Frame Memorial Presbyterian Church Trees Sunday 2006


September 17, 2006 Season of Creation – Trees Sunday 9:30 a.m.









i thank You God for most this amazing

day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes


(i who have died am alive again today,

and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth

day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay

great happening illimitably earth)


how should tasting touching hearing seeing

breathing any--lifted from the no

of all nothing--human merely being

doubt unimaginable You?


(now the ears of my ears awake and

now the eyes of my eyes are opened)



In the beginning, darkness covered the face of the deep.

Then the rushing-breath of life hovered over the waters.

Let us breathe together.

Let us catch our breaths from the need to make, to do.

Let us be conscious of the Breath of Life.

We breathe out what the trees breathe in.

We breathe in what the trees breathe out.

Together we breathe each other into life.

Blessed is the One within the many.

Blessed are the Many who make one.


*HYMN God of the Sparrow #272



We remember the trees. We remember the trees of our childhood, trees we climbed, trees who scent we smelled, trees whose fruit we ate, trees whose blossoms taught us beauty. We remember the trees that have shaded us, trees that have exchanged breath with us, trees that shelter us, trees around which we have celebrated, we remember trees.



O God, we confess that we have seen trees as instruments and resources rather than as part of your creation in which we share with people and creatures of the future. As we share the silence, hear our prayers of confession. […silence…] Teach us to conserve, preserve, use wisely the blessed treasures of our wealth-stored earth. Help us to share your bounty not to waste it, or pervert it into peril for our children or our neighbors in other nations. You who are life and energy and blessing, teach us to revere and respect your tender world.




*RESPONSE (Hymn No. 455, verse 4)

Thou fertile earth, that day by day unfoldest blessings on your way, O sing ye, Alleluia! The flowers and fruits that in thee grow, let them God’s glory also show! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!



The peace of Christ be with you all. And also with you.

(You may share Christ’s peace by saying “Peace be with you,” and/or with a handshake or hug.)



Children 4 yrs. - 2nd grade may be excused for Children’s Music Time afterwards.




GOSPEL LESSON Matthew 7:15-23 (p. 5)

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.



Through all the world below God is seen all around, Search hills and valleys through, there He’s found. The growing of the corn, the lily and the thorn, the pheasant and forlorn, all declare, God is there, In meadows drest [sic] in green, God is seen. See springing waters rise, fountains flow, rivers run, the mist that veils the sky hides the sun. Then down the rain doth pour, the ocean it doth roar and beat upon the shore , and all praise in their ways, the God who ne’er declines His designs. The sun with all his rays speaks of God as he flies, the comet in her blaze ‘God’ she cries; the shining of the stars. The moon when she appears, his awful name declares; see them fly through the sky, and join the solemn sound all around.


HEBREW SCRIPTURE LESSON Isaiah 55:6-13 (p. 531)

The Word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.


SERMON Out of Thin Air Rev. Zencka




*HYMN O Word of God Incarnate






RESPONSE (Hymn #455, verse 6)

All creatures, your Creator bless, and worship God in humbleness. O sing ye! Alleluia! Praise ye Creator, praise the Son, and praise the Spirit, Three in One! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!





Our Creator and Parent, who is as far as the stars and as near as our breath, You are holy. Let all creation worship you and live in harmony with you and each other. Give us today what we need; and forgive us for turning from You, as we forgive those who have hurt or offended us; let us find our happiness in You. For all that matters is in You, and through You, and of You and for You, forever. Amen.




*HYMN O God of Earth & Space (v. 1-3) #274




*RESPONSE O God of Earth & Space (v. 4) #274

Your word commands response and summons us to life. We follow, strengthened by Your grace, in calm or strife. Our ever-present help, our challenge and our prod, we praise You now and to life’s end, Eternal God.




*Please stand, as able


OUR LITURGY THIS MORNING comes from Life Prayers collected by Elizabeth Roberts & Elias Amidon. HarperSanFrancisco, 1996. The Call to Worship is by Arthur Waskow, and the latter part of the prayer of confession is by Thomas John Carlisle.


Out of Thin Air

September 17, 2006

Rev. Susan Gilbert Zencka

Frame Memorial Presbyterian Church


Texts: Matthew 7:15-23; Isaiah 55:6-13


When I was not yet 5 years old, our family moved into a new home, the home my folks will move out of this Thursday. On the day we moved in, I spent most of the day in the park across the street. There was a tree there, a Kwanzan Cherry Tree – with a low branch that even a little girl could climb, and it became a good place to sit and think about things. The tree would be full of double-blooming pink flowers every spring, the most beautiful tree I’ve ever seen, and over time it continued to be an important tree for me.. Trees can be important to us – people get married under them, climb them, are buried beneath them, rely on them for fruit, firewood, furniture, baseball bats, shade and beauty. They are part of our commerce and of our culture.


And they may be the most universal ecumenical religious symbol. Trees, particularly as the Tree of Life are part of the sacred stories of Native American spiritualities such as Iroquois and Sioux, as well as Buddhism, Norse mythology, and also our own sacred texts. The Jewish menorah is a seven-branched tree. The Tree of Life was said to grow in the Garden of Eden, and in the stories in Revelation of a New Jerusalem, there is also mention of the Tree of Life. And occasionally, people refer to the cross as a tree – were you there when he hung upon a tree, asks the spiritual. Some people believe that the design inside the Celtic cross, such as the one here in this sanctuary, or the one I usually wear, depicts the Tree of Life.


As we’ve started this Season of Creation, I’ve found myself coming to a deeper understanding of the importance of the earth and the gifts of the earth, not only for supporting life – which is no small matter – but for the integrity and wholeness of our theology. Creation tells God’s story, and does so with a vitality and vibrancy that our own storytelling can’t duplicate, although our stories are important too. And this week’s scripture lessons helped me to more fully understand what damage is being done to our faith by our continuing damage to the earth. Let me explain.


Meeting with our lectionary groups this week was very helpful to me. These are folks who are coming on Monday to study the upcoming Sunday texts with me. Anyone is welcome to come and you don’t need to come every week. The purpose of these studies is for members and myself to read the Sunday readings, share our thoughts and questions, and so better prepare for Sunday worship. It helps me because I hear what other people find meaningful in the readings – I assume it helps others for the same reason, as well as giving them more time to ponder the readings before hearing the sermon.


This week was a wonderful example of how such groups interact with the sermon process. I met with 6 other people last Monday during two groups, and we read three of the lessons. We have committed to only taking one hour, so sometimes we won’t get to all four. When I had chosen these lessons, I had thought that I would probably use the Genesis reading and the Isaiah reading for our service. You may notice that we did not have a reading from Genesis. That’s because, as we met, both groups were very clear that the central message in both the Isaiah reading and the Matthew reading were connected, about whether our behavior lines up with what we say we believe and what God plans. The Isaiah reading, they pointed out, was clearly about repentance. And the Matthew reading was very straightforwardly saying that our choices matter, more than what we say we believe. I can almost hear some people’s teeth grinding – oh yuck. This is not what I thought I’d hear this morning at Frame. Repentance is not a word we use a lot here – but we probably should use it more, and if we understood it properly, people wouldn’t find it so unpleasant.


When we consider the impact of our current lifestyles and culture on the earth, nothing less than repentance seems called for. Repentance, in the Hebrew, meant to turn around, to return. There is a sense of restoration, becoming what you were supposed to be. In that Isaiah passage, there is clearly a sense of listening to God, seeking God’s ways, and changing to bring our ways into alignment with God. There is a dimension in the Isaiah passage of actions having consequences, and the need to be living according to God’s ways, God’s thoughts. That sense of consequence also emerges in the Matthew passage – what we do matters more than what we say. The Biblical understanding, like the natural world, is one in which choices have consequences. And the Matthew passage shows us this principle from the outside in – what a person does shows what’s in their heart. This is why actions matter more than words – actions show us (and everyone else) who we really are. There is an implicit assumption of unity, of integrity.


The Isaiah reading makes a parallel between the natural world and the spiritual world – the way the natural world works, says God, where water falls upon the earth, causes the seed to grow and after nourishing the earth returns to the heavens – and this is the way God’s Word works. It, too, nourishes, and has a purpose. And this is where understanding the natural world can help us tremendously in understanding God. And this is how, conversely, the more we cut ourselves off from the natural world, the more peculiar God and God’s ways seem to us. The further we are removed from creation, the less sense spiritual reality makes to us. And so for us, as humans of the 21st century living in a predominantly human-created environment, the process of repentance, of a divine-driven lifecycle of energized transformation, just doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. And so we are missing the richness, vitality and harmony of the life God intends for us.


So let’s study the natural world and see what we can learn about God from God’s work. A couple of weeks ago, before I began work on this sermon, I contacted one of our members to see if he had anything useful to teach me about trees. Eric Singsaas, our webmaster and professor in the University’s Biology Department, is an expert on tree physiology. And he shared an insight that has proven very important to me. Eric said, “As far as I am concerned, the #1 cool thing about trees is that they are literally made from air. Invisible CO2 enters the leaves, is made into sugars, and woven into cellulose (another type of sugar). Invisible “air” turns into something as massive as a white pine or redwood tree. They are useful for food and shelter for us as well as lots of other creatures.”


This is amazing to me. And it is really helping me understand the importance of biology in understanding theology. Trees are made of air. Trees take in the air and God transforms them in this process – bringing into being what didn’t exist before: sugars, cellulose, leaves. God makes them out of something else into what they are supposed to be. And coolest of all – relationships are fundamental to creation, because as Rabbi Arthur Waskow wrote in our Call to Worship today: “we breathe out what the trees breathe in, we breath in what the trees breathe out. Together we breathe each other into life.” In God’s creation, we need each other. Even those of us who are different from one another – trees and humans – need each other. It’s not obvious at first that we are part of one another, and yet, in God’s creation we all have a place. And part of who we each are is being in relationship with one another.


Already, almost 200 years ago, in 1807, William Wordsworth had a sense of how our human projects were drawing us away from the natural world and what we needed to learn from it, as he wrote:


The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not.---Great God! I'd rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathéd horn.


Wordsworth makes the key point that as we left the pagan traditions of worshipping nature, we lost a great deal. Most of Western Christianity has for a long time suffered this loss – by determining not to mistake the creation for the Creator, we missed what the Creator revealed in creation. I say MOST of Western Christianity, because both the Celtic and Eastern Orthodox traditions seemed to really understand the importance of the incarnation and its relationship to creation – that God had entered into God’s creation in a new way to remind us that the ordinary is indeed holy – that it is of God, although it is not God – that God is revealed to us through God’s handiwork.


And so an earth-honoring, Christ-centered worship is one that understands panentheism – which is different than pantheism. Pantheism is similar to paganism – where one worships everything as God, but the panentheist sees God IN all things. The pantheist might worship trees as God; we worship God, and see God revealed in trees. We discover things about God by learning about the trees which God created. We honor trees as created by and revealing God. But we don’t worship trees.


My mother is a potter, and just as the pots she makes bear the imprints of her hands, so too do we who are oriented to creation find God-prints throughout the natural world including in science, which explains God’s good creation. Panentheism – an absolutely, Biblically-based orthodox dimension of Christian theology – is the piece that teaches us how critical care of the earth is, not only for our physical future, but for our present spiritual experience. And it is the piece that the Hebrews understood – but that somehow began to disappear from our consciousness as the Hebrew experience yielded to the modern worldview which separated the experience of God in nature from the rationalism of the human mind and understanding.


In the Hebrew tradition – knowing, understanding, and experience were one, God was in creation but was not identical with creation. The entire earth was God-breathed, and so our physical experiences were part of God’s revelation to us. And so in the Hebrew tradition, we come to understand God more fully not by drawing away from creation into our own minds, but by letting our minds be taught by our bodily experiences in nature. So that Paul can tell us in Romans: I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. He makes the same connections that are made in Isaiah and Matthew – our physical experience is connected to the spiritual dimension of reality and to minds. The world is one. But, we Christians who claim to be all about the incarnation, have spent much of the last 2,000 years trying to undo it, to separate our minds from our bodies. And now, as we are rediscovering a Creation theology that takes very seriously our experience of this world and regards the earth as bearing God’s revelation – we are having to take seriously the presence of God in all things, and we are just beginning to discern how God’s Word and God’s World are interwoven.


And as we begin to learn again from the natural world, we will learn that God’s Word builds upon what God reveals to us in that world, so that as we grow to understand and respect creation, God’s Word and spirituality begin to make more sense to us. To quote Larry Rasmussen, whose seminar on Earth-honoring Worship was so instructive to me this summer, from his book Earth Community Earth Faith: “When nature is lost to the senses, God is as well. So is people’s sense of identity and direction as well as moral-spiritual energy for the journey. This is unacceptable…. No heaven without earth. It’s that simple.”


So we begin to learn from trees that transformation is integral to the way God’s world works. And we begin to learn that the miraculous is part of the ordinary in God’s world. So perhaps God really can change human hearts. And yet, as humans living in the technologically-driven world of information systems and mass media domination, we are out of touch with the way things are. We are missing the miracles of the ordinary processes of life because we are, as Neil Postema says, amusing ourselves to death.


How many of us are frustrated with the rhythms of our lives, the hurried pace of a thousand tasks, and how many of us are feeling overwhelmed with all we have to do, and how many of us are feeling not quite right about how we are being who we are? It’s really not news that if God’s ways are the ways of peace and joy and growth and transformation, then God’s ways are not our ways. And so we have made of repentance a grim sackcloth and ashes incursion into shame and deprivation, when the Biblical model of restoration, learned from the natural transformations within creation, is a process whereby God’s Word shapes and nourishes us as rain nourishes the earth, and the life that results is one of wholeness, vitality, harmony and joy: for as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Amen