Read-along service for Sunday, September 5, 2021

Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church
Order of Worship
Labour Day Sunday, September 5 2021

Prelude

Words of welcome, announcements

Lighting the Christ Candle

We light this candle as a sign of God’s Spirit at work in the world. May we be rooted in God’s love as we grow to be a blessing for the healing of the world.

Call To worship

Today our theme is ‘The tree of life’.  The bible starts and finishes with trees, from the tree of life found in the Garden of Eden to the Tree of life found in the New Jerusalem that bears fruit every month for the healing of the world. At the centre of our Christian faith, Jesus died on a wooden cross, the carpenter crucified on a broken tree, which has become for us the tree of life. The tree of life is a symbol that shows how we can be rooted in God’s love and grow to be a blessing to others. Even the trees know how to all the trees of the forest sing for joy. So come, let us worship God, the source of all life.

Prayer of Approach

Loving God, it is good to be able to gather together once more, to be in your presence to worship you. May our worship join with all creation. We celebrate the beauty and importance of the trees that you have made. May the worship of our hearts be reflected in the worship of our lives, So that we enable the trees of the field to clap their hands, and the trees of the forests to sing for joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hymn         Joyful, Joyful we Adore You                               VU 232

1.      Joyful, joyful we adore you,
                   God of glory, life and love;
          hearts unfold like flowers before you,
                   opening to the sun above.
          Melt the clouds of sin and sadness,
                   drive the gloom of doubt away;
          giver of immortal gladness,
                   fill us with the light of day.

2.      All your works with joy surround you,
                   earth and heaven reflect your rays,
          stars and angels sing around you,
                   centre of unbroken praise.
          Field and forest, vale and mountain,
                   flowery meadow, flashing sea,
          chanting bird and flowing mountain,
                   sound their praise eternally.

3.      You are giving and forgiving,
                   ever blessing, ever blest,
          wellspring of the joy of living,
                   ocean depth of happy rest!
          Source of grace and fount of blessing,
                   let your light upon us shine;
          teach us how to love each other,
                   lift us to the joy divine.

4.      Mortals join the mighty chorus
                   which the morning stars began;
          God’s own love is reigning o’er us,
                   joining people hand in hand.
          Ever singing, march we onward,
                   victors in the midst of strife;
          joyful music leads us sunward
                   in the triumph song of life.

Scripture Reader:  Jane Lambert

Revelation 22:1-5                Mark 7:24-37

Hymn         I See a New Heaven                                          VU 713

I see a new heaven.
I see a new earth
as the old one will pass away,
where the fountain of life flows
and without price goes
to all the people who abide in the land.

1.      There, there on the banks of a river bright and free,
          yielding her fruit, firm in her root,
          the Tree of Life will be.                              Refrain

2.      There, there where death dies and our lives are born again,
          body and soul, struggling but whole
          like flowers after the rain.                          Refrain

3.      There, there where the darkness brings visions from above.
          There where the night, bearing new light,
          reveals the promise of love.                     Refrain

4.      There, there where we work with the love of healing hands.
          Labour we must, true to our trust
          to build a promised new land.                  Refrain

Homily “The Tree of Life”

Musical Response

The offering

Hymn         For the Healing of the Nations                           VU 678

1.      For the healing of the nations,
God, we pray with one accord;
For a just and equal sharing
Of the things that earth affords.
To a life of love in action
Help us rise and pledge our word.

2.      Lead us forward into freedom,
From despair your world release;
That, redeemed from war and hatred,
All may come and go in peace.
Show us through care and goodness
Fear will due and hope increase.

3.      All that kills abundant living,
Let it from the earth be banned;
Pride of status, race or schooling,
Dogmas that obscure your plan.
In our common quest for justice
May we hallow life’s brief span.

4.      You, Creator-God, have written
your great name on humankind;
for our growing in your likeness
bring the life of Christ of mind;
that, by our response and service,
earth its destiny may find.

Pastoral Prayer & The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn         Shall We Gather at the River                   VU 710

1.      Shall we gather at the river,
          where bright angel feet have trod;
          with its crystal tide for ever
          flowing by the throne of God?

                   Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
                   the beautiful, the beautiful river;
                   gather with the saints at the river
                   that flows by the throne of God.

2.      Ere we reach the shining river,
          lay we every burden down;
          grace our spirits will deliver,
          and provide a robe and crown.       Refrain

3.      Soon we’ll reach the shining river,
          soon our pilgrimage with cease,
          soon our happy hearts will quiver
          with the melody of peace.               Refrain

Benediction

May the word of God take root in your heart,
grow strongly in your life,
and bear much fruit for God’s Kingdom;
And may the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
One God, mother of us all
Be with you and all of God’s good creation, forever. Amen.

Postlude

“The Tree of Life”   Text: Revelation 22:1-5
Preached Sept. 5 2021 by Rev. James Murray at Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church, Renfrew.

I want to start by thanking Daphne Hanneman and the UCW for this wonderful Tree of Life banner that is hanging at the front of the church. I’ve been wanting to preach a sermon about it from the moment it was first put up this spring, because the Tree of life is a very ancient religious symbol. It has a very profound message that has significant importance for us today.

Trees have always been important to us humans. Trees are a source of nourishment and medicine. They are the source of shelter. We burn them as fuel to keep us warm. Trees have always been an important part of our lives. In the book of Genesis, the Tree of Life is planted at the very centre of the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life is even more important than the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of Life represents the gift of life which God has given us all. In the closing book of the Bible, the book of Revelation describes the Tree of Life producing fruit in all seasons which gives life and healing to us all. In both the Jewish and Christian spiritual traditions, the Tree of Life is what connects us together. It is a visual symbol of God’s sustaining love that nurtures us and gives us what we need in order to grow.

The Jewish and Christian image of the Tree of Life does not portray the tree as being separate or alone. The Tree of Life is connected to everything, and everything is rooted in its love. Often times you will see the Tree of Life presented with the branches bending down to connect with the roots, so there is a circular flow to the life that it represents.

Since Darwin, we have generally ignored this inter-connected understanding of trees. We look at them as primarily having commercial value. The wealth of the Ottawa Valley was built on the lumber trade, and even today we manage our forests to maximize their financial value. As a result, we look at trees as a stand alone product, and not as part of a thriving forest ecosystem. We treat trees as striving, disconnected loners, who compete for water, nutrients and sunlight. We treat them the way we treat people unfortunately. We have assumed it is a survival of the fittest type of competition with the winning trees shading out the losers and sucking them dry.

There is now a substantial body of scientific evidence that refutes the idea of trees as individuals. The Canadian scientist Suzanne Simard has been a leading voice in showing how the trees are connected through vast fungal networks. Simard’s work shows instead that trees of the same species are communal. Trees will also form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships. They are not isolated giants. Rather they are very social with an active form of communication. Scientists now have evidence that trees have a collective intelligence similar to that of an insect colony.

It turns out that trees are connected to each other through underground fungal networks which some scientists like Suzanne Simard are calling the Wood Wide Web. The mushrooms we see growing in the forest are just the visible part of a massive underground mycelium network that links all the trees in the forest. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks. Older trees will send carbon to feed the young saplings that are sprouting up in their shadow. Different species will trade water and carbon with each other depending on the time of year.  They also use these networks to communicate with each other. They send distress signals to each other to warn about events like drought and disease. Scientists have shown how trees are able alter their behaviour when they receive these messages. To communicate through the network, trees send chemicals, hormones and even slow-pulsing electrical signals, which scientists are just beginning to decipher. One teaspoon of forest soil apparently contains several miles of these super fine fungal filaments.

For young saplings in a deeply shaded part of the forest, the network is literally a lifeline.  Because they are too small to gain access to the sunlight needed to photosynthesize, they survive because big trees, including their parents, pump sugar into their roots through the fungal network. They are able to use this fungal network to tell the difference between species of trees, so they can choose who they want to help. Scientists are at a loss as to how the trees do it. The trees and the mushrooms have co-evolved to create a symbiotic relationship that benefits both species. Scientists admit they are only just beginning to learn the language of trees. They know trees don’t have nervous systems, but trees do know what is going on around them. Trees even react to being cut in a way that suggest they do experience pain.

These new insights about what trees actually feel and do is changing how we look at trees. Scientists are starting to realize that it doesn’t make evolutionary sense for us to treat trees like resource-grabbing individuals. The evidence suggests that trees live longest and reproduce most often in a healthy stable forest where the older trees help the younger trees to thrive.  That’s why they’ve evolved to learn how help their neighbours as well as their own offspring.

It is quite amazing that modern science is just now beginning to learn about the inter-connected life that trees draw their strength from. We all know trees are beautiful. How much more inspiring is it to see how they work together to nurture the well being of the whole forest.  Some biologists are now discovering this kind of inter-connection is true of many other plant species as well.

The symbol of the Tree of Life expresses the ancient spiritual truth that there is a deep connection between all living things. The symbol of the Tree of Life is found all the major religions, from Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as Buddhism, and Taoism. As Christians we haven’t used the Tree of Life symbol very much because we’ve been too busy thinking that we aren’t connected to nature. We tend to see humans as being above nature instead of being part of the inter-connected web of life.  We Christians have glorified the importance of the individual at the expense of the well-being of the collective. The Tree of Life is an important symbol we need to rediscover because we are living through a time where the bonds of society are being strained by many competing ideas.  Perhaps this very ancient symbol of the Tree of Life can teach us once more of God’s deeper wisdom which shows how all of life is inter-connected.

Scientists in many disciplines are discovering just how much we still can learn from nature about the benefits of working together which can save us all. I’d like to leave you with this passage from the Book of Job which affirms this great spiritual truth:

If you would learn more, ask the cattle,
Seek information from the birds of the air.
The creeping things of earth will give you lessons,
And the fishes of the sea will tell you all.
There is not a single creature that does not know
That everything is of God’s making.

God holds the soul of every living thing in his hands,
And the breath of every human body.

—Book of Job 12:7-10

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