Back in the frontier days, a westbound wagon train was lost and low on food. No other humans had been seen for days, when finally they saw an “Old Jewish Man” sitting beneath a tree. The leader rushed to him and said, “We’re lost and running out of food. Is there someplace ahead where we can get food?
“Vell,” the old Jew said, “I vouldn’t go up dat hill und down other side. Somevun told me you’ll run into a big bacon tree.”
“A bacon tree?” asked the wagon train leader.
“Yah, ah bacon tree. Trust me. For nuttin vud I lie.”
The leader goes back and tells his people that if nothing else, they might be able to find food on the other side of the next ridge.
“So why did he say not to go there?” some of the pioneers asked.
“Oh, you know the Jews don’t eat bacon.”
So the wagon train goes up the hill and down the other side. Suddenly, bandits attack and massacre everyone except the leader, who barely manages to escape back to the old man.
The near-dead man starts shouting, “You fool! You sent us to our deaths! We followed your instructions, but there was no bacon tree! There was hundreds of bandits, who killed everyone.”
The old Jew holds up his hand and says “Vait a minute.” He then gets out an old English-Hebrew dictionary, and begins thumbing through it. “Oy,” he finally says, “I made myself ah big mistake. It vuz not a bacon tree. It vuz a ham bush!”
“And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.” (Genesis 1:11-13)
On the third day, God created the plants and trees of the earth—I do not believe either the bacon tree or the ham bush was on the list—yet the variety was immense. When we begin to consider the trees, we probably often think of the massive Redwoods in California, some of which are thousands of years old or those oddly shaped Baobab trees in Madagascar. In seeing and thinking of these, we miss some other remarkable specimens. For example, there is a White Cedar tree in Canada that is near the Great Lakes. It is over 130 years old, but stands at only four inches tall. And then there’s the tree I was thinking of today: a wild fig tree that grows in South Africa.
Standing at approximately 120 feet, it is an impressive tree, but for an area that only receives about 18 inches of rain a year, how could such a tree grow so tall and produce so much fruit? Of course it is the roots. Generally, the root systems of these trees will be five to six feet deep, but this particular tree has a tap root that travels 400 feet, through solid rock and even a cave system, until it reaches a source of water. It supports the massive tree above by pumping almost seven gallons of water upwards each day.
Charles Darwin wrote, “The tip of the root (of plants) acts like the brain of one of the lower animals.” It is the part of the plant that we do not see, but it seeks out the sources of water and nutrients and will either find it or the entire plant will die in the process.
In our first lesson this morning, the Prophet Jeremiah said to us:
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.
The tree—and we know we are talking about a soul—that is planted near the stream will survive, but we also know that a drought can become quite severe. Lakes and streams can dry up all together, but that’s just on the surface. Down deeper, the water is still available. The plants that lived along the banks can and will die, unless they, like that wild fig tree, go deeper in search of the water.
For a soul, this can be a difficult time. It has not all together been cut off, but it does experience a crisis. Consider the first two verses of Psalm 42:
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
And again, David writes in Psalm 63,
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
David’s soul knows where its life comes from. His soul thirsts for the one thing that can give it life and that one thing is God. He knows that his soul will either find God or die, so it searches, but those times of searching can be lean times. Those are days of struggle and crisis. Those are days when the soul is not 100% sure that it will survive. And those are days that each and everyone us of experience. It is at times like this that some will give up. They feel as though God has abandoned them. They are withering in their search for water, for God, and struggle to see that this is a season and not a lifetime. They forget the days of plenty and the people around them taunt them by saying, “Where is your God?”
You can truly find yourself in that barren and dry land where this no water. You are poor in body, soul, and spirit. You are hungry and thirsty for God. You are saddened by your condition and those around you are no help. You are all these things and… you are blessed. Blessed…
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven.”
Days and seasons where there is no water are not days when God has abandoned us. They are days when God is calling us to go deeper, to trust and enter into an even more intimate relationship with him. Yes, you can do nothing and look back on the good ol’ days and in the process become bitter at your current circumstances or you can even quit. You can wither and die there on the banks of a dry river bed or you can push on until you once again encounter the Source… that has always been there! Patiently waiting for you and allowing you to grow through the trials you experience.
In his Revelation, St. John tells us about the New Jerusalem and he says, after seeing the great city, “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.” (Genesis 22:1-2) On the day we enter into that city, we will always have this source of water readily available to us—it is our hope and the promise that has been made to us by God—but for now, we must at times go deeper in search of that life giving water, but do not fear. It is there, for as St. Paul tells us, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation——including droughts, famine, and the lack of water——will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Today, the ground may be dry and cracked, barren and unfit to produce life, but by going below the surface, deep into the earth, we will find Life. Seek God where he wills to be found. Go deeper.
Let us pray:
Come, all who are thirsty
says Jesus, our Lord,
come, all who are weak,
taste the living water
that I shall give.
Dip your hands in the stream,
refresh body and soul,
drink from it,
depend on it,
for this water
will never run dry.
Come, all who are thirsty
says Jesus, our Lord.