‘Happy are those who delight in the Law of the Lord…they are like trees planted by streams of water’
So we heard from the psalmist, and what a great place here in Washington State to be talking about trees.Even coming from the green and pleasant land that is England, you don’t have to go far to see many, many trees, and it’s an awesome sight!
Yet, if you were to plant a seed for a new tree in the middle of the forest, it would struggle to grow. The old and long-established trees would block out the light and suck up all the nutrients and the water. The middle is safe, comfortable but unchanging.
Yet if you go to the edges of the forest, to the boundaries something changes. There is a lot more light and nutrients. Yet the edge is also a dangerous place. As the seed grows it is at risk from being eaten, from bad weather, from disease and human action. The edges might not look as majestic and beautiful but rather messy and scruffy.
Yet despite and probably because of this, it is at edges of the forest that are one of the most vibrant and transformative places.
We could use this as a metaphor to talk of our own lives.
I’m sure we can all think of those places in our lives – the safe places, the comfortable places, the places where new things are hard to take root. And likewise those places at the edge, the difficult places, the places we fear. I’m sure you know them.
So it is also in the life of our Church.
In my time here at Christ our Hope, I’ve observed that this is a church planted here in downtown on the edges. Here is a place where we can be nourished daily at the mass - the living water that is Christ. Yet at the same time we can look out of the window to see the suffering and injustice in the streets. Yet coming here is also a place perhaps outside the safety zones of our Christian identity, where we are challenged by what we see and witness.
Here we hope to grow in faith from the small mustard seed into the shrub that offers hospitality to all – as another parable of the kingdom reads. We are called to offer Hope in Christ’s name, for he was someone who spent a lot of time at the edges of society of his day– with the sinners and tax collectors, with women and the unclean.
And although there is joy in heaven at our presence here, of that I’m sure, Christ is always calling us to more. My wife has a fridge magnet at home which reads ‘Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, anymore than standing in a garage makes you a car.’
It is living in the Law of the Lord that helps us become a true follower of Christ, and in our Gospel Christ teaches us what it means to delight in the Law of the Lord, so that we might be like that tree planted by streams of water.
In it Jesus is critiquing the Pharisees and the Scribes for focusing on the wrong part of the Law.
‘You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God. These you should have done, without overlooking the others.’
I think it’s a bit clearer in the translation we use in England.
‘For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.’
To delight in the Law of the Lord, we need to practice justice – that is right judgement, and the love of God. Not just here in church or even enabling and supporting our ministry here, but each day.
And there is something about the edges of society – here surrounded and joined by our brothers and sister of all walks of life and social background. For here whilst we see the lack of justice – of the homeless, the jobless and the poverty, surrounded by such wealth. Yet at the same time, we also see God’s love at work.
We see this because Christ went to the edges for us when he hung on the cross – then a symbol of shame - and turned it into a symbol of love and salvation.
And what great an example of a saint than of St Ignatius of Antioch, whose martyrdom we remember today.
In the 2nd century he was asked to choose between death or apostasy. He chose death. As he journeyed to Rome where he met his death at the hands of lions, he wrote letters to the churches encouraging them to be faithful to Jesus. He did not draw attention to his own suffering, but to the love of God which strengthened him. For this he was given the title Theophorous which means God-bearer.
As Christ nourishes us, we are called to be Godbearers to the injustices of the world around us. To practice justice and the love of God.
Like at the edge of a forest this is a place of danger and risk, but ultimately it is place of transformation, growth and through Christ – Gods love.
St Ignatius; pray for us.
All saints of God; pray for us.
Mary, Mother of God; pray for us.
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Fr. Tim Vickers, Anglican Priest from St. Albans Abbey, Great Britain