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The Redder Maples in Our Own Backyard

The Redder Maples in Our Own Backyard

    We went leaf-peeping in Vermont recently.  We were disappointed.  A fungus encouraged by a wet spring and summer has turned the maple leaves a rusty yellow.  But only rarely did we catch a glimpse of the fiery reds on which, during one well-timed fall weekend long ago, we feasted our eyes, on the hillsides surrounding our cabin.  If you are into muted earth colors, then Vermont is your delight this fall.  If looking for crimson, stay away.  Better yet, visit West Hartford.

    Therefore, for the sake of those of you in my electronic congregation in Vermont and northern Massachusetts, here's a vision of your past and, God willing and the fungi doesn't grow, your future.  These photos were taken in our neighborhood.

    So the thought occurred that sometimes we look everywhere else but under our nose for beauty. 

    Like the evening under a tent on the lawn of a manor house while attending yet another fundraising event for my alma mater, a young alumnus observed in the company of our son-in-law that he, said son-in-law, had married the prettiest girl in the class.  One of the wisest, I would also add.  The exchange was pleasant banter, but, can you believe, it had never before occurred to me that my own daughter might be beautiful... on the outside, that is... on the inside, of course, I've always thought of her as a wonder, owing more to Mom than to Dad.

    Is it modesty that makes the grass greener everywhere else but where you do the mowing?  Or obtuseness of spirit? 

    Nathaniel Hawthorne chooses modesty. In his short story, "The Great Stone Face," which I read in junior high school (and you can read at your leisure:, the protagonist searches for the person legend prophesied would match the heroic mold of the granite face etched into the mountain overlooking the town.  He looks and looks, learns a lot about human foibles, but his quest goes unfulfilled. The reader and the townspeople come to perceive that it is the searcher himself, with his courage and compassion and wisdom, who becomes the hero he sought in others... there beneath the gaze of the man of the mountain, while he, in modesty, continues his quest.  

    Preachers, under the compulsion to say something important at least once a week, spend a lifetime of Sundays drawing examples of faith, hope, and love from the Bible, literature, and Reader's Digest.  George Buttrick, once of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church and homiletics professor at Union Theological Seminary, labeled this endeavor "Painted Ships on a Painted Ocean."  Another UTS homiletics professor (mine), Paul Scherer, warned us against pointing to Jesus and telling congregants to follow his example, that it was like holding an ostrich egg up to a bantam hen and telling her to go and do likewise.  In other words, choose carefully and realistically your illustrations of faithful souls.     

    To that end I have over the years peopled my sermon illustrations with those who have lived beneath the shadow of the cross (if not the profile of the Great Stone Face) within the churches I have served.  As when I went back home to preach this past September 17th: it was Tony the auto mechanic, Brian the son-in-law, and Evelyn Hassig who joined company with the prodigal and Pinocchio, Jesus and the Father.  Fact is, I had to delete from that sermon a lengthy digression on the Father's House, how in it, when at last we arrived, we would find Bert Keller playing the discovered Lost Chord, Dorothy DeBeauchamp welcoming guests at the Great Banquet Feast, Victor Provenzano making sure the Gates of Pearl were open and the lights lit in the living room of the Father's House, while Bob White had already used WD40 on those Gates to keep them from creaking. 

    Divinity is like the red maples in our neighborhood, close at hand, and one has no more need to look for greatness far afield than to drive a hundred miles north for an arboreal rainbow.


    A week later, the beautiful bright red maple, looked like this... suggesting another sermon I shall spare you.

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