in the groundwater, even the toxins.  Thor Kommedahl pointed out a tree to me that was diseased. He could see it in the leaves, possibly from what it drank through its roots.

We too absorb things deep in our souls.  Storing up past hurts as armor against further hurts.  We use that past experience to build our strong trunk.  And if you put a chink in the armor, it bleeds, like a tapped maple tree.

But the tree is large enough and strong enough to withstand the most horrific winds and storms. When they are the strongest, they are planted by the source of nutrition.  Of course, Jeremiah wasn’t talking about horticulture.  He was talking about us. We are the trees.  The water is God, the source of life, the bloodstream of the world.  Connect to that and you will live.

The old spiritual said, we shall not be moved just like a tree that’s planted by the water we shall not be moved.

So, how are you doing with your connection with God?  How are you connecting to the source of life?  Are you like a tree planted by the water, or are you like a shrub in the desert?

We often veer away from that which gives us life, perhaps in search of adventure or challenge.  But we are best when we go to the place where we can get nutrition and nurture.  What are those places for you?  What are the streams next to which your figurative tree will be best fed?

Char Follett wrote to me this week, in response to my Monday teaser about todays sermon. She wrote: “I have often talked with clients about where they get nourished, and asked them to list the "nutritious" people in their lives, and try to move the "toxic" people out to the perimeter of their lives, and maybe let go of them altogether.”  How do we use our energy and how do we find balance in our lives?  Think about people that feed us, and those that exhaust us with their neediness, or their aggressiveness or their phoniness.  We need the nutrition of good friends and compatriots.

I received an email from Donna Smith early this morning.  I told them that we would like to honor her and her husband Tubby as they make the move to Lubbock, Texas.  I told her that we wanted to have an opportunity surround them with our prayers and our blessings in true UBC style.  She said that they would be here next week and would cherish the opportunity to cleave to such a source of life and hope going forward.

The scripture ends with the thought that the heart is devious above all else. Maybe fickle is a better translation. In matters of the heart, much is convoluted and complicated.  But The scripture ends with the assurance that God searches the depths of our hearts, our souls. And so we have God searching our hearts and us either searching for God or not.  Now imagine if God and we were on the same page in the same search?  Now then we might be looking at something clearly.

There is little more peaceful to me than sitting under a tree near a flowing river.  I am connected with a flowing changing sea and a firm rooted tree.  Maybe I need to go to that place where I can connect with God, be it a tree beside the still or running waters, be it in a church pew, be it in a garden, be it within the pages of a book or in the arms of one’s soul mate.  The point is that we long for, we need that connection with the holy.  We need not settle for mere mortal wisdom.  We need to connect with something that will stand the test of time and storms.  For we know the storms will come.  And we know the story of the ones who connect to the source of life. They find their purpose. And they bless the world.  I want to be one of those kind of people.  Don’t you?

So maybe this sermon is not about planting a tree beside the water.  Maybe this sermon is about planting ourselves in a place that is redemptive.  Planting ourselves on the firm ground of faith.  Planting ourselves beside people who nurture and pull out the very best of ourselves.  Who recognize the holy in us.  In whom we recognize the holy.

And as we gather with them, we find our true selves, people planted in the image of God, ready to take root and bloom for generations. Then we can sing with our ancestors and our descendants, knowing that God continues to connect us and nourish us for the journey ahead.


We shall not, we shall not be moved
Just like a tree that’s planted by the water
We shall not be moved.

We’re fighting for our children we shall not be moved…
Don’t let the world deceive you…
If my friends forsake me…
The church of God is marching…
We shall not, we shall not be moved…