“As the hot, sticky hug of summer yields to the crisp embrace of autumn, nature embarks on a colorful and captivating transformation. Fall is our favorite.” So write the editors at the captivating Moss and Fog website, and I wholeheartedly concur. Fall is magical. I’ll be linking below to their August 17 post titled, “Exploring the World’s Most Impressive Fall Color Destinations.” First a few snaps and clips of my cherubs.
One of the factors that makes the Bible ring true is that it tells the worst about its best people. There’s never any attempt to hide or gloss over the moral failings of its heroes. There’s never any attempt to dress people up with slick packaging. Very often we see the ugly truth about God’s people, and, frankly, it can be upsetting.
Noah, Abraham, Samson, Jonah, and King David are but a few who come under significant censure by the biblical writers. So does Peter—the man to whom Jesus gave the “keys to the kingdom” (Matthew 16:19). That is surprising because Peter blew it so often as a follower of Christ.
Still, we like this rough-around-the-edges fisherman with a big mouth, don’t we? Perhaps we think to ourselves, “If Peter can blow it so badly and so often and still make it into stained-glass windows, then maybe there’s hope for me, too.” But we never take refuge in the fact that Peter stumbled badly on more than one occasion. We take comfort in the fact that Jesus dealt patiently with Peter. He dealt graciously—and at the deepest heart level—with Peter to help him become a useful disciple.
How did Jesus do it? It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pretty. It certainly wasn’t overnight, either, but it was real. In fact, the Peter we meet later in the book of Acts, and then also in the epistles, is almost a completely different person from the one we see in the Gospels. What happened? Why the transformation? Jesus labored to show Peter his desperate need for grace. And after Peter saw that need, he was finally ready to lead.
Specifically, after Peter denied three times knowing Jesus, the Lord came into his shattered world and gave him a new beginning, a new hope, and a new opportunity to set the record straight. Three times he asked Peter to re-affirm his love for him—one for each denial. Peter did exactly that, and Jesus gave him his job back right there on the spot. “Feed my lambs,” he said. In other words, “Teach my Word to others.”
Spiritually, it can be devastating to learn we can’t earn God’s favor, that his love is not for sale. It can’t even be purchased with the currency of good behavior. No, divine love is a gift. This “gospel” is good news for the broken, for those who think they’ve completely ruined their lives. Indeed, the restoration of Peter shows us that Jesus restores his people by re-storying them in grace. He takes back the pen we stole and writes a better ending than we ever could have imagined.
We cannot go back and change our past, but by the grace of God, we can start right where we are and make sure there’s a different tomorrow. “A bruised reed he will not break,” said Isaiah. “A burning wick he will not snuff out” (Isaiah 42:3). That’s the Jesus Peter knew. Harsh and condemnatory religionists would have taken back his keys. Jesus never did.
[ Please note that there is no sermon outline or PowerPoint file available for this message. ]
Only lovers see the fall a signal end to endings a gruffish gesture alerting those who will not be alarmed that we begin to stop in order to begin again.
The Beautiful Changes By Richard Wilbur
One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies On water; it glides So from the walker, it turns Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes. The beautiful changes as a forest is changed By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it; As a mantis, arranged On a green leaf, grows Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows. Your hands hold roses always in a way that says They are not only yours; the beautiful changes In such kind ways, Wishing ever to sunder Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.
The Wild Swans at Coole By William Butler Yeats
The trees are in their autumn beauty, The woodland paths are dry, Under the October twilight the water Mirrors a still sky; Upon the brimming water among the stones Are nine-and-fifty swans. The nineteenth autumn has come upon me Since I first made my count; I saw, before I had well finished, All suddenly mount And scatter wheeling in great broken rings Upon their clamorous wings… But now they drift on the still water, Mysterious, beautiful; Among what rushes will they build, By what lake’s edge or pool Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day To find they have flown away?
Theme in Yellow By Carl Sandburg
I spot the hills With yellow balls in autumn. I light the prairie cornfields Orange and tawny gold clusters And I am called pumpkins. On the last of October When dusk is fallen Children join hands And circle round me Singing ghost songs And love to the harvest moon; I am a jack-o’-lantern With terrible teeth And the children know I am fooling.
1. The zinnias did great this year, but the petunias were a bust. I’m still not sure what happened to them. The front yard rose bush is doing well, but the one in the back was devoured by rabbits. All in all, it was a good year for flowers, with some room for improvement next year. And now it’s time for the mums to shine, as “Lovely Fall” is in full swing.
2. I got to see a fine stage production of Pride and Prejudice Sunday afternoon at DeSales University. Jane Austen was a master of her craft and way ahead of her time. Moreover, Darcy and I are INTJs, so I understand him well. Alas, poor Lizzie has to wait for her happy ending until he figures things out. But once he does—wow, the romance sizzles. Lizzie, of course, contributes to the delay because of her stubbornness, but all’s well that ends well. (Wait, that’s another author!)
3. After the show I had dinner at the Braveheart Highland Pub in Hellertown. The food (classic Scottish fare and other selections) was outstanding, and the atmosphere is delightful. It was my third time there, and I’ve never been disappointed.
4. Yesterday my daughter began work as my own personal assistant and one of the caregivers for my mother-in-law. We had fun together and got some things accomplished. She’s extremely capable in so many areas, and she’s excellent with her grandmother. This arrangement will allow her to be a stay-at-home mom when the time comes and still earn an income. I am blessed.
5. Our World Communion Sunday service was well attended and deeply meaningful. There’s something powerful about the entire congregation declaring in unison after the fraction of the host, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Yes, indeed, these are “the gifts of God for the people of God.” So, eat up!
6. Another weekend highlight was reconnecting (by Zoom) with college friends who had gathered in Morgantown, WV for a CRU reunion and a college football game. These were the folks who had first shared the gospel with me and discipled me into the Christian faith many years ago. (It’s hard for us to get away while caring for my mother-in-law, so we were grateful that a brief Zoom option was made available.) I was surprised at how emotional I got just seeing the whole group together. As Michael W. Smith used to sing, “Friends are friends forever if the Lord’s the Lord of them.”
Leaves turning, Wood burning; Temps dropping, Mums popping; Cider boiling, Farmers toiling; Colors bursting, Soul thirsting, Breathe. And welcome to lovely fall.
First Fall By Maggie Smith
I’m your guide here. In the evening-dark morning streets, I point and name. Look, the sycamores, their mottled, paint-by-number bark. Look, the leaves rusting and crisping at the edges. I walk through Schiller Park with you on my chest. Stars smolder well into daylight. Look, the pond, the ducks, the dogs paddling after their prized sticks. Fall is when the only things you know because I’ve named them begin to end. Soon I’ll have another season to offer you: frost soft on the window and a porthole sighed there, ice sleeving the bare gray branches. The first time you see something die, you won’t know it might come back. I’m desperate for you to love the world because I brought you here.
Sonnet 73 By William Shakespeare
That time of year thou mayst in me behold When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. In me thou see’st the twilight of such day As after sunset fadeth in the west, Which by and by black night doth take away, Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest. In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, As the death-bed whereon it must expire, Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by. This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong, To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
Just a little bit of this and that as I take a brief break from the books.
1. Fall is magical. As Khalil Gibran has said, “Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.” In a similar vein, Ralph Waldo Emerson has said, “The earth laughs in flowers.” (See what I did there? Vein…) 🙂 Anyway, the crisp colors and beauty of this season always refresh my soul.
2. Speaking of laughter, six-year-olds laugh an average of 300 times a day. Adults only laugh 15-100 times a day. Be six again. (O.k., feel free to accuse me of being silly—but only after you read Proverbs 17:22. Life is too short to be curmudgeonly all the time.)
3. Martin Niemöller’s robe and preaching collar are now the property of the seminary where I work. I hope to do a short post on that in the near future. Niemöller is not really a household name, but he should be. (“They came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew….”) See, I can be un-silly, too.
4. “I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.” So said C. S. Lewis. Amen to that! Which books do you find yourself re-reading? Oh, you don’t read? As the adage goes (often misattributed to Mark Twain), “A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t.”
5. The Phillies are just two games back. Why do they always get close enough to give us hope but linger far enough behind to break our hearts? Fortunately, it doesn’t sting as much as it used to. While I thoroughly enjoy the game of baseball, I’m no longer a fan of professional sports.
6. On a happier note, SamJam (Samuel James) is just two months away from coming into view. I suppose I’ll be more of a puddle than usual this Christmas, getting to hold a newborn and all. This little guy is just the third blood relative I will have gotten to meet on the planet. What an honor!
7. Speaking of Christmas, I probably won’t be able to write too many original posts this year on the Incarnation—one of the richest, deepest, most profound subjects we could ever ponder. So, I’m thinking of doing some re-posts of the more popular ones I’ve done over the past few years. Since that almost feels like cheating, I’m hoping to write at least one original post this year.
8. My Advent series this year will focus on the history and theology of the carol “O Holy Night.” I did my own translation of it several years ago and discovered that the English version is way off the original French. Nevertheless, the lyrics are still poignant, and the tune is hauntingly beautiful. My favorite line is, “Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” This concept is the next unit for two of the seven classes I’m teaching this semester. The Scripture pulsates with the sentiment, though we often try to obscure it. As Karen Salmansohn put it, “When you realize how much you’re worth, you’ll stop giving people discounts.”
9. Finally, here are two songs for your weekend pleasure. The first is Disturb’s cover of “The Sound of Silence,” a song about incommunicability. It’s really a lament about individuals who are physically close to each other but still separated by their inability to communicate. They speak without expressing any substantive content, and they hear without really listening. The realm of silence, into which the noisy nothings of this world often crash, is painful to the author.
The second song is much brighter. It’s the One Voice Children’s Choir performing “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman. I love this group of young people, and I find the musical itself quite entertaining. In fact, my son and I have talked about doing a Friday night sing-along of the whole show. (All recording devices will be confiscated before we push play on the DVD!)
Thanks for reading. And have a lovely weekend!
P.S., Hurricane “Sam” is headed to the East Coast. Yeah, we knew that. (See #6 above.) 🙂
Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away; Lengthen night and shorten day; Every leaf speaks bliss to me Fluttering from the autumn tree. I shall smile when wreaths of snow Blossom where the rose should grow; I shall sing when night’s decay Ushers in a drearier day.
1. It’s a rich and full week here in our neck of the woods. Students from all over the country are coming to campus for the Doctor of Theology residency week. It will be exciting to meet many of these folks in person for the first time, as we’ve been doing our residencies online for the past year and a half because of the virus. People are better than pixels, even for us introverts! In addition to the residency this week, there’s my regular course load to teach, a new ICL class starting tomorrow, and a wedding to conduct this Saturday. All good stuff.
2. It was gratifying to help my first student across the dissertation finish line last month to complete his Th.D. degree requirements. His research project focused on the semiotics of Genesis 1, and it was filled with marvelous insights. If he can expand his work through Genesis 3, it would make for an excellent book that may well get a sizeable audience. We will do his hooding ceremony next May, Lord willing. I have another ThD student in the pipeline right now who is focusing on contextual evangelism.
3. Years ago we had a parishioner from Missouri whose dilapidated pickup truck was nicknamed “Old Blue.” We stole that name and applied it to our 2000 Chrysler Town & Country minivan, which we now use like a truck (e.g., hauling green waste, helping people move, transferring cardboard to the recycling center, etc.). Well, Old Blue is getting older—like the rest of us. I’m not sure if most of the brake fluid drained out, or if the brake pads need to be replaced, but it’s no longer safe to drive. Still, I’d like to get a few more years out of it, so I need to troubleshoot this puppy.
4. Speaking of repairs, the wind blew my shed door closed last week right as I was pulling the lawn tractor into it. The resulting collision bent the axle and tie rod, so that’s another equipment repair bill. The tractor is about 24 years old, and an upgrade is probably in order soon, but I’d like to get a few more years out of it if I can. On a happier note, our two main vehicles are running great. Ha!
5. My Zinnia’s revived and flourished throughout the summer, and they’re a definite go for next year. They made a great follow-up to my stunning red and yellow tulips, which really exploded in the spring. The petunias were just kind of meh, so we may go back to impatiens next time around. Alas, the dogwood tree had to be removed because of disease, but the holly tree is still soaring into the sky. I may need to get it trimmed again next year. My cherry tree is doing o.k., but it needs some TLC. We had too many aphids munching on it this summer, and I didn’t know how to handle them. After a little bit of research, I now have a plan. (Hopefully it will work!)
6. It’s now time to switch gears and get our mums into the hanging baskets. Fall has a magic to it like no other season. Bring it on!