The Sycamore's Sermon

We sat under a sycamore tree for my daughter’s “convocation,” an entry ceremony into her college. It was a sweet moment on the quad of the University of Southern California, hopefully to be mirrored with a “commencement” exercise four years later in the very same spot. 

There were about fifteen speakers, all saying very nice, bland statements about what students can expect during the next four years and how they need to take advantage of all that the college had to offer. It was mostly for my daughter and the other first year students. 

So my mind wandered and then settled on the thick trunk and broad leaves of the sycamore tree. I thought about the strength and protective canopy of that tree that mostly goes unnoticed each day by thousands of passing students, professors, and university staff. 

We have a similar tree in our front yard in Dallas, Texas. It’s massive. I’ll admit I don’t notice it most days. Occasionally a huge branch drops in a storm. The tree seems to lose no volume with each detachment. It’s steady, solid, and serene. 

I thought about all of the times my daughter had passed that tree on the way to school, out with friends, hurrying to work or to a theater performance. I thought about the constancy of incremental growth and the wisdom that tree could share, having seen so much change over the years. I thought about the roots of that tree going deep into earth, and how it’s connected to the sycamore in California, if not by a shared root system as in an aspen grove, by soil and rock through the wholeness of the good earth.

And I found myself comforted to know that a sycamore now watches over my daughter in a different home.

It reminded me that the Christ that has watched over her and stayed with her for 18 years still watches over her and stays with her today.

A silent sermon. 

Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Jesus as the holy man passed by. For that reason, the sycamore in some religious thinking has become a symbol of sight. It represents a place of clarity. A new perception of reality. A big spiritual insight that transforms little people like Zacchaeus. 

For the last few weeks I have be meditating in the thought of “the Christ-soaked world.” Colossians says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth….all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:15-17) 

Later the writer says, “…Christ is all, and in all.” (3:11) 

Whoa. 

Christ in all things, His essence flung far and deep in leaves, woods, birds, bees, every human on the planet.

The doctrine or theory of immanence posits that the divine encompasses or is manifested in the material world.

Contemplating the Christ-soaked world has been something of a sycamore-moment for me. 

If Christ is already in all things (not such that we would worship things, but instead recognize the Christ that infuses and transcends all things), then Christ is at work redeeming, re-creating, blessing, and holding together all of life as we know it. 

The immanence of Christ isn’t merely contemplative. It leads to several practical applications. 

It means that we don’t have to figure out life, control life, or be afraid of life. Instead, the main task is to join life and to live in a world where Christ’s presence fills all in all. The challenge is to seek to recognize the Christ in each person, animal, and thing, and that all of life — suffering, joy, pain, and peace — remains deeply rooted to the suffering, joy, pain, and peace of God.

It means that when we lack clarity, sometimes we need to sit under or even climb a tree. Life is full of confusion. Darkness contrasts light. It’s easy to get lost in this world. Sometimes we need to take a walk, get up in the middle of the night to pray, get out of town, or even climb an actual tree to seek to catch a fresh glimpse of Christ. 

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all of your heart,” God said through Jeremiah (29:13).

It means that everything belongs. No one would ever say of the sycamores in California and Texas, “They don’t belong in the world.” Of course they do. But so many people feel like they don’t belong anywhere. A Christ-soaked world means that everything and everyone is included.

Finally, it means that all of life is profoundly connected. “The same thing that’s scrawled across the stars is written under our skin,” the Irish singer David Gray wrote. We live in a whole world, not a divided one. If we stay divided, it’s because we choose to. God’s wholeness pervades even the broken parts. 

Christian Wiman says this so well in his poem Every Riven Thing. The word riven means broken, shattered, unhealed. 

God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made

sing his being simply by being

the thing it is:

stone and tree and sky,

man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riven thing he’s made,

means a storm of peace.

Think of the atoms inside the stone.

Think of the man who sits alone

trying to will himself into the stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made

there is given one shade

shaped exactly to the thing itself:

under the tree a darker tree;

under the man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made

the things that bring him near, 

made the mind that makes him go.

A part of what man knows,

apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.

I pray you find a place of clarity today. I pray that in disorder you glimpse the order of God’s wholeness, God’s presence in all things.

I pray that in chaos you find peace. I pray that the broken parts of your life will be cracks through which the light can shine.

I pray that across the miles you see just how close and already connected you really are — to others, the world, and Christ.

I pray that you’ll sit under a sycamore soon and remember that you belong in this world.