Crippled trees

Pastor Tom Jeske

Summer is the time for landscaping. Nowhere does this seem to be so true as in Denver, with its endless beautiful lawns and public plantings.

I was driving down a suburban street when I noticed a home where obviously major landscaping changes were taking place. Piled in the street was a heap of old sod, shrubs and assorted garden rubble. What caught my eye was a pretty little Ponderosa pine, about six feet tall and green as a pool table. Apparently it hadn’t fit into the new owner’s plan, because it had been violently torn out of the ground and discarded.

As I drove on to my appointment, I thought about that tree. Part of me said to go back and get it. My common sense knew better. The tree had been damaged seriously and was probably beyond rescue. Besides, wouldn’t it be embarrassing to go to the owner’s house and ask for permission to have an old cripple like that tree! My decision was easy, really. I was too busy to play nurse to a terminally ill pine tree. Now if I could only get that silly thing out of my mind.

That evening I was back. I walked up to the door and rang the bell. A young mom listened with a half smile as a crazy man asked her for some of her garden discards. A little red in the face, I heaved the long needled victim into the pickup and drove home.

Safe in my own garden, I inspected the poor creature. It was worse than I’d thought. The roots were bare and ragged. Better to throw it away than to waste any time or expense. But–why don’t I give it a chance! Maybe it’ll surprise me.

That very night I dug a hole, watered, fertilized and sprayed the foliage. I hung up my shovel feeling satisfied that I had done the right thing.

In the following weeks the little fellow teetered between life and death. He was staked up, mulched, watered, and tended. Lots of attention. No growth, mind you, just hanging on for dear life. I figured if I could get him through the hot part of summer he’d pull through on his own.

After that initial burst of mercy, the novelty wore off. Pulling the hose all the way back to the fence took time and effort. More urgent concerns–several out-of-town conferences and our congregation’s dedication service–held my attention.

One blazing July afternoon I wandered back to the fence and like a bolt out of the blue it hit me. I had neglected my little accident victim, and his green needles had gone to brown. First aid was too little, too late. I’d lost him.

Sadness. Anger at myself. The unfairness of it all too. Here I’d rescued what no one else wanted. By rights it should have lived to reward my care.

It was only a tree. Yet that little tree is much like many of us Christians. Salvaged off a discard pile. Unwanted. A history with some violence in it. No good reason for anybody to come to our rescue. Only a superhuman effort could possibly turn things around for us. Lots of love and attention required.

Now, of course, Jesus is the all-time hero. Rescuing lost causes is what he does. Taking care of business is his name. He has a whole garden of rejects “on the mend.” Like you and me. Yes, friend–like you and me.

“Believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ … and love one another.” If you guessed that’s from the Bible, you’re right. The lesson is this: God has found you, taken ownership, nursed, tended. And now we cooperate with his rehabilitation program.

God provides all sorts of opportunities for us to “rescue and tend” unwanted little trees. Think of the little “trees” with faces and names at our Sunday worship. They may seem familiar; they may seem fine. But there’s a reason they’re lined up among us. There’s a broken heart in every row.

You may not realize it but you and I need each other. Your concern goes a long way to keep your neighbor going and growing. For God’s sake, don’t let up. Don’t stop checking, like I did with my little tree. Don’t forget, when the novelty of a new face wears off, it needs your words, your time, your smile, and your love. Jesus, thanks for not forgetting us way back here by the fence.

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Living Hope Lutheran Church, Omaha, NE