November 2014

THE FALLING LEAVES

The township has announced its annual curbside pick-up of fallen leaves. The painted leaves of autumn – the yellow of birch, the orange of maple, and the red of oak – are turning brown. They will soon “let go” and drop. Up in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania the deer and Eric Frein are running out of cover. Closer to home we are surrounded daily with this stark reminder of the fragility and limitations of life. One of my favorite poets imagines the inner drama of an autumn leaf: stage 1 (“I’m beautiful and will be this way forever”); stage 2 (“what are these brown spots?”); stage 3 (“I’ll never let go”); and stage 4 (“It’s time for even me to let go”).

Whether you consider yourself a religious person or not, the falling leaves of   autumn raise ultimate or spiritual questions that haunt. If we cannot make things or even ourselves stay forever, what shall we do with that deflating and depressing knowledge? Will we indulge in forced action or obsession in an effort to deny (“I’ll never let go”)? Will we try to seize the day before us? Will we permit the falling leaves of autumn to drown out the truth of the buds of spring or the lush green leaves of summer?

The Bible invites us to follow the experience of life’s impermanence in a particular direction. In texts like Isaiah 40:8 we are urged to lift our gaze from the falling leaves to the constant communication that comes to us from the Eternal God. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Here’s what I get when I extend to that text the courtesy to speak to me. (1) The promises that God makes to preserve God’s creation and humanity in it (e.g., Psalm 24: 1-2) is the greater truth that overshadows the lesser truth of the changing of the seasons and our mortality. With apologies to Nicolas Cage, “Left Behind” should be left behind! (2) The power that God has to create by his word from nothing (“let there be… and it was so… and it was good”) is available to God in projects of re-creation and renewal as well. God speaks and the people of God come home from their exile, Jesus who was truly “dead and buried” is resurrected to glory, and even old age can be turned into a time of sparkling witness (Psalm 71:18). (3) The presence of God’s word in pricks of conscience, inspirations for action, and friendly reminders of our beloved status is available to us 24×7, all the days of our lives. The leaves fall but the whispers, “you’re better than that,” “what if…,” and “you’ll be okay; I am here” go on and on and on.

Pastor Lew

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