I had the privilege of preaching again on Sunday, January 25th. I had actually written the sermon for a service back in February of last year, but at the last minute decided that it wasn’t right for the audience or the setting. Instead, it became the jump off point for my latest book project.
As our pastoral staff prepared for the coming of 2009, our lead pastor was searching for a theme for the year. In October we relaunched our home groups program by team-preaching on three of the tribes of Israel. One of those sermons was about Joseph, and the topic of the message was Fruitfulness. Out of that message came three words: fruitfulness, increase, addition. From those words came our theme for 2009: Fruitfulness: Living lives of increase and addition. With the lead pastor ready to launch the theme, I found the opening I needed to preach a sermon entitled, “The Useless Tree.”
Now, I’m not going to tell you a lot about that message because you can listen to it if you’d like. Instead I’d like to share some extra thoughts that came out of a time of prayer this past Sunday night. We have started a four-week emphasis on prayer on Sunday nights, and I quickly found myself jumping into a routine that I enjoyed in a previous church. Out of that time of prayer came the following reflections on Ezekiel 47:12.
The prophet Ezekiel foretells the restoration of the people of Israel in the closing chapters of his prophecy. After touring God’s Temple, inspecting its articles and tools for worship, and reviewing the laws and proscriptions of it workings, he is returned to the Temple door to depart. At this point he discovers water flowing from the threshold of the door towards the east.
The water itself is a wonder, becoming a vast river that is almost uncrossable (at least, our prophet doesn’t venture to try it). It flows and heals the waters ravaged by the great war with Gog (see chapters 38-39), bringing new life to them. In fact, the waters are healed and flourished so completely that the sea said to be healed, believed by many to be the Dead Sea, will rival the “Great” (Mediterranean) Sea in its variety of fish.
But there is one other aspect of the river to take note of here. Along its banks grow trees.
“But the river itself, on both banks, will grow fruit trees of all kinds. Their leaves won’t wither, the fruit won’t fail. Every month they’ll bear fresh fruit because the river from the Sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47:12, The Message).
Again, we find ourselves looking at fruit trees. Trees whose fruit never goes out of season. They are not like the cursed fig tree (Mark 11:12-14, 20-21) which would not produce for its Creator. No, these trees are plugged into their life source, straight from the Temple of God.
If Jesus is like the vineyard owner who is constantly reviewing his specially planted toree to see if it is fulfilling its purpose by bearing its fruit (Luke 13:6-9), we have here the key to perpetual fruitfulness.
Like every other part of our Christian walk, we face the struggle of producing under our own power, through earthly wisdom and strength. We forget that we would not have come to Christ if the Father had not drawn us (John 6:44), or not deposited a measure of faith in each of us (Romans 12:3).
Have we forgotten that apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5)? Or maybe that is the true heart of our problem, something this verse in John’s Gospel almost suggests. If the real issue is “want-to” versus “how-to” as described by a Seattle pastor, perhaps our lack of drive reveals our lack of connection to the power/fuel supply. If we were truly connected to healing, living that flows from the Sanctuary, how could we contain ourselves, remaining fruitless?
Sermons referenced in this post can be listened to or downloaded at www.sermoncloud.com/stgeorgefwc.