Trees Growing by Water – Br. David Allen

Jer. 17:5-8

Our first reading for today from Jeremiah presents us with contrasting pictures of a shrub in the desert and a tree planted beside the water.  Each of these represents a different kind of response to life.  Both of them evoke in my mind pictures of places I have seen.  They are parables of the human condition.

The shrub in the desert reminds me of the scraggly bushes on the rocky hills of Israel/ Palestine that I saw when I was one of the chaplains to a group at St. George’s College, Jerusalem a few years ago. (2006)  The same image reminds me of some of the desert wildernesses I have seen here in America; in the central part of the State of Washington, travelling there many times with my parents as a boy.  I remember barren hills with clumps of sage brush growing here and there, along with outcroppings of rock and piles of dried tumble weeds along the barbed wire fences.  I am also reminded of deserts in Eastern Oregon, Nevada, and parts of Southern California, with a similar scarcity of plant life, and vast salt flats.  As I read the portion of Jeremiah that we heard as the first reading today I knew that the Prophet Jeremiah had seen the same kind of landscape as these, and used that image to illustrate the condition of those who put their trust in mere mortals, and in their own strength, and turn away from God. (Jer. 17:5-6)  Those shrubs remain small and offer very little nourishment for the wildlife or flocks of sheep grazing there.  In the same way the souls of those who trust only themselves and turn away from God are small.

The contrasting image used by Jeremiah to describe those who trust in the Lord is that of trees planted by water sending out roots by the stream for nourishment. (Vv. 7-8)  Here in Cambridge we are familiar with the Plane Trees, or Sycamores, and other trees lining the banks of the Charles River.  I am also reminded of the lush growth of trees along the banks of the Jordan River where it leaves Lake Galilee, and the groves of olive trees along the highway going towards Jerusalem from Galilee.  I am also reminded of trees along the banks of rivers and streams in other parts of America, and other countries that I have visited.

Jeremiah uses such trees growing by water to illustrate those who put their trust in the Lord, and he calls them blessed.  Carrying the analogy a step further I think that we can say that it is not only putting trust in the Lord that brings blessing, but it is also the life of prayer that enables all of us who put our trust in the Lord to receive a blessing.

The prayers that we pray from our hearts, and the meditations that we make, are like the roots that the trees send down into the earth to draw up nourishment.  They are our means of spiritual nourishment that enable us to put our trust in God and share God’s love with others, bearing fruit for God.

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  1. Rhode on April 5, 2019 at 11:24

    Yes. So true. Our roots in God’s love not only nurture but provide stability in times of storm. The deeper the root the tougher it is to dig out that tree. During the 60s I grew up hearing this song by John Hurt if It can be shared.
    It became part of the Civil Rights movement. Here is a link.

  2. Jeanne DeFazio on April 5, 2019 at 11:16

    They are our means of spiritual nourishment that enable us to put our trust in God and share God’s love with others, bearing fruit for God.
    This is the part of your devotional that stuck with me this am. I am very encouraged daily by these devotionals and pass them along.

    God bless you!

  3. Ruth West on October 7, 2016 at 10:36

    Br. David, I so enjoyed this sermon. I pray that my spiritual roots can grow deep in fertile soil.
    “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my Redeemer.” Prayer is plant food for the soul. Oh, how I need more of it in my daily life!

  4. Ed Greene on October 7, 2016 at 10:16

    A wonderful image, this metaphor from Jeremiah of the tree planted by the water — which also appears in Psalm 1, almost as a doublet. Brother David reminds me of the reason that I spend time each day in meditating on Scripture: so often the thoughts that come to me during that time eventually find expression in my preaching.

  5. Roderic Brawn on October 7, 2016 at 07:22

    The deserts in the Western Cordilleras are the result of the orographic precipitation pattern of the Western Americas. When the wind comes across the Pacific Ocean and rises up over the coastal mountains the air is cooled and as a result there are rain forests on many of the coasts. Between the coastal mountains and the second range of mountains, for example in the area between the two ranges in Canada, there is a dry area. If we believe The Lord created them all then we cannot be prejudiced against the dry areas.
    The xerographic plants which grow in these areas have adapted to a condition of nature in which they find themselves. They are happy as they are.

  6. Marie on October 7, 2016 at 06:32

    This message, while concise, is powerful and filled with truth. It is especially appropriate for me this morning after a visit yesterday with our financial advisor, who assures us all is well for us financially. I have wondered often since that meeting if I put more trust in my financial situation than in God. I don’t really think I do, but at the very least it’s a sobering and thought-provoking question that I must deal with. Thank you for the reminder that prickles my heart.

  7. Elaine Dando on October 7, 2016 at 06:10

    Last year, I lost my spiritual director of 25 years plus. I have not been able to find another. My search has led me to numerous dead ends. I wondered if any of your brethren Skype spiritual direction or would enter into some kind of correspondance? I have found your daily posts so helpful to my life that I would like to enter into some kind of dialogue with you. I cannot afford to come to the USA, being a retired priest but would be grateful for some response to my soul searching, even if it is just an e- mail.

  8. The Rev. Bruce Green on December 18, 2013 at 13:15

    I find your posting very helpful and would like to receive them in my email. Some days ago the posting was entitled “Life and Death.” I would like a copy of that one particularly. My wife died Dec. 15th and I have a great mixture of reactions. Her health had been on a steady decline.

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