On a recent Sunday morning at Grace Church, about 25 of us went out back to our community garden and planted a Korean Lilac tree.
The tree planting was part of our Sunday School curriculum that day. Many in the parish have been reading a wonderful book called “Reforesting Faith: What Trees Teach Us about the Nature of God and His Love for Us” by Matthew Sleeth.
The author, an evangelically flavored Methodist, wrote the book partially as a reaction to being called a “tree hugger” by his skeptical pastor. Sleeth took that as a challenge to ground his innate love for the environment with God’s Word revealed in Scripture.
This book is an answer to that challenge. It highlights how from the beginning in Genesis to the end in Revelation the Bible is full of trees, and shows how God uses trees as a teaching tool pointing us toward living a good life, a life aligned with God’s love for creation.
We are fortunate to live in an environment that is brimming with green life. In my small yard, I can’t keep up with the weeding necessary for my preferred plant species to thrive.
Many of the The Mountaineers’ readers have chosen to live or to stay in Haywood County due to the green forests dressing our ancient mountains. And natural resource sustainability has been an important value for this area for centuries.
In some Christian circles caring for the environment, “creation care” is viewed skeptically and minimized as a value generated largely secular forces. But I challenge those folk to take a look at Scripture closely, like Sleeth did, to see how closely God seems to view human well-being with the well-being of the earth.
About 500 years ago, the reformer Martin Luther reputedly said: “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree.” I love this quote because it offers a poignant perspective on the “end of the world.”
Instead of viewing the end times as a time of mass destruction in which some of us are fortunate enough to have heavenly passports, the New Testament, and St. Paul especially, talks about the New Creation.
The New Creation isn’t invented out of whole cloth, but rather emerges from the goodness that is already among us, here and now. Jesus own bodily resurrection is a sign of God’s “end game.”
The Resurrected Christ has a physical body — he is recognized as himself with the scars in his hands and wound in his side — and yet he is no longer subject to death, decay or the power of sin.
When we care for God’s Creation, planting trees, living “lightly” with the earth and contributing to ministries and organizations that see the long-term links between environmental stewardship and seemingly intransigent poverty, we are being hopeful ambassadors for the New Creation.
When we plant a tree prayerfully, we partner with the Spirit who breathes over the whole Creation and works tree by tree, person by person, little by little — for the moment it seems — to make all things new.
Joslyn Schaefer is the is the rector at Grace in the Mountains Episcopal Church.