A tree. A word. A responsibility

given on Sunday, September 25, 2011

Autumn is here and the trees are beginning to turn.  There is a tree on South Street in Warrensburg that is the first one to radiate its autumn leaves.  It is a hard maple that stands in front of an apartment complex, located in a dip and under the shade of another tree.  When you turn the corner going east, the sun hits it and you know fall has arrived.  In fact, it glows almost like neon when the sun hits it in the early morning or as the sun sets in the evening.  It literally takes one’s breath away!

That tree began turning about three weeks ago, long before it should have.  We did not have a frost.  Summer days still marched along.  But in that first shift from the high 90’s to the 50’s, this maple shouted out that fall was near.

The words I began hearing in my head began,  “I think I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree.”  Those are the first two lines of Joyce Kilmer’s poem, “Trees.”  I just kept hearing them ring in my head, and as the days slid past and the other hard maples began their transition, those words kept repeating in my head.

Autumn is the season that focuses me on the promises of God and the cycle of life almost more than in the spring.  I love color, I like the milder temperatures, but fall leads to winter.  Fall becomes hard, demanding, shadow-filled, and dismal for me.  What is ahead is grayness.  Sure some days are filled with brilliant blue skies and sunshine.  Some days turn crystal-like with sparkling snowflake diamonds.  But winter is dark more than light, and the vibrant cycle of life seems so far away.

A tree is the perfect metaphor for life.  A tree symbolizes God’s gift of the garden, the promise of renewal, shade on the hottest of days, and homes for many of God’s creatures.  A tree demonstrates the grace God gives to all living things.  The tree grows majestically reaching to God as Kilmer says in her poem:  “A tree that looks at God all day/And lifts her leafy arms to pray.”

We can compare ourselves to the tree, too.  God gave us life; and with life came his grace.  He gave freely to us, he provided for our every need in the Garden of Eden, but we did not trust and we were disobedient.  We look down and around us, not up to God.  Can we replace the word tree with ourselves in Kilmer’s poem?

I think I shall never see

A poem lovely as me . . .

I look up at God all day

And lift my arms to pray. . .

Poems were made by fools . . .

But only God can make me.

 

I believe that we are like the trees and God loves us like he loves the trees.  The trees, though, completely trust God; unfortunately we do not.  We fail to accept God’s gifts in this world and we fail to take care of them.

When God created the earth, he also gave his children governance over the earth.  Genesis 1:26, 28:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.  . . . “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

 

Switching from one season to the next is an appropriate time to review how well we have ruled over this earth.  That role is an enormous responsibility and there is one word that defines it—stewardship.  Interestingly, that word, according to the UMC doctrine, derives from a Greek word:

In the Bible, a steward is one given responsibility for what belongs to another.  The Greek word we translate as steward is oikonomos, one who cares for the household or acts as its trustee.  The word oikos, meaning household, is used to describe the world as God’s household.  Christians, then are to be stewards of the whole household (creation) of God.  [Accessed on September 20, 2011 at http://archives.umc.org/interior_print.asp?ptid=4&mid=962)]

 

One word.  The weight of the world’s care is found in that word oikonomos.  Are we truly fulfilling the expectations God for us in caring for his household, this planet Earth?  Are we demonstrating good stewardship?

The seasonal changes provide us a time to reflect upon the quality of our work.  Maybe we need a quality assessment of our care.  A tree in our yard may receive the most immediate care, but is that enough?  What can each of us do with only our small piece of the world?

In assessing our stewardship or oikonomous develops an additional connection to our responsibility.  The root word, oikonomia, is also the root for another critical concern today—economics!  At a time when our economy is challenged, we begin the fall season witnessing God’s beauty while struggling with our personal budgets.  The economy is shattering our confidence that we can take care of God’s world.

Finally, look again at the word oikos.  The simplest syllable is the root of one more contemporary word:  ecology.  The one Greek word root oikos, explains  the importance of our responsibility as stewards of God’s world.

Look at a tree this first week of autumn.  Reflect on the Greek word oikonomia or stewardship.  Then evaluate how responsible you are as a steward of God’s earth.

The UMC doctrine (available on the web) argues for stewardship in this manner:

Stewardship, then, is to become involved wherever wholeness is lacking and to work in harmony with God’s saving activity to reconcile, to reunite, to heal, to make whole.  Stewardship has to do with how we bring all of the resources at our disposal into efficient use in our participation in the saving activity of God.  [Ibid.]

 

The doctrine goes into a list of principles which covers natural resources, community free of toxic and hazardous substances, clean air, minimal chemical use, land use, preservation of diversity, clean water, responsible and ethical use of technology, and the minimization of military impact on the environment.

One tree.  One word.  One responsibility.  Are we being the stewards God has instructed us to be?  Are we recycling?  Do we use the best farming methods to preserve our world?  Should we become more vocal about protecting our earth?  What can we do as a team locally to demonstrate stewardship?  Can we team up and communicate with our legislators about the oikonomia/stewardship of our world?

A poem by Samuel N. Baxter, “I Love a Tree,” provides insight into the result of responsible stewardship:

When I pass to my reward.

Whatever that may be,

I’d like my friends to think of me

As one who loved a tree.

I may not have a statesman’s poise

Nor thrill a throng with speech

But I may benefit mankind

If I set out a beech.

If I transport a sapling oak

To rear its might head

Twill make for them a childhood shrine,

That will not soon decay.

Or if I plant a tree with fruit,

On which the birds may feed,

Then I have fostered feathered friends

And that’s a worthy deed.

For winter when the days grow short

And spirits may run low

I’d plant a pine upon the scape

T’would lend a cheery glow.

I’d like a tree to mark the spot

Where I am laid to rest

For that would be the epitaph

That I would like the best.

Tho it’s not carved upon a stone

For those who come to see

But friends would know that resting there

Is he, who loved a tree.

 

A tree. A word.  A responsibility we have to be stewards of God’s world.  This autumnal Sunday, stop and look at the trees around you.  Think about how they are God’s gift to us.  What are we doing to protect them and all of God’s world?

Dear Loving Father,

Thank you for the tree.

Thank you for loving us so much

You provided us with all we need.

Guide us in the decisions

To protect your world.

Show us how to fulfill the responsibility

Of oikonomia.

Let us revel in the color of your tree

And know that we can preserve

The cycle of life even in the winter.

–Amen

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