It is said that someone once asked Martin Luther what he would do today if he knew Christ would return tomorrow.
And Luther replied, “I would still plant my apple tree.”
I have known for several months now that an end was coming. In just a few days we will load those worldly goods on a big truck and drive away from this church. It will mark the end of weekly worship face-to-face with one another. It will be the end of shared daily life—borrowed cups of sugar and chance meetings at the park. It will be the he end of regular table fellowship. It will be the end of visiting the widows and praying with the sick and rocking the babies. Day by day, the boxes pile up and the fridge empties and moving day is coming fast.
And, knowing the end is coming, what do I do today?
I will plant a tree.
I will walk across the room and introduce myself to a church visitor. I will crouch down and ask the three-year-olds what they learned in Sunday school. I will visit the widows. I will invite someone for lunch after church. I will pray with and for the suffering. I will speak a word of Christ.
I will plant a tree.
I will plant a row of them.
I will plant an orchard.
No, I will never go apple-picking. Never see the apples hanging on the branches. Never taste the juice or bake them into pies. But planting spiritual trees is an act of obedience before the face of God. The writer to the Hebrews exhorted his readers to continued faithfulness “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25). The end is coming, and today I will obey.
Planting trees is also an act of humility. It’s tempting to think we’ll finish what we start. Or only to start what we think we can finish. But, we look only to “Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2, KJV). It is Jesus who starts. And Jesus who finishes. Hear the words of the great Apostle Paul: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:5-7). It’s not my tree, and they were never my apples, whether I’m around for the cider-press or not.
I greet a visitor. I put money in the offering plate. I sing Scripture songs with the kindergarteners. And in these labors I demonstrate my hope of eternity. Any fruit on this fallen earth will certainly seem small. It might look slightly bruised. It’ll probably harbor a worm or two. I’m not really planting trees for this world. I’m planting them for the next. I cling to that promise of my God, “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Ps. 126:6). Only heaven will have barns big enough for all the harvest.
I’m just planting trees on my way out.