By Dave Denis
Pastor, United Baptist Church, Concord
(Below is the transcript of Pastor Dave's '5 Minute Dessert Challenge' to our Community at our Maplefest Agape Lunch on March 12, 2019)
We take trees for granted here in NH. I lived for about 22 years in Northern Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. It’s not that they don’t have trees. But while we have forests of trees, punctuated by the occasional field or pasture, Indiana has mostly fields – cornfields, soybean fields, alfalfa fields, more corn fields, punctuated by little splats of woodland. Combine that with the landscape where the horizon is a good 20 degrees lower than it is here – it is a strange and barren-looking place to our New England eyes.
Trees, though, are more than just part of the landscape. They surround us with beauty and goodness in many ways.
One of my favorite things to do in the fall is to find orphan apple trees when they are heavy with fruit. Sometimes along some back road, or near an old farmhouse you’ll see one or two old apple trees. There probably used to be an orchard at one time, but now all that remains is the small remnant of one or two lonesome trees. They might be gnarled, twisted, and ancient, but some of the ugliest trees bear the most delicious fruit. Behind the Police station in Barnstead is a tree that no one pays any attention to. A few years ago, we carried away bushels of apples that were possibly the best apples I have ever had, worth hundreds of dollars from a pick your own orchard. This abandoned orphan tree produce fruit with the PERFECT balance between the tart and the sweet. And that crisp juicy moment when you bite a fresh apple that you have just picked. There is this pop as you break the skin and that rich sweet living goodness just fills you mouth. These trees may be abandoned, un-pruned, unsprayed, but by God’s grace they do give good fruit.
Then there is heating with wood. I heated my house for 5 years exclusively with wood. My neighbor next door in Concord just felled a dying sugar maple. It’s a shame it was never tapped, but was rotting inside and in danger of falling on the house. They have a small woodstove in the house, but he has never heated with wood. He hasn’t yet experienced the joy of sinking the maul into the end grain and feeling that satisfying crack as the log flies apart. And then doing it again. And again. Am I the only one that finds that a well stacked woodpile is a work of art? I swear I could just pull up a chair with a good drink in my hand (perhaps some cider) and stare at a good woodpile for hours. A thing of beauty. Even before you toss those logs in the box on a frigid February night and they warm your bones as they burn.
We could say so much more about trees. Climbing trees as a boy. Walking on mountain ridges as thunderstorm winds whip giant trees around like grass. The colors of the fall. The beauty and utility of well-crafted wood furniture. The sounds of the breeze in the leaves.
Oh, and maple syrup. What else is there to say, once you say, “Maple Syrup?” So why all this about trees?
Our lives are framed by trees -- literally. In New Hampshire, we live in a tree infested neighborhood. But our lives are framed by trees in the cosmic sense a well. In a deeply abiding spiritual sense. Trees are rooted in the bedrock of reality. In the creation account of the book of Genesis, we read how “Out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden” (Gen 2:8-9 ESV)
The tree of life. The tree that imparts immortality to those who eat of its fruit. It is a metaphor for the life we have in God our creator. One commenter calls the Tree of Life the physical means by which God gave his full and abundant life to humans. In other words, the tree was the perhaps the first sacrament.
Of course, you know the story. Our first parents seized the autonomy that was available to them, disbelieving God’s word. They decided that self-determination was better than life. They did it be eating from the wrong tree. The forbidden tree. And we’ve all been suffering from it since.
And so, 2000 years ago, another tree was cut down, and pieces of it were joined together, and then raised up again – but this time with the human who is also God the creator nailed to it. His blood mingled with the congealed sap that oozed from those timbers in the heat of a Palestinian afternoon. Because he obeyed God, never participating in the forbidden fruit, his death that cross became a new tree of life for us. The physical death of his mortal body became a fruit of a new tree of a new kind of life– life in His Spirit. We mysteriously partake of this life whenever we share the Lord’s table.
And then from days yet to come, we have this other tree vision:
"The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him."
The city that is also a garden. That garden that is marked by a new tree of life. We might fancifully imagine the roots of the first, with the wood of that cross grafted onto those roots, and now living again. And this tree bears all kinds of leaves and fruit that bring healing to a broken world so that we may live forever in sweetness and goodness and the joy of the presence of God.
So next time you enjoy the heat of your woodstove, think of those trees that frame our existence – in the Garden, on the hill, in God’s eternal city. Next time you eat an apple, or pour yourself some maple syrup, think of how God has always used trees to impart His life to us. Thank him. Worship him.