Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Independence Tree

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What does independence mean to you?

The oak tree is the national tree of the United States. It represents strength and endurance which are qualities we prize as Americans. It is also a symbol of righteousness. 

It is often depicted standing alone in a field surrounded by grass. This is because of an ecological community where oak trees are the only tree surrounded by grassland. These result from fires because oaks are often the only species that can survive the fire. After the fire, grasses grow in quickly. Farmers like these kinds of fields for their livestock. The occasional oak tree located in a field provides shade for the animals on hot days. The thick bark provides a good surface for livestock to scratch their backs without damaging the tree. When growing alone as in a field, their crowns will spread wide, as much as 80 feet of ground coverage. They create an imposing image. 

At first glance it seems these oak trees are the epitome of independence. They are hearty enough to withstand forest fires and livestock. They live extremely long lives living to 300+ years, and are resistant to pests and rot. Their only real enemy is man who may cut them down. Luckily we tend to prize oaks so we often leave them when cutting down others around them. 

Oak trees are mentioned in the Bible a few times. Most notable are the oaks of Mamre that Abraham camped near. Some versions say great trees but they are often called oak trees as oaks are common in that region. These trees are closely associated with Abraham and his legacy. 

Let’s read about the most important event that took place under one of these trees. Please read Genesis 18:1-10 In this text we learn that Jesus himself visits Abraham. Here he promises to give Abraham and Sarah a miracle child through whom all nations will be blessed. Why did Jesus choose to visit Abraham in person and promise to bless the whole world through him? Was it because of Abrahams money or popularity? No. Let’s read further to find out. Please read Genesis 18:16-26.

The conversation continues until Jesus agrees to spare Sodom and Gamora if there are just 10 righteous people in the city. This is the true reason God chose Abraham to be the line through which the savior would come. Abraham was a righteous man. Now read Isaiah 61:3 (note some versions simply say trees but most say oaks in this verse). In the Bible, oaks represent righteousness. Why was Abraham considered a righteous man? Finally, please read Romans 4:13. Abraham was made righteous through his faith in God. 

I want to share a few more facts about oak trees with you. They are considered a keystone species. If the oak trees in an ecosystem die off, this can cause the ecosystem to crash and many other species can die in that region. Just like if you pulled the keystone out of an arch, the whole thing can come tumbling down. Oak trees are believed to support at least 4000 other species either directly or indirectly. Many common native plants play host to 15-30 species directly or indirectly on average. There may be a few species of mammals that eat those plants for food also. But oaks are unique among trees in North America. They are believed to support the most species of any tree that grows here. They can withstand fire as was mentioned. They are able to withstand hurricane force winds and droughts better than many other species. They can do this because of their tap root. When an acorn falls to the ground, the first sprout does not grow up as with some seeds, it grows straight down. The sprout is sensitive to gravity and knows which way to grow. It does not grow sideways or at an angle. It boroughs straight down into the earth. It continues growing like this for the life of the oak tree. Other roots will later grow sideways and every which way. But the taproot is the anchor. It literally roots the tree deep in the earth. 

It also reaches water sources deep in the ground that other plants and trees often cannot reach because they do not grow deep roots. More importantly, the roots of the tree form connections with up to 40 different species of fungi growing in the dirt. This is common to many tree species. Tree roots form mycorrhizal networks with the fungi underground. The fungi break down the nutrients in the soil and pass it on to the tree roots, the tree in turn provides carbon from the atmosphere to the fungi. This symbiotic relationship is vital to tree survival. 

Some acorns get carried long distances from its parent tree and deposited in the middle of a field where no other trees are growing. Where do the fungi come from? After all, each tree species can only from these networks with specific fungi species. Well, the spores of the appropriate fungi are transferred near the young tree by animals, usually birds or mammals. 

The point is that the oak tree, symbol of independence, strength and righteousness, cannot function in isolation. We tend to picture oaks growing alone in a field, or our yard. But they are not alone. They are supported first and foremost by their long root growing deep in the bedrock of earth. Second they are supported by a vast community of fungi, mammals, birds, and other creatures. Their strength comes from the community that grows around. 

It was the same for Abraham, his righteousness came not from within himself, but from a deep and abiding faith rooted in the True rock. He was supported by the community of believers around him that left Ur along with him, his wife, Lot, his trusted servant. These people were flawed, but they trusted Abraham and supported him. 

The strength and independence of our country does not come by everyone living for himself. It comes from community. That is why God has blessed this country. That is why the United States has been a symbol of righteousness and freedom among the nations. No one can deny our country is imperfect. We know according to prophecies in Revelation that one day it will persecute the people of God. But it has been a place of freedom that has allowed the Gospel to spread to every corner of the earth to help bring about the second coming of Jesus. When you think about the independence we celebrate in this country. Remember that independence is dependent on community. Most importantly, remember that we are never truly independent agents unto ourselves. We depend on God for everything. If you want the righteousness of Abraham, you need a deep abiding faith in the Savior. 

Written by David F. Garner

Note, this worship thought was originally prepare for an oral presentation and no sources for the facts mentioned were kept.