A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany – February 15, 2004
Text: Jeremiah 17:5-10
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was almost a year ago that I came to North Dakota, a single guy moving into my first house, the first real home of my own. Although the ground was frozen solid, I imagined myself putting down roots here and staying, perhaps for some time. And it was a happy feeling.
I was a student for nine years, you understand, and over the course of those years my life was that of the tumbleweed, being blown from one PO box to another, from one dorm room to the next, from home to school and then back again. Eight months in this place. Three in that. Only one here. A few weeks there. The life of a student is a windy, tumbling business.
So I find that it’s good to put down roots here, and I know those roots will help me to grow tall and strong.
The prophet Jeremiah had roots in mind when he wrote the passage we read this morning: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 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.”
As good as it is to put down some personal roots in a place as good as Litchville and Hastings, the prophet reminds us that it’s far better still to sink the roots of our faith deep into the fertile soil of God. When our faith digs down and roots us to God, there are three things for us to keep in mind about roots: First off, if you’re going to put down roots, you’d better be flexible. Second, make sure your roots grow with you. And finally, where the roots are good, God brings life, even out of death.
Again, if you’re going to put down roots, you’d better make sure you’re flexible enough for it. Those roots of yours will tie you down, hold you to the ground so that you can’t easily move. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s going to make a difference when the wind gusts up and the storms blow in. If you’re not flexible, you’ll be ripped from your roots and cast down by the winds.
Big trees are far more flexible than most people realize, but just watch one in the storm and you’ll see what I mean. They wave and bob, rocking with the storm rather than being torn in two by it. A big tree might sway several feet from side to side, enough to make you queasy, but if it didn’t sway, it would surely snap.
And it must be that way for us, also, when we’ve put down our roots in God. We know that those roots of ours are just where they need to be, digging deep and drawing out abundant nourishment for our souls. But if the life of the spirit is underground, in the roots, the life of the church is on the surface, and we know full well here in North Dakota how the winds blow on the surface of God’s earth!
The gospel of Jesus Christ gives us much freedom to move, much flexibility to sway as the wind blows against us. Do we use pew Bibles or bulletin inserts? Bend. Will our church sing from the red book, the green book, the blue book, or some other book still? Flex. Can there be any way for gays and straights to live together in Christ’s one Church? Sway. Even as our roots cling tenaciously to the rich soil of God, the gospel freedom we know in Jesus allows us flex when the winds of the Holy Spirit blow hard against us. We never abandon the precious soil that is God, or the roots of our faith that hold us to him, but we discover that even rooted creatures as ourselves have much more room in which to move than we’d first guess.
Now, once you’ve put down some roots and you’re swaying with your newfound gospel flexibility, you’ll find that you naturally start to grow. A tree planted in fertile soil can’t hardly help it – with plenty of water and abundant sunshine, that tree is going to grow without even trying. The important thing, from the tree’s point of view, however, is that as much growth is taking place below the soil as above it. In other words, make sure your roots grow with you.
You see, a tree needs to have as much of itself planted in the ground as there is reaching for the sky. If a tree grows tall but its roots stall shallow, it’s bound to be blown over in the first good, blustery day, no matter how flexible it is. Small roots work wonderfully for young, newly planted trees, but they’ll never provide the solid anchor to the life-giving soil that a huge adult oak or maple needs.
The same is true for you. Once you’ve found the good soil that God wants you to plant your faith in, you’ll begin to grow, almost without trying. God-soil is just that rich. But make sure you’re letting your roots grow as well! Dig through God in prayer just like tree roots grasping at the soil. Feed on his Word, the holy scriptures, and stretch those roots of yours to constantly seek more of God. You can go as deep and as far and as wide as you want, and still barely scrape the surface. In order to weather those storms, you’ll need the depth of your roots, clinging ferociously to every inch of God. So make sure you’re growing your roots now.
Someday, though, all your flexibility and deep roots will not be enough. The storm will get you; your trunk will be torn from your roots, and you will be downed. Death comes to us all, and we cannot escape. But this is the most miraculous thing about roots – where the roots are good, and strong, and deep, God brings life…life out of death.
A stump can blossom again. New shoots can spring from old roots, and new life can rise forth even from a stump, if it’s firmly rooted in God.
This is the hope that Paul puts forth: That, in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead himself. He is the first shoot, the new spring blossom that rises from the weathered stump. And he is the promise that there will be more shoots, many more indeed. One day this church will be a forest of stumps, each one breaking forth into new life – life in the unlikeliest of places – with the shoot that is Jesus rising tall and fair above the rest. God will build this new forest on top of the roots of our faith, and it will one day soon surpass the beauty the old, blown-down trees once possessed.
God has shown you today the fertile soil that he has prepared for you. God himself is that soil. Put down roots, people of God. Hold tight to that good soil, but practice the flexibility that is the gospel. Dig deeper into the wonders of God even as you stretch taller toward his heaven. And know that when you one day fall, God will surely cause your tired old roots to spring forth in new life – the life of Jesus.