There are lots of different kinds of birds, from the sparrows to the young ravens which do cry, and the Lord God feeds them all. He cares for them and gives them life, He shelters and protects them; and not one of them falls to the ground or perishes apart from His divine wisdom.
There are lots of different kinds of plants, as well, from the lilies of the field to the tall cedars of Lebanon, and the Lord God gives them life, also. He provides nutrients in the soil, He causes His rain to fall and water the earth, and He causes His sun to shine, so that, by His creative providence, the plants grow and flourish and bring forth leaves and flowers for beauty and fruit for food.
What sort of a tree are you? What sort of a planting in the Kingdom of God? Whether you are big and tall or short and small, what fruits are you bearing to the praise and glory of your Creator?
Are you living by His grace and growing in faith and love in the place where He has planted you? Are you flourishing and bearing fruits that gladden the hearts of men and glorify your Father in heaven? Are you ever green, even in your old age? Or barren, dried up, and withering away?
The fruits of faith are borne from within a life lived in and with God. This is a mystery beyond your knowledge and ability, given and worked in your body and life by the Lord Himself. You are His planting, and He provides what is needed for life and growth and flourishing. He provides the soil in which you are firmly rooted; He provides the rain from heaven that brings forth abundant fruit in you; and He provides the sunshine that warms and lights you and sustains your life in Him.
The fruits of faith are manifestly those of love toward God and for your neighbor in His Name. In faith and love toward God you offer Him your thanks and praise, because everything you are and have is a gift freely given by His grace. He has no need of anything from you, but He provides for you in every way. The earth and all its fulness, all its plants and animals, the trees and flowers, the birds of the air, and all the beasts on a thousand hills are His — so what will you give to Him?
But, just so, as everything you are and have is a gift, for your part there is only thanksgiving and praise in return to the Lord. Not because He needs even your thanks, but because it is meet, right, and salutary for you to give Him thanks and praise. And there is nothing else that your heart of love can offer to Him who gives you all things, except to give thanks to Him, to praise His Holy Name, and to glorify Him for who He is and all that He has done for you in both body and soul.
The main way that you return such thanks and praise and glorify His Name is by confessing what He has said to you. You confess His Word when you pray as He has taught you, and as you speak the faith before Him and to your neighbor. To speak of all the marvelous works of the Lord your God, that is how the Holy Scriptures describe the praise and thanksgiving of His holy people.
Unto the Lord your God you offer such thanksgiving, the fruit of lips that praise His Name. And in faith toward Him you exercise love for your neighbors in the world. Indeed, you are free to pour yourself out in self-sacrificing love and charity and kindness for your neighbor, precisely because you know that your God and Father in heaven provides you with all that you need, and, whether you live or die, all good things are yours in Christ Jesus.
Is that what your life is like? Is that how you are living? On the one hand, it is not a hard life, because it is by the grace of God through faith in His Gospel; it is not earned but received as a gift. But on the other hand, it is not easy, either, nor is it lacking in works. To love your neighbor does require conscientious effort, long-suffering patience, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, such as the Lord Himself has first of all extended in love toward you. And that you might learn to live and love as He does — that you should be conformed to the Image and Likeness of God in the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus — He bestows this life upon you from the Cross, and He works this life within you by the way of His Cross, by repentance and faith in His forgiveness of your sins.
Apart from His forgiveness, it is impossible for you to live and grow and flourish in the Kingdom of God. It is impossible to praise the Lord your God or love your neighbor as you ought, except your God and Father give you life in Christ Jesus by His Word and Holy Spirit. And this He does within His House by the Liturgy of His Gospel, by the preaching and Sacrament of Christ Jesus.
“In the courts of God,” that is where He does His work and has His way with you. That is where He causes the Rain of His Word to shower down and the Seed of His Word to be planted, whereby the Sunshine of His Spirit shines upon you in Christ Jesus. And that is where the Lord takes you in hand, raises you up in love, and nurtures and sustains you with the Fruits of His Tree of Life.
It is by the righteousness of God that you live. And that righteousness of God is not that you keep His Commandments or fulfill His Law; it is rather found in His grace, mercy, and forgiveness, in His salvation of sinners. That is the Power and the Glory of God — and that is His righteousness — that He justifies sinners and gives them life instead of death for the sake of His divine Love.
To live by this righteousness of God is, first of all, simply to hear what He speaks and receive what He gives. Look to Him for all good things, and trust Him for all that you need, in the confidence that He daily and richly provides for your body and soul, for this life and for eternity with Him. And in such faith, return thanks to Him for all His benefits, confess what He has said and done, call upon His Name in faith, hope, and love, and serve your neighbors with the charity of Jesus.
By contrast, when you attempt to live by and for yourself, by your own reason and strength and for your own advantage and benefit, then you will die in your sin. For that is not the righteousness of God, it is the idolatry of self-righteousness and covetous lust, whereby you do not receive but spurn the gifts of God, His forgiveness, life, and salvation. That is not only the wrong way to live, it is no way to live at all. It is not life but death. There is nothing in you by which to grow and live and flourish. Rather, relying on yourself and serving yourself, you consume yourself and perish.
Remove a plant from the ground, withhold water from it, and keep it hidden in the dark away from the sun, and you know that it will not survive. Likewise, if you turn away from God, depart from His Word, and hide yourself away from your neighbor, then you cut yourself off from the very life which the Lord desires to give you with Himself and in communion with His Body, the Church.
Apart from the Word and Spirit of God there is neither faith nor love. And where there is no faith and love, there is no life. If you appear to be strong and mighty now, and yet have no faith in God and no love for your neighbor, then you are already dead and dying, and you are already useless.
But how do you live and grow and flourish in the Kingdom of God? How is it that your dry and useless tree becomes green and fruitful? And how is it that your low tree shall ever be exalted? How is it that you, a sinner, are raised up from death to life in the Kingdom of God, in the courts of the Lord’s House, in the midst of His Jerusalem, planted and alive on the heights of Mt. Zion?
The answer and solution — your rescue and salvation — are found solely in Christ Jesus. For the Kingdom of God is found solely in Him, the one righteous Man who flourishes and bears abundant fruit to the praise and glory of His God and Father and for the benefit of all His neighbors, even for His enemies. He is the true Seed, the Lord’s own planting, and His Cross is the Tree of Life.
God thus speaks to you by His Son, who comes in His own Body of flesh and blood like yours, in which He also bears the full weight of your mortality, all of your infirmities, burdens, and sorrows, and all of your iniquities, trespasses, and sins of thought, word, and deed. He bears it all in His own Body to the Cross, where He also puts it to death in Himself and then buries it forever. For thus was He planted in the ground — in the dust of the earth — as the tiniest of Seeds in the dirt.
But whereas your sins have all been done away with by His Cross and Passion, put to death and put away forever in the tomb, God has raised this same Jesus from the dead in righteousness. He has risen from the dust of the earth, and, what is more, He grows and thrives and flourishes over and above the mighty cedars of Lebanon and all the massive redwoods of California. His Cross is a Tree above them all, although it appears to be very small and weak and fruitless and helpless.
And in His Resurrection, He bears and brings forth abundant Fruit from that Tree of His Cross. Indeed, His own crucified and risen Body is the Firstfruits of the New Creation. And all this He has done, not selfishly, not for His own benefit — He needed nothing — but He has done it all for you, that He might feed you, and that you might also live and grow and flourish in and with Him.
By the preaching of the Gospel He sows His Seed throughout the world, even to the ends of the earth, in order to make disciples from all the nations by way of catechesis and Holy Baptism in His Name, and by feeding and nourishing His disciples with His Word and Flesh within His Church.
By His atoning Sacrifice, His Cross has been planted and established as the Tree of Life in the midst of Paradise; and just so, it bears its good and blessed Fruits here within His Church on earth.
His Cross has become a place of shade in the noonday heat, a place of rest for weary travelers who cannot make it any farther. In the branches of His Tree of the Cross birds of every kind abide in safety and peace. The leaves of His Tree are Medicine for the healing of the nations; and the Fruits of His Tree are given and poured out for you and for the many as nourishment and refreshment.
His Tree of the Cross is your shelter and protection, because it is by and from His Cross that you receive the forgiveness of all your sins. Daily you are forgiven by the Word of the Cross. Daily and richly you are fed with its grace, mercy, and peace. From the Cross the Lord Jesus hands over His Holy Spirit, pours out the Water and the Blood, and feeds you by His own wounded hand.
He is the righteous Man. The Kingdom of God is not only like Him, but it is found in Him, and it is here at hand in Him. For He has planted Himself here on earth in order to give Himself to you; and, indeed, He has planted Himself in you — into your ears, into your heart, mind, and body — that He should live and abide in you, and that you should live and abide in Him, now and forever.
Thus, by the washing of the water with His Word, you have been planted together with Him in His death and burial, that you should also rise and live with Him and bear abundant fruit to the glory of His Holy Name. So it is that, as often as you are returned to the waters of your Baptism by daily contrition and repentance, by His preaching of the Law and the Gospel, you are watered with the Water of God, enlivened by His Holy Spirit in body and soul, and fruitful in His Righteousness.
Here, too, by His Word, in the courts of the Lord’s House, you are seated as a guest at His Table. And here you are fed like a baby bird receiving a worm from its mama. For here your own dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, feeds you with the Fruits of His Cross, with His own Body and His Blood — into your mouth and into your body — to bear good fruits in you after His own kind.
See how tenderly He cares for you! Here you can make your nest and find your shelter and your shade. Here you are safe and sound. Here you are not found naked and exposed in your sin, but fully clothed and beautifully adorned in the righteousness of Christ Jesus. You are not spurned or cast away from His presence, nor relegated to death and the grave, but raised to Life in Him.
The Psalmist declares that the birds of the air find a nesting place at the Altar of God. Those are not careless or throwaway words, but Words of the Spirit and of Life. For it is here at the Lord’s Altar, little bird, that you find your nesting place. Here are you fed, and here do you live.
The Lord your God is gracious and merciful, He is full of compassion and great kindness. And this is the Home He has made for you. So it is that, living to and from this House of the Lord, you do bear good fruits after His own kind, wherever in the world He has planted you — according to whatever sort of tree He has created you to be, whether you are big and tall or short and small. As surely as the Lord has gotten Life for you by His Tree, and as surely as He gives you Life from His Tree, so surely does He cause you to live and grow and flourish in the Kingdom of God forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.