I Am Like an Evergreen Cypress – Br. James Koester

Hosea 14: 1-9

We’re familiar, perhaps especially in the gospels, with the kingdom of God, and thus by extension, God, being described in terms of the natural world. The kingdom of God is like yeast[1], a mustard seed[2], a catch of fish[3], or a costly pearl[4].

I often reflect on the fact that, for many North American Christians, the pages of Scripture are our primary place of encounter with nature. We are isolated from, and have domesticated nature, to such an extent, that we are not often aware of its power, and force, until we are faced with fire, flood, or storm, and property is damaged, or power lost. Then we discover again what our ancestors knew only too well, that nature is not God, but that in nature we can behold the power, the splendour, and the glory of God.

It is in those moments that we come to see what God is like. The problem is, that the descriptions of God we find in Scripture often fail us, unless we can comprehend their meaning, and significance.

Today, the prophet Hosea points us to several images from nature, which unless we know what they mean, fail to convey what the prophet is attempting to say.

Two catch my attention this morning: Israel’s beauty shall be like an olive tree,[5] and God is like an evergreen cypress[6]. This is not the first, nor the last time, we run across either the olive or the cypress in Scripture. The question is, what on earth do they have to do with God, we might ask, especially those of us who get no closer to an olive or cypress tree than bottles of oil in the grocery story, or blocks of wood, to keep moths away?

Those of us who have been to Jerusalem, will perhaps remember our visit to the olive grove outside the Church of All Nations in Gethsemane. There we catch a glimpse of what Hosea might mean, as we stand in that ancient grove of trees that are vigorous, strong, and fruitful, with their roots spreading out in all directions. It is said that some date back to the time of Christ.

Like the olive tree, the cypress is known to be long lived. Some stands of cypress are over a thousand years old; its wood used in buildings is hard, strong, and long lasting; its branches evergreen, and the tree itself tall and majestic, reaching to the heavens.

Such are the qualities and characteristics of God and God’s beloved Israel: vigorous, strong, fruitful, everlasting, majestic, and whose love reaches from one end of the earth to another, and from height to height.

It’s no accident that Hosea draws our attention this morning to these two magnificent trees, but unless we know something about the tree itself, his message is lost.

So, this morning we are left with images, not of God as a tree, but the God whom we know in Jesus, and God’s beloved people, as vigorous, strong, fruitful, everlasting, majestic, and whose love reaches from one end of the earth to another, and from height to height.

That is, in part, the point Hosea is trying to make this morning, when he points us to the olive and cypress trees.

Lectionary Year and Proper: Friday in the Week of Lent 3, Year 1 

[1] Matthew 13: 33

[2] Matthew 13: 31

[3] Matthew 13: 47

[4] Matthew 13: 44

[5] Hosea 14: 6

[6] Hosea 14: 8c

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