Saturday, March 30, 2013

Planting Seeds

31 March 2013

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
            In November of 2007 the city authorities in Amsterdam ordered a horse-chestnut tree chopped down due to the risk that it would fall down and injure passers-by.  However, a group came together and sought an injunction to prevent the tree from being chopped down.  The injunction was granted and a small foundation was established to provide funding for the stabilization of the tree.

            In August of 2010 a wind storm struck the city of Amsterdam and the tree broke off about 1.5 metres from the ground.  Luckily the tree only damaged a nearby garden shed and no persons were injured.

            Vancouverites are accustomed to this sort of ‘tree-hugging madness’.  After all, how many cities have groups whose primary goal is the preservation of a giant hollow tree stump in Stanley Park?  I admit that I am not immune.  Shortly after moving into the Rectory, I discovered a ‘volunteer’ oak sapling growing too close to the house.  So I moved the sapling into a place recently vacated by a diseased and dying evergreen.  The sapling thrived and now stands at least seven or eight metres high.  But I know that when the Rectory comes down, so my little oak tree will come down after almost fifteen years of care.

            You might ask why this horse-chestnut tree in Amsterdam attracted so much attention.  In 1940 the Germans invaded Holland and occupied the country.  Dutch Jews were among the first non-German Jews to be sent to the concentration camps and eventually to the extermination camps.  Escape from Holland was almost impossible and some Jews found sanctuary in the homes of sympathetic non-Jews.

            Among the Jewish families who found sanctuary was the Frank family.  For almost four years they hid in an attic until they were betrayed and sent to the concentration camps.  Only the father, Otto Frank, survived, but his daughter, Anne, wrote a diary which is now on the compulsory reading lists of secondary schools throughout the world.

            Among her entries is this one, written on the 23rd of February 1944, shortly before the family was discovered.  She wrote, “Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs.  From my favourite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind.  As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts, I cannot be unhappy.”

            For Anne the tree represented hope for a future beyond the terror of the occupation.  She did not live to see the end of the terror, but the tree remained as a symbol of her hope.  For this reason the tree became an important civic symbol to the citizens of Amsterdam.

            Despite the best efforts of arborists and the good will of the property owner, the tree could not be saved.  But the tree kept producing viable seeds and, in 2011, saplings sprouted from seeds gathered by the arborists and lovingly tended.  This year some of the saplings will be sent abroad.  Among the locations are eleven in the United States including the Indianapolis Children’s Museum which houses a permanent exhibition entitled, “The Power of Children”.  The exhibition includes among its honorees Anne Frank; Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to attend a whites-only elementary school; and Ryan White, an Indiana teenager diagnosed with HIV after receiving a tainted blood infusion to treat his hemophilia.

            The tree that was the object of Anne Frank’s reflections has not died.  It lives in the seeds that will now go throughout the world.  And in the years to come, other eyes will gaze upon the tree and remember the hope in the midst of terror.  Perhaps that gaze will generate within the observer the determination that such terror will never happen again.

            But the life of the tree could only be maintained by the efforts of others.  What it represents could only be shared when others took up the challenge to spread its seeds beyond the boundaries of Amsterdam.  Just like Scarlett O’Hara, life always relies on the kindness of strangers and on the kindness of friends and companions.

            My children tell me that among their friends a new verb has emerged:  ‘to leggett’.  ‘To leggett’ means to demand care and precision in how we speak.  For example, my children cringe when they or one of their friends says, “Can I?” when what they really mean is “May I?”  “Oh no,” they’ll cry, “Dad’s going to leggett!”  I regularly correct split infinitives and endure the misuse of ‘me’ instead of ‘I’.  I like to think that a significant number of rugby players and other children transported in my car have become paragons of the English language.

            Why do I bring this up today?  Because today we celebrate our belief that God has raised Jesus from the dead.  Notice the verb.  Jesus is the object of God’s action.  On the cross Jesus will say with his dying breath, “It is accomplished.”  But God was not finished with Jesus.  The cross was only a way-station towards the great thing that God was about to do.  Jesus did not rise from the grave; Jesus was raised from the dead by the gracious act of God. 

            My friends, Jesus remains in the tomb until he is raised by the words and deeds of those who claim to his followers.  The power of God incarnate in Jesus lies dormant until it is raised by believers who by word and action release the power of God into the world around them.  The promise of Easter remains fallow until its seeds are lovingly tended and then, with equal love and care, are planted in the gardens of our lives, the streets of neighbourhoods, the back alleys of our cities.

            All Peter and the other disciple saw was an empty tomb and went away pondering what the mystery of Jesus’ absence might mean.  It was Mary Magdalene who received the seed of new life when she saw the risen Christ.  It was Mary Magdalene who carried that seed and planted it in the midst of the bewildered disciples.  From that seed, the first seed of the good news of God in Jesus, that we were sprung into the life of faith.

                      In every generation the good news of God’s promise, the gospel of God’s new life in the here and now as well as in the future, waits for someone to take its seed and plant in new ground.  Some people may see this building and others like it as conservatories or arboretums to visit to gaze upon strange and beautiful species that cannot survive outside the walls within which they grow.  But we know this place to be a nursery where plants that are meant to take root in the world outside are cultivated and tended until they ready to be carried forth to find a new home where their life will give life.

            You know, I am tempted to sneak into the backyard of the Rectory when the time comes to redevelop the property.  I am tempted to sneak in and find a few seeds from my oak so that I can plant them, tend them and, if they spring into life, plant them in new places.  Perhaps we might do the same with the seeds of the good news of God in Jesus.  Certainly there are still a few places that need its shade and its promise of life.  Amen.

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