Belief in Books - The Giving Tree

John 3:11-21

11 I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. 16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.

19 “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. 20 All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. 21 Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.”

 

Summary of The Giving Tree

This is the story of the relationship between a tree and a young boy.  The tree offers various things to the boy as a part of their relationship together.  Over time as the boy grows in some ways the relationship becomes more strained.  It becomes less about what the boy offers the tree and more about how the tree gives and gives to the boy.  The giving by the tree reaches a sacrificial point as it offers up its branches and even its trunk to the boy (who is now a man).  In the end, the boy, now an old man returns and the relationship becomes mutual again as they sit together.

Thoughts on the passage:

“For God so loved the world …” this is one of the passages of scripture that many if not most of us know by heart.  It is one of the core messages of the Gospel.  It reminds us of the sacrificial love of God that can be seen in Jesus, who lives and dies, that all of us might have eternal life.  It offers us an understanding of what it means to love and sacrifice that defies our assumed definitions.

When it comes to gift giving we often tend to think in terms of costs and limits.  When I was a kid, we had an amount we could spend on gifts for each other at Christmas.  Most of us when we buy a gift for a wedding think in terms of amounts.  We know that giving too lavish of a gift can be just as unseemly as giving too cheap a gift.  When it comes to giving, God gives the most lavish gift of all, and offers it to everyone.

Reading The Giving Tree is always a little awkward for me.  I cannot help but feel a little embarrassed or sad as the tree gives itself away to the boy who in turns seems to not really fully appreciate the magnitude of the gift.  Maybe the same is true for us when it comes to the passage from John.  We hear the words so often, “for God so loved the world that God gave God’s Son,” that I wonder if we truly appreciate the meaning of the gift.  We know intellectually what God has done for us, but do we see it all the time from the outside, like when we read the story and see how the tree gives itself fully so that the boy might have life.

We need to own our junk.  We need to own our mistakes.  We need to own the ways that we have received God’s grace and never really acknowledged its full value.  When we do that we can begin to grasp what this passage it trying to tell us.  Until we do that I think we are more like the people in darkness, struggling to believe in the light.  If we do not realize our needs, we can never really know how much God is already doing to address them.  It is only once we acknowledge our sins that we can really embrace what God is doing for us.

This is where the story ends, but it is not the end for the Gospel and it not the end for us.  First, we need to acknowledge what God has done and continues to do for us.  Next, we need to ask ourselves, what are we willing to do for God.   Finally, we need to put our faith, our love, our gratitude into action.  God is all in for us, are we all in for God?

What does it mean to be all in for God?  What does it mean to show the same sacrificial love to God that Christ offers to us?  I think we first need to start by talking about what it does not mean.  It does not mean selling everything you have and going to live in a religious community like a monastery.  It could mean doing that, but that is not the only way to be all in for God.  Some people are called to just such a thing, but that is not the only way for us to be all in for God.  It also does not simply mean literally giving everything you have to God because God has given everything to you.  So, no, you do not have to empty your whole wallet into the offering plate.  Giving ourselves fully to God means something different and really it means something more.

If we just think about our gifts in terms of the offering plate, or even more broadly in terms of our time or our talents, we are still forgetting what it is that God really wants.  God wants to be in a relationship with us so much that God is willing to do and to offer whatever it takes to make that relationship work.  Are we willing to see our whole lives as being about a relationship with God?  Thinking of things relationally rather than like a transaction.  In The Giving Tree, the transactions are what is highlighted, but underneath, what is really important is the relationship.

When we think about Christ’s sacrifice, it is easy to think about the transaction, his life for our life.  Instead we should be thinking about the relationship.  God wants to be in relationship with us.  We need to live into that relationship as well.  At the end of the story, the boy, now an old man understands that relationship with the tree.  Jesus dies for us so that we can have that relationship with God, so that we can freely live into the light instead of clinging to the darkness.

Our gifts and our sacrifices are not meant to be a transaction; they are meant to be part of a relationship.  Our love for our spouse is not about the flowers we buy for special occasions or even the kind words we say, it is about everything we do.  It is about being in a shared life together.  Our relationship with God is the same way.  The money we put in the offering plate is not what God wants.  God wants everything we do to be about our love for God and our relationship with Christ.  The way we eat, the way we talk, the way we work, all of it reflects our relationship to God.  Christ gave everything for this relationship.  Are we willing to give everything as well?

Questions to Ponder:

What does going all in for God mean to you?

Jesus talks about loving darkness and loving light, what darkness do you need to banish in your life?

What is one change you are going to make in your relationship to God?

Prayer:

God you have given all for us.  Help us to remember this great gift.  Help us also to embrace the light we have come to know in Christ.  Give us the strength and courage to live fully into the life that you offer and to be faithful disciples of you.  Amen