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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Out in the Narthex, there is a copy of painting of an apple tree I commissioned seven years ago when I was living in Germany and serving as the Director of the ELCA’s Wittenberg Center. The artwork by Tom Maakestad was intended to be used as a commemorative poster given to the donors to the Center. The poster illustrates one of the most famous and poetic phrases attributed to Martin Luther. “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would plant an apple tree today.” It is a good phrase worth meditating on this Confirmation Sunday. It pairs well with an equally appropriate saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” This is certainly true of our two confirmands, Dominik Amann and Raymond Kappel.
Martin Luther has long been associated with trees. There is a beloved German tradition that states that Luther created the first Christmas tree. It is said that as he was walking alone on a bright, snow-covered, star lit night in an evergreen forest, he came upon a snow covered, moonlit tree. He was so enchanted by the sight, that he brought an evergreen tree inside, and put candles onto it to celebrate the mighty thoughts of Christ coming down from heaven to bring life eternal. The story of apple tree is just as colorful.
One morning, old Martin Luther leaned out his kitchen window. The sky was blue. The yard was full of chickens. The dog was asleep on the porch. The apple trees in the orchard looked like wedding dresses, white blossoms shining in the light. Dr. Luther drew in a breath of April air, and said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant an apple tree today.”
Of course, not all of the sayings and legends attributed to Luther are authentic, such as the phrase, “The devil has all the good tunes.” This of course, might explain the cause of Lutheran hymnody today. After the devil had picked through the best, we had little to choose from. Luther did enjoy music, so perhaps, in his children’s bedroom, strumming his lute in an evening lullaby, he whispered to his wife Katie, “I have no use for cranks who despise music, because it is a gift of God. Music drives away the Devil and makes people joyful.” Luther did enjoy a good beer, which may have inspired his famous quote, “Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer!” As for love and marriage, Luther himself was a middle aged man when he wed and he felt the need to marry more out of pity for his wife Katherine von Bora than out of love, but somehow he found the inspiration to write, “Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”
As for today’s saying, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree today.” The phrase may not be authentically Luther, but it is most definitely Lutheran. The first written evidence of this saying comes from 1944. Under the Third Reich, the Germans in the Eastern territories were beginning to experience great hardships. The saying offered more than an optimistic hope that tomorrow would be better. It was a confident cry that even in the face of destruction one should not give up on God’s grace and hope.
Now you may be wondering: So why is Luther’s lesson on the apple tree so appropriate for Confirmation Day? What is so meaningful about a simple apple tree? After all the oak tree is far stronger. The birch tree is more romantic; the weeping willow is more poetic. Why the apple tree? I rather suspect that Martin Luther regarded the apple tree as a symbol of God’s Holy Word and the promises of faith. Like Scripture, the apple tree is there to help sustain us in times of want, to give us beauty in the times of uncertainty, and to teach us that God’s hope is to be found both now in its planting an apple tree and in the future in the gift of the fruit itself.
Our confirmands may not have understood why their parents were bringing them to the church and fulfilling their obligations they committed to at their child’s baptism. These young men certainly couldn’t have imagined that going to Sunday School and confirmation was about planting and tending to an apple tree, but they knew that something was happening in their lives. They knew that something was growing. It was a faith planted like an apple tree at their baptism. Luther taught that Christians should have faith and trust in the promises that Jesus bestowed on them at baptism. In his writing, he wrote.
Dominik: Even if all things are in confusion, heaven and earth are merged, all the gates of hell are moved. in most cruel fashion, all you have to say is: “I am baptized.” Then all is well with you; in this confidence you will conquer, for God is taking care of you.”
This confidence is nurtured through the work of the church and the Holy Spirit as we grow in faith and knowledge of Christ and it is nurtured in the home through the support and care of loving parents.
Dominik: As a child I learned about God in Sunday School. Lake of the Isles has helped me to understand God in many ways: First Communion with Raymond, Sunday School and Confirmation. All throughout my life, my parents have been there for me ready to help. My parents have had a strong influence on the development of my faith. They place a lot of value in going to church every Sunday, even when I want to stay in bed and sleep. Both my parents taught me about God, the Lord’s Prayer, how to pray and when to pray.
Of course, there is the Third Commandment that teaches us, including parents, about how it is good to go to church to strengthen our faith. We are to remember the Sabbath Day and to keep it holy. So what does this mean?
Raymond: We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.
And it’s not limited to Sundays only. Although some moments are more significant than others.
Raymond: I have spent a lot of time in church learning about God and all of the things tied to religion, but when I feel the closest to this feeling God is when I am in church on Sundays listening to the music. The feeling of the sound and all the people singing feels very holy to me.
Knowing Jesus is an important element to our Christian journey and development of faith. We hear the stories of Jesus life and miracles in Sunday School, and later in Confirmation, it is where we learn to recite the words to the Apostles’ Creed and its meaning.
Raymond: I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.
But what does this really mean?
Raymond: I have learned a lot about Jesus and how he can help guide my life. Jesus will always forgive me no matter what sin I do. He will guide me away from trouble and put me in the path of to success.
Learning to tend your apple tree can also lead you to new places where you may discover new ways to nurture your faith.. After all, the Christian faith is to guide you outside the walls of the church.
Dominik: My faith journey has been influenced by a variety of things including Boy Scouts, Lake of the Isles Lutheran Church, my parents and many more things. This year I did the Protestant Religious Emblem in Boy Scouts. We worked on the Emblem while going backpacking in the State Parks of Minnesota. This was very enjoyable, having conversations about faith and connecting to God in the wilderness.
Finally, planting and tending an apple happens when we come to the Lord’s Table to receive the gifts of Christ’s body and blood and to be strengthened by these gifts. It is where God freely nurtures and renews us. It is where you are invited to come and taste, and see that the Lord is good. Whether or not you feel worthy to come or not, you always have a place at the Lord’s Table. God loves you more than you love yourself. And what are the benefits of this holy meal?
Dominik: The words “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sin” show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because where there is forgiveness of sin, there is also life and salvation.
Tending an apple tree, like the journey of faith, is an ongoing process itself. It is like the confirmation program. You cannot rely on last year’s care and pruning, and someone else’s faith, but you must learn to tend to the tree anew yourself. And when you do, you will discover abundant fruit in God’s Word sufficient for each day, each new year, and each new struggle
Raymond and Dominik, that is the gift of faith, the apple tree that you have been given by your parents and this church. It is is now your responsibility. They are entrusting the care of your faith to you. So taste again the sweetness of the Word, and surround yourself by the fragrant scent of God’s promise and believe. For “even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to piece, I would still plant my apple tree today.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.