Plant a Mulberry Tree in the Sea

17 Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22

October 6, 2019

The Rev. Meg Lovejoy

In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Not too long ago, I watched a movie, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, on Netflix. The movie is based on the book by the same name written by William Kamkwamba, a teen from a small village in Malawi. The country was in the middle of a severe drought and the crops were failing. The village had no electricity and the crops were dependent upon natural rainfall. The family had enough food to eat one meal a day. William had been going to school and was a good student, but was kicked out when his father could no longer pay the $80 school fee. With little to do to help his family or village, the young man began to think of things he might do to help and started spending time in the village library. William was intrigued with books on windmills and how to produce electricity with the use of wind power. Soon an idea came to him.

William decided he could build a water pump powered by the wind to irrigate the fields where the crops were planted. He enlisted the help of friends and began to scavenge in the area dumps to find supplies he might use. They collected plastic pipes, old bicycle parts, tractor parts, even old car batteries. He collected wood from the native blue-gum trees for construction of the windmill tower. Everyone thought he was crazy and when he borrowed some parts off his father’s bicycle (which was his only means of travel), his father was furious.

When all the parts were collected and put together and the windmill tower constructed, William flipped the lever to allow the spinning wheel to begin producing electricity. Soon the pump was working and water began flowing through the scavenged plastic pipes and out into the field. This was in 2002 and today, at the age of 32, William has built several windmills around his village, the tallest of which is 37 feet. He has taught classes on windmill building, received a scholarship to the prestigious African Leadership Academy, is an award winning author, has graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in environmental studies, has spoken on TED talks, and is known around the world by – his faith; his faith in an idea and how to make that idea happen. That tiny idea grew into something that saved his village from starvation and has led to a future, not only for William, but for many.

The apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith and his reply was, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Luke 17:6 What does Jesus mean by saying speaking of planting a tree in the sea? I’m sure most of us have seen pictures or videos of trees washed away into rivers and seas, but that’s not planting. We plant trees in dry ground, not in the water. Since when do we plant a tree in the sea? Jesus used an unusual image in telling his apostles, by your word of command, if you have genuine faith, a tree will move from dry land and be planted into the sea. Jesus is saying that nothing is impossible to faith, even faith the size of a mustard seed.

There is another meaning as well. In the language of the Bible, the tree is often used to symbolize a human being – people are compared to trees. Think of the well-known New Testament image of the tree bearing fruit as an illustration of a believer bearing spiritual fruit. What happens to the mulberry tree Jesus speaks of? It is transferred from the ground and planted in the sea, a place it doesn’t normally grow. Isn’t this what happens to us when we become followers of Christ? When we are baptized, a transplantation takes place. We are transferred from a place of darkness and death and transplanted into a place of life and the glory of the Kingdom of God. This transplantation is a picture of our salvation.

Think also of the image of putting down roots, as in the parable of the sower, as a way of getting a hold of something. This tree puts down roots into the soil and mud, just as humankind puts down roots taking hold of this world – the kingdom of darkness. When we make a commitment to Christ, we are uprooted from the world and transplanted into a new place that isn’t quite natural for us. As followers of Christ, in doing his will and following his ways, we are removed from the world that we are more familiar with: the world of pain, sorrow, darkness, and death. We are transplanted into the Kingdom of God: the world of peace, joy, light, and eternal life.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” So step out in faith. Even in a world of darkness, we are able to share love and light, hope and glory because we have been blessed with the faith of Jesus Christ. When we get discouraged, when we are in pain and sadness, we have prayer. We have the knowledge that we are loved and never alone. We have God’s grace and nothing we can say or do will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:39)