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[Sermon] Yo Soy un Arbol!

Rev. Dr. Kempton Hewitt + May 12, 2024 + Seventh Sunday of Easter

Guest preacher Dr. Kempton Hewitt delves into the rich metaphorical imagery of becoming trees as a pathway to personal and communal transformation. Dr. Hewitt explores the significance of rootedness, resilience, and bearing fruit in our spiritual journeys, and through an invitation to embrace our interconnectedness and nurture one another, he encourages us to embody the spirit of verdant canopies, offering shade, sustenance, and healing to all.

Sermon Transcript

From automatically generated captions via YouTube, with punctuation added by ChatGPT.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and Our Redeemer. Amen.

Well, I have a very good friend, a retired Pastor, one of the finest pastors I've ever known, in Canada. When he retired, they decided to really retreat, so they built a log house out by Lake and remote Ontario, Canada, and simply decided to exclude from their lives everything electronic. So, we have to communicate by written letters. It's amazing.

So, several weeks ago, I began translating Psalm 1, living with the Hebrew text and so forth. I said to him in a letter, "I'm going to send this to you, and I want you to know that I've taken a particular direction with this translation because at the beginning of the second verse in Hebrew, there are two small words that signal that everything in that entire Psalm needs to be taken in a strongly adversative contrasting way."

And he read it, and then he wrote me a letter just recently. He said, "I was quite taken with the translation." He said, "What it reminded me when you talked about that adversative nature, good life, happy life, evil life, corrupt life, bad life," he said, "I was reminded that that's what mothers do instinctively."

And then he gave me some examples. "Well, if you want to go out with those new jeans we just bought and play in the mud, you could do that, ruin them, and then of course, I'll just have to put on the old pair when you go to church." And I was reminded, speaking of trees, that I used to love to hang out at my grandmother's Farm in East Everett overlooking Eie Sound, built by my immigrant Norwegian grandfather. The Farmhouse had a back door, screen door we listened for, and then a brief sidewalk, and then the summer cookhouse and Woodshed where all the Lea was made. And between those two was the most beautiful queen an cherry tree. And of a June day, I would sneak onto Grandmother's Farm, crawl up into that cherry tree, and pig out. I think we call those cherries something different now, like rainers or something. Is that right? But they were absolutely gorgeous. And then very often, I would hear the screen door close, and my grandmother come out, and then my maiden Auntie Molly come out and stop, stop and look and realize what I was doing.

And then came the hands on the hip. "Do you know this?" And the first words out of their mouth were, "Now, I swear, I think I was five or six before I understood that 'UA' was not my first name." And then it would be the lecture. "All right, you keep eating those cherries. You're going to get sick, and then you're going to howl with a belly ache, and then I'm going to have to call your mother. And then, you know who she's going to call? She's going to call your Aunt Victoria, and then Uncle Norman's going to come, and you are going to be in huge trouble. And besides which, you're probably going to fall out and break an arm." And then, of course, I would say something like, "Well, I'll calm down if you fix me a full circle of butter sugared Lea." That didn't fly.

So, you're going to put on the screen just this at this moment, a wonderful phrase that we find sometimes in songs in child songs. That's the theme of the day, "Great trees becoming trees." And because Pastor Hector is very reluctant to parade his first language before you, I decided I would do it. So, there is the phrase, "Yo soy un arbol."

"Well, but why, Pastor? Why? Why is it 'Yo'?" "Do you need 'yo soy'? Means 'I am,' right? Is that an emphasis? It's an emphasis. Huh. How about a little Spanish L? Are you up for this?" "Okay, okay. One, two, three."

That's the entire theme of this marvelous Psalm, becoming an Aral in this repair bank, becoming ever productive not just of sustaining fruit, but of healing leaves. And this is a theme throughout the Old Testament. It occurs, of course, in Genesis. But in Ezekiel, there's a water flowing from the new Temple, and beside the temple, there is a repairing bank with trees. And the healing comes from the leaves from those trees. And there is a reason that this is the first Psalm. It is Hebrew logic that this is the first Psalm. "Yo un arbol." I want to become a tree.

And by the way, you know, we were rediscovering, I'm going to say this ancient wisdom. I'm sure you're aware that things are shifting in cities when rather than cutting down trees, trees are being planted because we now know that they're life-giving. They change the entire nature of the quality of our life. And there's an entire regenerative agricultural mission in which they're taking abused lands that have contour, and they're cutting curves across them with banks and planting those banks with trees. And as the minimal water comes in some of these areas, the water stops at those banks and flows sideways on down the hill. And those trees grow up, and they become productive of things to eat and provide shade for animals, and they're finding the birds return. And so, this phrase that I translated as the repair bank, this is ancient wisdom. This is ancient wisdom, and the idea of us becoming trees. And if you allow me, many of us have in our lives, I bet if I paused you could come up with in your mind with a great tree that sheltered, sustained, and healed you. And it might have been a mother, but it might have been another. I can tell you, in my 15 years as a Guardian Ad Litem, as a specially appointed advocate for abused and neglected children, I can tell you that if it weren't for other than mothers sometimes, these children would not have had. And maybe you have been this. I know some were for me. And they weren't all women, many were men. And so, we celebrate this day, the great trees in our life, as well as answering this call to become trees ourselves. And now I have a video I want you to look at for my next point. I hope you'll have some enjoyment of it.

Isn't that wonderful? All week long, my wife has been troubled with me, "If I Were a Rich Man." And after... Yeah, isn't it wonderful? And after he talks about having the house with staircases that lead nowhere just because he has to have them and the chubby wife with a double chin, then he comes to the end, and it becomes serious. And the writers of this great piece well understand that this all comes from Psalm 1. And he says, "I would sit with the wise men and the holy books and study seven hours a day, and that would be the sweetest thing of all." It's wisdom. It's wisdom that we need in our lives, and it's a kind of a biblical wisdom that has some logic to it, that's simple but not easy.

And let me just take two or three steps and show you what that logic is. The first, it begins with awe. Without awe, there is no beginning. And this is why in this Psalm, one twice, it describes those who are unhappy, those who have no awe of the Holy in their lives. That's the first step in an unlucky life.

We hang out down on the Oregon coast, and here, recently, we've had some just torrential biblical rains, day after day after day. And then, suddenly last week, it broke fair. And by fair, I mean no longer was the sea, as Hector calls it, a wine-dark sea. It was a blue sea, and the sky stippled with cotton, and in between beautiful blue skies. I put on my beach shoes and grabbed my hand weight and went down to the beach for a workout. And usually, that's just focusing on that. And as I came to the end, as I was about to leave the beach, I stopped and just stood still there. And by the way, in a mile-long beach, I was alone that day. And I looked out at that sea and that milky foam coming in on top of a blue sea and that pale blue sky between the clouds. And I felt that thing that happens on the back of your neck and rises in the back of your throat. You know what I mean? And I wanted almost to cry. And again, I experienced that thing. It all begins with awe of the Divine in the world made for us. That's the beginning of the wisdom.

And then, the next step is, how do we make a home given that gift? And in the Hebrew understanding of how that happens, it, after all, it becomes the gathering together and consideration of the life that has been given us and how that life can be good and made good for others. That's all. And we know that when we stop doing that, what happens is we become like our nearest relatives, the chimpanzees. Some a few who nurture and care, and the youngsters who play, and then the ring bands of bachelors who make trouble, and then the tyrants who sometimes kill and maim. That's what we are without appreciating what it is we have been placed here for. And this idea of seven hours a day, night and day, why do you do that? Do they do that? Do we do this? Do we gather here to consider seeking the good because it makes us feel better or because we want to become wiser or more intelligent? And now, that's not what happens.

And the next image I'm going to put up is about what happens when wise men gather with the Holy books seven hours a day. There, you see a cluster of grapes, beautiful cluster. Well, in the Old Testament, of course, we have this thing called gleaning. And it's a very simple, if you forget a sheath, don't go back and pick it up, there are those who need that food. Let them work for their food by leaving them a little bit. And don't beat over your olive trees twice, just once is enough. There'll be some left. And leave behind the cluster of grapes that is incomplete.

And so, the rabbis, Rabbi Myer will say, "Ah, yes, well, and there you see you have a shoulder and a shoulder and a pendant, and let us say that the defective cluster is one that lacks one or the other." And then, Rabbi Gal will say, "Well, um, no, I think that does not leave enough for the land and his family and those who work for him. Let us say that if all is missing but one shoulder, that's for the poor." And the other will say, "No, no, the law is the law of generosity. Let us say that the defective cluster is the one that lacks shoulders but has a pendant."

And this interpretive going back and forth with best thinking, as I taught to my students, they would say, "Yes, and what's the answer?" I said, "You're Christians, you think there always has to be an answer. You think there has to be a law. You think that somebody has to decree which is the right." That's not the point. The point isn't being right, the point is respecting the good given us so much that we take it right down to a fine point and massage it with our hearts and our minds. And that is why we gather. We gather to seek the good. And if this ceases to happen in our midst, the midst of our society, then we see a return to being chimpanzees.

And that is how we become verdant canopies of healing and sustenance for the Nations. This is why we read the scriptures here. This is why we meditate and carefully consider what they mean for us. This is why this congregation gathered in deliberation, soulful liberation. How can we reach out and do the good in this community? And the irony of this all and the wisdom of this all is that when we do that, we are more fortunate, we are more whole, we are more at peace. And so, one more time with me, come on.


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