There is something about trees which grips my imagination – I hope you share my enthusiasm. I think it all began for me with a programme by David Bellamy when I was a teenager. It was all about what you might call the ‘engineering’ of trees – how much pressure it takes for water to be sucked up the trunk and along the branches, and the incredible strength and elasticity of the living wood which enables the branches to move but not fall off unless under exceptional stress. Trees really are amazing things – one of the things, in fact, which makes me believe in God. Who else would have thought of anything so amazing, adaptable and beautiful. Its a shame we humans are so obsessed with cutting them down – I always wonder it this is because trees live longer than us – maybe some people are threatened by them.
If you love trees then you are bound to love the verse from the book of Revelation we heard today – by the river in the heavenly Jerusalem is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
This beautiful passage is full of hope for us because it assures of God’s plans to bring abundance for all and peace to the world – the food for the 12 seasons of the year and the healing of the nations of the earth. To those who despair at starvation and waste, at the never ending violence and warmongering, here is the assurance that God too has these things at heart and longs to bring peace and plenty – John, who wrote these words was convinced that God would, in the end, bring these things to pass. So we hope and pray that one day the clamour will cease and that we will all sit together beneath the shady branches of the tree of peace and be amazed at the wonder of it all.
In the mean time God sends us the Spirit who gives us peace – which we can take to mean both an ‘untroubled heart’ and the absence of violence, discord and division. Like the love of which we read last week, this peace is not purely about how we feel, but is about how we behave and what we do.
This is a matter of great shame to Christians today because we are, in the eyes of the world, riven with argument and division about ridiculously petty things and none of us ready or willing to listen or to make steps towards reconciliation. How can we ever be thought of as bringers of healing, reconciliation and peace while we continue to behave in such a silly manner.
But it isn’t just the church in general which is the problem. All of us as Christians have to walk the way of reconciliation and peace, and none of us find it easy. The first Christians were remarkable for their non-violence and non-retaliation, and for their efforts to bring healing to relationships and reconciliation between those who had come adrift. This didn’t come cheap, as they say – it was as hard for them as it is for us today. But peace it has to be because this is the way the Holy Spirit leads us, and the path set out by Jesus – the part we must follow.
I think today the problem is not so much downright antagonism – although there is plenty of that about. Today the problem is apathy. We let spoiled relationships stay that way. We are happy not to speak to someone for years and years. We are happy to let misery and injustice and violence flourish in the world around us and just sit back and wash our hands of it all. Just as the archetypal hand washer, Pontius Pilate found out – all that it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to sit back and do nothing.
Christians are to be people of peace. We are to be unusual and exceptional people who have enough drive – energy – not to give up until rifts are healed, arguments brought to a peaceful end, divisions brought to and end. We cannot solve the problems of the world single handed, but we can be concerned citizens who are prepared to write to our MP sometimes about some of the terrible situations in the world, or to support Christian Aid this week, to pray for peace and sometimes to get our hands dirty.
There is something about walking the way of peace which is perversely attractive to the world – sometimes it is simply who we are as people which challenges others to change. Or sometimes we meet someone who challenges us to change. Think of the great figures of peace of recent times – people such as Desmond Tutu, who died a few years ago, or the Dalai Lama – they are much loved by many, many people.
But the way of peace is costly and the prize of peace comes with a price. As Christians we believe the ultimate price has been paid by God himself on the cross – when perfect love was snuffed out by hatred and violence, and then proved in the Resurrection that love is stronger than hate and life stronger than death. But we who walk the way of peace, the way of Jesus, also walk the way of the Cross. To be people of peace means hardship and struggle for us, in our personal relationships and in our work for a better world. It means being committed to doing something, rather than being passive – who conned us into thinking that passivity and peace are the same thing?
If we are to join those who take shelter under the leafy branches of the tree of life, we need to learn to live peace – really live!