(Psalm 112 and John 12 v 23-36)
At Harvest it is our duty to look to creation to help us understand something of the message our Creator sends to us for our lives. And I wanted to reflect for a moment or two this morning on the lesson of the Yellow Birch tree of North Eastern America which offers us an example of what both our Psalm and the Gospel reading might teach us about the salvation of God in difficult times and seasons of our lives. Because the Yellow Birch flourishes in disturbed, barren environments which I think is what the Christian is to expect in their life of faith according to the Psalmist and Jesus.
In our readings we have been told that even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous. And then in the Gospel Jesus has said to us “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life…”.
The Bible’s message then is that living in relationship with our Creator does not mean we will be free from darkness or trouble or loss or grief .. but that through our faith we can find the strength and wisdom to flourish even in the hardships of life!
Consider the Yellow Birch then! It seems this tree is the only tree in Northern America whose seeds can sprout on rocks! For whilst moss and lichen can grow on rocks because they are both able to dry out for months and then rehydrate, trees need access to constant moisture. How can the Yellow Birch take root and live in an environment that is too hard and inhospitable for other trees? How does the Yellow Birch, like the Christian, flourish in difficult places?
The answer to the question is it’s ability to rapidly grow it’s roots like a spiders web out from it’s initial seed. Which means that even on a rock face a relatively short period of dampness will allow the seed to send roots of sufficient length to reach the ground in several places and create a pipeline to water and other nutrients in the surrounding ground.
Once this unique rooting has taken place it then has a strategy to seek as much light as it can. It does this by growing branching out as well as up .. a little like a conifer. And importantly this is very unusual in the area where the Yellow Birch grows .. therefore it does not look like the other trees in its woods because they grow tall in search of light beyond the crowded forest canopy.
The lesson of the Yellow Birch then is that if we are prepared to look different and be different to the world around us then we can flourish in places others don’t. When life’s darkness and hardship diminish and crush others, the person of faith who is in relationship with their Creator has another story. A story of difference, a story of possibility, a story of unlikely flourishing in difficult and dark times. Like the story of the Yellow Birch the person of faith can grow even on the barren rock face because he or she is prepared to find ways to seek out the water of life that will quench their thirst.
In fact Jesus tells us it is in loss and struggle that we find our lives. And this is so true of the Yellow Birch .. it’s web like roots are so fine and its strategy for growth so different that it’s saplings will not grow in established forest shade but need the canopy of the forest to be disturbed somehow .. it is therefore often seen to grow in the areas disturbed by human activity such as logging and farming. The Yellow Birch typically need disturbances in a forest in order to create light and establish growth.
So as we read the message of the Bible that even in darkness light dawns for the upright .. and indeed what seems like losing our lives in this world will in fact save us .. let us not dismiss the lesson of the Yellow Birch.
That this is possible only if the Christian is prepared to look and act differently to the world around us .. the shape and pattern of our lives should look different as we find our nourishment and strength in a different place .. as we stretch out beyond the easy and quick solutions to life’s problems and tap into the eternal source of light and life which is found in the message of Jesus.
The entire Harvest message is that the acceptance of disturbance and hardship is an important feature of growth and development. But because the Yellow Birch knows this, then once it is established it will often live and grow for up to 300 years withstanding the hurricanes and ice storms of North Eastern America as it clings to the rock on which it has built its different kind of life!