The trees in the woods will shout for joy when the Lord comes to rule the earth. He will rule the peoples of the world with justice and fairness.Psalm 96: 12b-13
Hymn 147 All creatures of our God and King
Sometimes life seems so confusing
sometimes it seems so unfair
at times we wonder if you have a vindictive streak
at times we wonder why you seem to stand idly by
and let bad things happen
at times we wonder if you lack the power to enforce your values
to bring peace and justice
at times we do wonder whether you are there
but you are there
and not just ‘there’
in the sense of being far away
remote from us and from the issues we face
you are here
with us as we gather for worship
with us when we are at home, work or wherever we go
with all who are in hospital, hospice, prison or refugee camp
with all who are engulfed by loneliness, grief, regret or pain
you are here
because you care
you care enough to have come among us in Jesus as one of us
ready to experience human life, suffering and death
you care enough to be always active in your Spirit
seeking to bring healing and wholeness
you care enough to call us your children
to give us your forgiveness
to give us your Spirit
to give us new hope and purpose in living
and call us to work with you in building your kingdom
Forgive us when we have questioned and doubted you
Forgive us when we have turned away from you
Forgive us when we have been indifferent to you
Fill us again with your Spirit
to live trusting you
to live serving you
Through Christ our Lord we pray
All age time (for ages 0-100)
If you go down to the woods today…
If you are a teddy bear you might have a picnic. If you are you are a child you might play hide and seek or build a den. If you are a child or an adult, you might try to spot the wildlife in the wood – insects, flowers, trees, birds, animals, fungi.
In the past woods were used commercially to provide timber for building and ship construction, for fuel and to produce charcoal for iron smelting, and to provide material for baskets and fences. Nowadays trees used for commercial purposes tend to grow in regimented plantations rather than traditional woodland.
We have also become aware in recent years of the importance of trees in tackling climate change. Their leaves absorb carbon dioxide, and their root systems help stabilise the soil, preventing desertification in some places, and flooding in others.
Trees and woods are Useful.
Bible reading Ezekiel 17: 22-24
Reflection Part 1 Forests woods and trees
We don’t have proper forests in this country any more. We have conifer plantations that look impressive as they stride across hillsides, but form an impenetrable barrier to light, to walkers and to wildlife. We have deciduous woods with dappled light, clearings, waymarked paths to follow, fallen logs to walk along, and occasional glimpses of a squirrel or deer. They are attractive, especially in their Autumn colours, and we enjoy being in them. But they aren’t forests.
Not like the forests of hundreds of years ago, like Ettrick Forest or the great Caledonian Pine Forest. Forests like that were home to creatures like wolves, wild cattle, wild boar and outlaws. There were great forests of oak that stretched across Western Europe, hiding German tribes from the Romans. There were the great conifer forests that stretched from the Baltic to the Pacific. There were the great rain forests of South and Central America, Central Africa, India and South East Asia.
It seems that in the early days of Israelite settlement in the Holy Land there was dense forest in the Jordan Valley that provided shelter for animals like lions, and thick forests of cedar on the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains to the North. By Jesus’ time the population had grown and put pressure on the forests, so that they were becoming more like woods.
Woods are nice places to walk, to exercise children and dogs, to play games, to have a picnic, to spot wildlife. By contrast the old forests and jungles were places of terror. They were the places where Robin Hood lived, Snow White hid, where Grimm’s Fairy Tales or the Ring Cycle were located, where Jungle Book was acted out. In legend they were inhabited by dragons, malign spirits and monsters. In practice they were inhabited – in the North – by wolves, bears, wild boar and wild cattle – and in the warmer jungles by animals like tigers and pythons. The natives weren’t always friendly either. There was a very real risk of becoming lost and never being heard of again: there were no maps, no signposts, no obvious natural features by which to navigate. If you were alone, a night under the tree canopy would not be a night for sleeping well: things wouldn’t just go bump, they would snuffle, screech, howl and roar.
Sometime we could describe our lives like living in the woods. It is all very pleasant, relaxing, not at all threatening. Sometimes it feels that we are in the forest or jungle. There are dangers, no clear markers or signposts, no clear way forward. God does not magically airlift us out of danger, and pop us down in a fresh, green meadow, but he travels with us and leads us safely to the other side. There are many people struggling to find their way out of the forest of their lives. God wants us to help them to find the way out, to find him, his support, guidance and example for living.
Hymn 141 Oh the life of the world
Reflection Part 2 Good trees and bad trees
This last year has reminded us how lucky we are to live in a town with a facility like Levengrove Park, our other parks and open spaces, the walks along the Clyde and Leven, and the walks around the Crags and Overtoun. Even walking round the streets there are trees and bushes in gardens – traditional ones like oaks and hollies, ornamental ones like acers and flowering cherries, fruit trees like apples, pears and plums. Some streets are tree-lined.
A tree outside your house may look pretty, but it can be a pain if it interrupts the parking, starts digging up the pavement with its roots, drops sticky stuff on the windscreen, blocks the drains when the leaves fall, and worries you with the way that it sways in a high wind. Or maybe it’s your neighbour’s fondness for trees and lack of consideration for others that agitates you: the leylandii that obscure your view, cut out the light, or pinch the goodness from your garden. We can admire trees, we can also dislike them.
For much of the Biblical period, trees in the Holy Land were looked at through rather practical eyes: some, like the olive, produced valuable food; others like the oak and sycamore provided timber or fuel. They could provide shelter – as when Hagar placed Ishmael under a bush – and as Zacchaeus found they could provide somewhere to hide, and give a good view.
But they could also be cursed. Under Jewish Law anyone who died on a tree was cursed. Initially that probably meant being hanged, but by the time of Jesus it came to include the Roman practice of crucifixion. Given how widespread it could be, many trees were probably used for that purpose – either with a crossbar attached to a live tree, or rough-hewn and cut down. A crucifixion was not a pretty sight, and the tree or upright post would be left covered in blood, urine and excrement. One such tree was used for Jesus’ crucifixion. It wouldn’t look or smell attractive afterwards, but if it were a live tree, it would be the only living thing to come anywhere near sharing his pain and suffering. That tree was a special tree – in the eyes of some hideous and cursed, but because of that tree we are offered eternal life
Prayers for others
We thank you for the times when our lives are like a day out in the woods
when we can enjoy the world around us
when we can have fun and leisure
but there are other times when it feels like we are in a deep dark forest
We thank you that you are always with us
whatever life feels like
leading and guiding us
we pray for all who at this time feel they are in a deep dark forest
oppressed by worries real or imaginary
lead them safely out of the darkness into a clearing of light
be with their friends and families and health professionals
trying to provide comfort and support
we pray for all who are ill,
those who look after them
and those who worry about them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one
those who are worried about home, work or money
a friend or a relative
those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters
those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home
those who long to live in peace and safety
those who have fled from their homes seeking safety
We pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
We pray for you church
the worldwide church
the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn 149 Let all creation dance
And the blessing of God Almighty.