Martin Luther once said, "Even if I know tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree."
A recent article in the Chicago Tribune (4/21/20) was about a group of people who search for lost/heirloom apple trees in orchards that were abandoned long ago by the pioneers who planted them. Some of these orchards are in forests that have grown up around them. Some are in small canyons hidden around rural Idaho and Washington State. These "lost' apple varieties were likely brought to the area by early settlers from New England and the Midwest who brought saplings in buckets as they made their way across the country to settle in the West. These forgotten orchards are scouted out by two retired veterans, using old maps and county fair records. They have discovered an amazing number of previously unknown varieties of apples. One of the searchers said, "When I find an apple that's been lost, I want to know who homesteaded it... We cannot afford to lose the name of even one of these landowners."
I guess that all of us have had many different emotions during this time of quarantine. For me there have certainly been highlights. I praise God for the wonders of modern technology that have allowed me to spend lots of face time with my children, my grandchildren, my friends. And I discovered online yoga. I have greatly enjoyed my daily walks on the many lovely paths that the city of Valparaiso has made for us. There is the blessing of strolling along the shore of Lake Michigan watching the constancy of the waves. Out of my window I can see bluebirds and cardinals; geese and sparrows; herons and hawks; muskrats and turtles. None of them show any concern for the troubles of we humans. They, after all, have their spring chores to attend to!
Yet this long quarantine has often left me with a feeling of uselessness. I certainly have kept busy. I sorted and cleaned out my bookshelves and my files and my desk. I reorganized the pantry and straightened the linen closet. I swept the garage and cleaned the bathrooms. Not to forget the 500 piece jigsaw puzzles Mike and I solved! None of those activities were of any particular use to anyone outside my four walls. And none of these activities would stay done over time.
Which brings us back to Martin Luther and his apple tree. Luther's favorite book of the Bible was Romans. Through his reading of Romans, he discovered that the grace of God came to him not through what useful things he had done, but simply by his receiving and accepting God's Grace! That this shining gift of love was freely given to him (and us!) in Christ - - no strings attached! "The grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ is for all who believe." (Romans 3.22).
The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not because of any works." Paul goes on, "for we are God's workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2.8-10). There are things we are called to do out of our love for Christ.
Luther's great discovery in the Bible was that we don't earn God's favor by doing useful things, but we are enabled to do useful things when we trust in Christ and allow God's Holy Spirit to work with us and through us.
Remember those apple-bearing pioneers who carried their saplings across the country. It is easy to imagine that they may have believed their work to establish apple orchards in a new land ended up a useless waste of time. For reasons unknown to us these many years later, they left their trees behind, never guessing that their efforts would 'bear fruit' in the distant future.
During my time sheltering in place, I have not planted any apple trees. But I did plant some shaggy marigold seeds left over from last year's flowers. Something may come of that. I don't know. But that's the joy of it. We don't ever know which of our activities may be used by God in the future, in whatever way that God chooses.
Peace and Joy,
Pastor Nancy Becker