The roofer came this morning to replace the broken tile, the one that had caused the leak into an upstairs room in the heavy rains a few weeks ago. As he was setting up the long ladder to the roof, he looked cautiously at the trees. We had a quick chat about them – how a branch from that one had snapped the Stobie pole, and that one had squashed the pergola, and those across the road had smashed the roof of a garage and later the entry porch of the house next door. I realised the danger of living in Burnside Council area. It is an elite war zone – not guerrilla activity, but arboreal action.
I hadn’t paid much attention to the stobie pole mugging tree for a while. Today, in the winter sun, it looked regal, towering over the two storey house, suddenly thick with new foliage after the rains. The roofer expressed the hope that no branch would drop onto his ladder.
Trees crop up from time to time in the Biblical material. There’s the one in the Garden of Eden (not apple, perhaps pomegranate), or the cedars of Lebanon which Solomon traded for in order to build his Temple (and now almost entirely gone through centuries of exploitation). The gum trees in my street would happily be associated with the mighty cedars.
On the whole, though, trees do not play a major role in the Gospel stories. Zaccheus took to one for safety when Jesus came to town, and there’s a couple of references to fig-trees, but not much else. One short parable talks about the mustard seed – the smallest of seeds that grows into a great plant, with large branches that make a place for the birds to nest. This all sounds a bit like the Red River Gum outside my house
Except that the mustard seed which Jesus is talking about does not grow into a mighty tree, but a large shrub.
Too often we, as individuals or collectively as the congregation or the church, would like to think of ourselves as if like a cedar of Lebanon or a Red River Gum, as large and mighty trees, that impress all with their size and perform mighty acts of love. This is, perhaps, part a by-product of a culture that lauds individual success and part the vestige of a prestige that peaked last century. It certainly is not true in our contemporary setting. Nor is it what Jesus talked about.
Jesus praised a large shrub as the exemplar of the Kingdom of God, the Community of Divine Love. The mighty tree spends a lot of effort growing … mighty. It has a high public profile. The Shrub, on the other hand, just gets down to the business of reaching a happy size and surviving, along with helping a multitude of critters.
We are in an era when the self-image of the Christian community, or our Scots community, as a large, but unpretentious shrub is more helpful than that of a mighty tree. One can spend a lot of effort looking glorious. Yet we would be more faithful in our present circumstances to be a bush, to concentrate on providing service to as many as possible, as humbly as possible. The mustard bush was also regarded as a weed because the birds it sheltered were bit of a nuisance for the farmers. Likewise the Christian community, when it supports the underprivileged and powerless, becomes a bit of a nuisance because such support sets itself against inequity and encourages change in the culture around us.
In fact, the image of the bush is part of our heritage. The symbol on the pulpit in the church and above the entry to our office block is that of a bush, burning but not consumed, from the story in Exodus.
Let us live as a burning bush, a home place and help for many, alight with the fire of divine love, a fire that does not destroy but heals as it warms.
Rev Dr Peter Trudinger
© Scots Church Adelaide Ph. 08 8223 1505