SCRIPTURE READING Revelation 22:1-5
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of
the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”
“The leaves of the tree are for the healing of nations”. This verse is found at the beginning of the final chapter of the Bible in the Book of Revelation. What we are hearing in this verse and the verses around it is a sweeping summary of the Bible, from the Alpha to the Omega, from the beginning to the end, that offers the image of a tree to represent everything that God offers to a hungry and thirsty world, a tree that represents everything that God offers to people like you and me, a tree that represents the abundance of what God offers to people like you and me and to people nothing like you and me. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from or where you are going … God has something to valuable to offer you, and it’s a as simple as a leaf from a tree.
“The leaves of the tree are for the healing of nations”. I like how this verse is both mysterious and simple. Mysterious because the tree in the reading seems to be located in some fantastic, incredible, heavenly place, where a river like bright crystal flows through a mighty holy city of dimensions and appearance greater than our imagination can comprehend. Simple, because what God offers is no more complicated than the leaf of any tree waving in the breeze over your head. Simple, because one small gesture or gift has the power to change and transform the hearts of many others.
So look at any leaf on any of the trees that surround us this morning and trust that any one leaf – that one, that one, or that one – in front of your eyes, held in your hand, or drifting past you in the breeze contains everything that you need to know about God, and what God offers to you and what God offers to the world.
“The leaves of the tree are for the healing of nations”. It’s amazing to consider that one leaf in your hand from a tree here in our beautiful Byron has so much to offer the whole world. The reading says that the leaves of the tree are for healing. So consider what healing might be needed in Byron, Elba, Bergen, Clarendon and the whole world. I don’t know about you, but I worry a lot about the things that need so much healing, because of war, poverty, hatred, intolerance, sickness, disease, and destruction. In distant Middle Eastern lands where people fight one another in hopeless desperation, not just trying to win but to eradicate their enemies. In other distant places, in South Sudan, for example, where hungry people collapse right in the street, right before your eyes, for lack of food. In our own country, where I read this week of a study that shows racial disharmony increasing. In our own country where yet another disturbed person with a gun begins shooting people in a movie theater. In our own towns, where people line up at food pantries because they may not have enough food.
I mention these things, not because I am discouraged, but because I optimistically and faithfully believe that the leaves of the trees offer the healing that is needed.
On Monday, Isabelle and Jordan, just two young people among the billions living on our planet, spent the day serving food to over one hundred hungry people at a church in Rochester. The church does this every Tuesday, week in and week out, with volunteers and guests pooling their leaves together to generate love and hope. Isabelle and Jordan served their guests with the kind of care seen in the best restaurants.
On Tuesday, Isabelle, Jordan and I were handing out heads of lettuce, radishes, peppers, cucumbers and salad greens for a mobile food pantry at a Presbyterian Church in Rochester. When people came though the line, one of our kids, Rachel from Gates, greeted each person with a loud, “good morning, would you like some cucumbers, eggplants or peppers to take home?” Each guest said “thank you”, and Rachel said “Thank you for coming today!”. Nearly every pantry guest smiled. In poverty, it’s not easy to see smiles like that, but there they were. Afterwards I asked Rachel how she came up with such a friendly greeting for each guest. She replied that she heard me greet the first guest in line that way and decided to do it, too. A miracle! Rachel had a leaf of lettuce, and I had a leaf of kale, and put together our leaves enlarged God’s love and joy in just a few friendly words.
On Wednesday, we put on an outdoor carnival for the elderly residents of the Episcopal Home in Rochester. Isabelle, Rachel and the other kids ran simple games, like bowling, ring toss, bean bags and a duck pond, with prizes for everyone. Afterwards, the daughter of one of the residents told us that since her father had moved there in December he hadn’t smiled once, but at the carnival he smiled for the first time. The leaves of the trees, so small, and the need so big, but through each leaf of love, care, generosity and peace, God is alive and reaching out to all who need it. One man smiles, and all the leaves in the trees around us wave in happiness, too.
On Wednesday, I asked our youth volunteers what they thought a group of visiting church volunteers could bring to our churches in Gates or Byron? Because sometimes we share our leaves with others, and sometimes others share their leaves with us. But it’s all good, giving, receiving, sharing, with one another and the whole world, for the healing of nations. I love seeing scripture come to life!