This week we have seen many changes going on outside. Some changes are fun; some are beautiful; some are sad; and some are good. Some people get excited about changes – they look forward to the possibility of something new or different than it has been. Some people feel afraid when new things come or when changes are expected. The "unknown" of change can sometimes feel scary.
I was thinking how life is made of changes. No matter how we try to keep things the same, inevitably they are going to change. There are some things in our lifetime that change and are never the same for us again. We can never return to our childhood, no matter how much we might try. Loved ones pass on and we know that we will never get to see him again in this part of our lives. Those things change forever.
On the other hand, there are some things that change, but, like the seasons, they cycle back again and give us another chance to enjoy or experience them. For example, every year children get a new chance at school. Every year a tree drops its leaves, but we know that, come spring, that same tree will start to bud and new leaves will grow . . . and summer will come again. We can say “next year” or “next summer, I will do this or that.” It is exciting to anticipate those changes.
But in order to have that kind of excitement, we need to be able to look ahead. We need to think about a future which we do not yet see. Even in my sadness about my grandfather who died six years ago now – I have a hope that I will see him again in my new life in heaven.
As Christians we are able to live as people of hope. We don’t have to live burdened by the despair of what we see today. I love summer. So if I look outside now, I could feel really get depressed thinking about the months of cold ahead. But I don’t live feeling sad – I have a hope and trust in what I have seen God do every single year. I know God will change and make all things new in His perfect timing. Six months from now I will be all excited about the warmer weather, my garden and going camping again. I have a hope, based on trust and experience that summer will return.
Right now the seasonal changes are evident everywhere. The leaves on trees are changing colors and many have started to fall to the ground due to the colder weather. For an arborist, trees are storytellers of change. The rings seen in a tree trunk or branch tell the life story of the tree. An arborist can see what years the tree got enough to drink, if the tree was sick any years or what years the tree produced lots of extra food.
A huge oak tree used to stand by the Donegal Presbyterian Church in the Donegal Springs area of Lancaster County. It had become known as the Witness Tree as it had witness incredible changes and events over nearly three centuries. When the Witness Tree had to be taken down in 1991, arborists could see that the tree had stood for at least 260 years. That tree saw lots of good things and lots of bad things happen. It showed signs of growth and hardship. It bore lots of bumps and bruises from things that happened. But what was beautiful was that despite the changes, the tree continued to stand strong and adjust to the seasons. Because of that, it survived for decades and even centuries.
When I think of all the changes the Witness Tree saw, I think of the Church. We go to "church" every Sunday, but that is not the only place where Church happens. The Church of Jesus is all over the world! And the Church has been around a lot longer than just the 260 years of the Witness Tree’s life. The Church has been around more like 2000 years. It has weathered lots of hard times and has enjoyed years of happy times too. We don’t see rings on a branch to show the years of the Church, but we can look back over the decades and centuries and see generations of people who lived and ministered and led in the Church. We hear their stories in the Bible and in history books. They tell us a lot about what happened and why things changed over the years.
Just like the seasons changed, the Church met new challenges -- it adjusted and adapted. Since its beginning the Church entered many new cultures and language groups. It has been confronting "modernity" since its beginning, and "modernity" continued to be redefined. There are so many changes the Church has had to adjust to. And for some people, those changes can be kind of depressing or scary.
But as I started out saying, change is not always bad and the great thing about being part of the Church is that the Church belongs to Jesus Christ who together with His Father and the Spirit is the same yesterday, today and forever. Even though changes are happening around us, we can trust and have hope knowing that Jesus is walking through those changes with us. And like the Witness Tree, we can stand strong and be part of the generations who show how the Church can have hope even when we don’t know what the future will hold.