My scripture today is from John 3:1-17
Shel Silverstein is one of my favorite children’s authors. I was reading through one of his books at the end of the school year and found the following wonderful story:
"The tree gives the little boy her apples to pick and her branches to climb. The boy and the tree love each other and are happy in their life together. As the boy grows older, however, his interest in the tree becomes less. The tree is very lonely until one day the boy returns as a young man. The tree offers her apples and branches, but the boy claims that he is too old to climb and play. He is more interested in money. ’Can’t you give me some money?’ he asks the tree. The tree has not money, but she does have apples. Why doesn’t the boy pick the apples and sell them then he will be happy. The boy picks the apples and sells them, then he will be happy. The boy does this and the tree is happy. But then the boy stays away an even longer time and the tree is sad. Years later the boy returns. The tree is overwhelmed with joy as she invites the boy to swing from her branches. But the boy is too busy to play. What he really wants is his own family and a house to keep him warm. Can the tree give him a house? No, but the boy can cut her branches and build a house with them, suggests the tree; then he will be happy. The boy does this and the tree is happy. Many years pass before the boy, now middle-aged returns. The tree, overjoyed, invites the boy to play. But now the boy is too old to play. All he wants is a boat which will take him far away. ’Can you give me a boat?’ the tree invites the boy to cut down her trunk and make a boat so he can be happy. The boy does this, and the tree is happy--but not really, for now only a bare stump remains. When, years late, the boy returns, he is hunched-over, old man. The tree apologizes for having nothing to offer any longer, no more apples to eat or branches to climb, only an old stump. But the old man says his teeth are too weak for apples, and he is too old to climb. All he needs is a quiet place to sit and rest for he is very tired. ’Well,’ says the tree, straightening herself up as much as she can, ’an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, boy sit down, sit down and rest.’ And the boy does. The tree is very happy."
A nice story isn’t it? That was truly a giving tree. It gave and gave and even when it only had a stump left, it still gave, a place of rest and quiet. What a concept, a giving tree. But that apple tree is not the only giving tree,, I can think of another tree, another tree which gave of itself, gave body and blood , gave love and mercy, gave forgiveness and compassion, gave acquittal and freedom, yes the tree of Calvary the cross of Christ was another giving tree, it gave the sacrifice for the sins of this world, And that tree still gives through the body and blood which were shed upon it, for the body and blood of Christ still gives, it keeps on giving day in and day out to those who want to receive new life, a renewed life a forgiven and cleansed life.
Our gospel lesson says, "And as Moses lifter up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Con of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life . For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God gave, gave his son to the world through a tree. While attending a conference one I spotted a banner hung from the church ceiling which caught my eye, it said, "The crib and the Cross both were made of wood," God gave through a tree both times, a tree was used to make the manger to bring the Christ child into this world, and a cross from a tree was made to take this Christ, this messiah from the world. The tree of God was also a giving tree. It gave life through the manger to the Son of God, and the Cross, the tree of death brought life…life through the body and blood of Jesus, shed and given for our live, for our salvation, our eternal glory.
The Son of God was lifted up as Moses lifted the serpent in the wilderness to give life to those who had been bitten. The cross, the symbol of death, came to be a symbol of life, the symbol of giving, the symbol of sacrifice, the symbol of true and gracious love. As you gaze at the cross before you today, do you see it as a symbol of life for you? Do you see it as the only way to your salvation? Do you see it as your cross, your only way to gain the salvation which is ours as God’s children?
God was the great architect who designed the bridge for our freedom, but he not only designed it, he built it, and he built it out of materials that no one would of thought of, he built it out of a cross and the body and blood of his son He didn’t ask anyone else to do the work, he kept it in the family, and then he shared the completed work with all people who would believe that he did the work, he shared it with all who would believe that the work was done for them. Yes, God used the cross of Calvary, the old rugged cross to build a bridge between himself and us.
As John says, ’"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son." Gave his only son. God was willing to sacrifice part of himself, he was willing to give up his son to death, so that you and I could be liberated from the chains of death, so that you and I wouldn’t be prisoners of death any longer, but we might be free people who have the freedom of God’s love. Jesus was willing to go with us into the battle, to be our leader as we fought for freedom, as a matter of fact, he didn’t even ask us to fight, but he would do all the fighting for us. He took all of our places on the battle line.
In the book "The Grandeur and Misery of Man" there is a conversation between two men as they lay in the trenches during the war. One of the men knew he was dying and said to another: "Listen, Dominque, you’ve led a bad life. There are no convictions against me. There’s nothing in the books against my name. Take my name. Take my life. I give it to you. Straight off, you’ve no more convictions. Take it. It’s there in my pocketbook. Go on, take it and hand yours over to so--so that I can carry all of your crimes away."
Isn’t that what Jesus is saying to us from the cross of Calvary? Give me your life, give me your sinful life, and l will carry all of your sins away and give you a new life ?? Isn’t that what the cross is all about.?? Jesus is taking our place. He is taking that which he doesn’t deserve, that which isn’t his, our sinfulness, and in return he is giving us his life, a new life, a life that will set us free, free from the power of sin, free from death, and in that freedom we will then have the choice to be with God, we will have the opportunity, to live with God forever. The cross of Calvary, the old rugged cross, is the place where we obtain our freedom, where Jesus exchanges our live for his, and in the process, we are liberated people, people who then can live in the love of God.
Have you encountered the cross of Christ in such a way that it brings you to your knees in true confession as we sense the cross and the body and blood given and shed upon it are our only, and I mean, the only way of salvation? Or are you like the lady described by Pastor Valbracht and seen in so many churches. He says , "Often I think of a lady in one of my congregations who assured me that there was no finer Christian in that congregation than she, because there were not many people today who could say that they had never smoked, that never had touched a drop of liquor in their lives, they had never seen a motion picture, and they had never touched a playing card. And yet, that same woman, in my knowledge of her life, had nearly killed her own own son through her own willful, stubborn, ignorance and superstition. She had practically ruined her daughter’s marriage. She had made her husband a hopeless and unhappy drudge and her incessant gossiping had wounded many, many people in the church and community. And yet, she was saved from sin that she never wanted to commit and was reveling and enjoying in the ones that she loved and didn’t even consider them sins." Let me ask you all this morning…..Where are you? Do you stand in front of the cross telling God how good you are because you haven’t done this or that, but hanging on stubbornly to those sins, those ways of life you are very comfortable with, but yet knowing that somehow they are not really what God wants from you?
Or, or can you surrender, can you be brought to your knees in front of the cross in true confession and true humility? Can you release all pride in self, all boasting, all rationalizations of your action, and stand as a condemned person, a person who deserves to die on that cross for your disobedience to God? Can you came to the foot of the cross and realize that God gave you so much, gave you eternal life by the way of the tree of death? Can you stand empty, ashamed, humble, and willing to accept that gift of salvation knowing full well you could never, and mean never, measure up to the perfection of God? Have you really let the greatest love story ever told, ever witnessed, ever conceived be really felt in your life? Have you come face to face with the cross of Christ and there experienced his for giving love for you? Come to the cross of Christ, come!!
’Well,’ says the tree, straightening herself up as much as she can, ’an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, boy sit down, sit down and rest.’ And the boy does. The tree is very happy." Come and rest in the arms of Christ on the cross and receive the peaceful rest of salvation.