First Congregational Church UCC
220 West Lyon Avenue
Lake City, Minnesota 55041
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 SUNDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2021
 
Good Morning!
   
This is a beautiful season.

The autumn trees take center stage.

We drive around to look at them.

We also should listen to them.   

They are telling us how to live.

Jesus offered the same message.
  
-Pastor David
 
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First Congregational Church UCC
114 North Oak Street
Lake City, MN  55041
Here Is Today's Message

"The Trees Are Telling You, 'Let It Go'"
A message from
Rev. David S. Badgley

Sunday, October 10, 2021

     My friend Kevin is a nature lover (and his wife used to work with the Wisconsin DNR).
     Take a walk with Kevin through the countryside and he’ll stop and ask, “Did you hear that?”  You stop walking.  “Listen,” Kevin will say.  
     You listen, and you’ll hear the sound.  It’s usually a bird, whose call or song Kevin can identify.  
     Kevin will open your eyes and ears to nature around you, to things you probably would have overlooked or failed to hear.  
     I was talking with Kevin one day and remarking about the changing color on the leaves.  
     I said that I always thought the change was brought on by temperature. Kevin said, “Oh no, that’s not it.  They change because of the daylight.”  
     Kevin explained that a little nodule located where the leaf stem attaches to the branch senses the length of light.  As the daylight grows shorter the nodule closes off its supply of moisture to the leaf. That’s when leaves have less chlorophyll and change color.  
     When the leaf lets go, the nodule is capped off with a covering that can withstand 40 degrees below zero.  The cap protects a bud, a seed, that will grow into a new leaf when daylight lengthens to the appropriate amount in the spring.  
     Kevin’s explanation fascinated me and gave me a new appreciation for my favorite season of fall.  The leaves don’t drop as if the tree is dying.  The leaves drop so that new growth can appear at its appointed time.  
     So contrary to the way it looks, as trees appear to lose their life, they are preparing for new life.  Fall is a time of letting go of what is no longer needed in preparation for new life to come.  There are seeds in those leafless tree branches.  They will withstand the Minnesota winter, and grow again.  
     And it cannot happen without the leaves letting go. 
     Kevin’s nature lesson came to me at the same time I discovered a poem by Pamela Martin.  Her poem is called, “The Time For Turning.”  
     The words describe the changes we see in the season of fall, which illustrate the changes we must see in our lives.  Pamela Martin writes, 
To everything a season, to everything a time; 
a moment to move forward and leave the past behind.  
As summer turns to autumn and bids farewell to spring, 
there comes a time for turning to every living thing. 
The breezes change direction, the geese turn homeward bound. 
The leaf turns from its clinging and falls upon the ground.  
The flower turns from blooming to slumber in the snow.  
And so to all a season, a time for letting go.  
Now is the time for turning and this the place to start; 
for yielding to the yearning, for changing of the heart; 
a moment to surrender the things we should release, 
forgive and find forgiveness, and in forgiveness, peace.
     You can hear a number of biblical references in Martin’s poem.  The first line of the poem, “To everything a season, to everything a time,” comes from the book of Ecclesiastes, which says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)  
     The second line of the poem says, “a moment to move forward and leave the past behind.” That sounds like words from Jesus who said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”(Luke 9:62)   
     Jesus uses a farming illustration to describe our human tendency to hang onto the past, and to keep looking back while trying to move forward in life.  It doesn’t work well and puts us off course. 
    Perhaps the most powerful line in Pamela Martin’s poem is the one that says,  “Now is the time for turning and this the place to start; for yielding to the yearning, for changing of the heart.” Notice the directive, "Now." That sounds like Paul the Apostle who wrote, “Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation!”(2 Corinthians 6:2)
      Now is the time to turn your life toward God.  Now is the season for personal turning, when the breezes, and the geese, and the leaves are turning.   
     Don’t wait until January 1st– New Year’s Day – which is the typical day to make changes of the heart, mind and body in something called “resolutions.”
     Now is the time to turn our lives toward better, more faithful, Godlike, Christian behaviors, because now is the season when the autumn trees are telling us to let go of what is no longer needed in preparation for new life to come.  
    One renowned botanist, Peter Raven, says that if trees could talk they wouldn’t call this season, “The Fall.” They would call this season, “Get Off Me”. That’s because trees actually throw off their leaves.  
     That’s a good way to look at our lives. What do you need to throw off?  What things in your life are blocking your ability to grow emotionally, spiritually, physically and faithfully?  Is it some past mistake?  Is it resentment?  Are you yearning to let go of your fear, or worry or anxiety?  Now is the season for yielding to the yearning and changing your heart. 
     Do you need to tell your self-destructive behavior to “Get off me”? Do you need to let go of your anger toward someone?  This is the moment to move forward and leave the past behind, and this is the place to start.  
    The church has always been a place that calls faithful people to let go of behaviors and lifestyles that are contrary to our faith, our wellbeing and our walk with Jesus Christ.  Jesus said it in various ways, but most clearly in this passage from the Gospel of Mark,
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?  
Mark 8:34-36 (NLT)
     That same passage appears in three Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – and that repetition attests to its importance.  I agree the words sound threatening like an ultimatum:  “You’d better let go or else.”  Yet, that’s how it is with the leaves on trees.  If the tree does not let go of the leaves in autumn, the tree’s life is in danger. 
     During the spring, summer and early fall the leaves are making food by photosynthesis, which helps the tree to grow and thrive and reproduce.  When the days get short and cold, food production slows down, giving the tree two options: it can keep the leaves or let them go.   
    It might seem beneficial for the trees to retain their leaves in the fall and winter so they wouldn’t have to grow new ones.  Yet, when the cold winter weather takes a break and warms up and the sun is shining, that can make the leaves start making food by photosynthesis.  
     Botanist Peter Raven says, “They get some water up and they start operating and making food and then it freezes again.”  The leaves will be caught with water in their veins, and they freeze and die.  And when spring comes, there will be no leaves to start making food.  The tree will die.
     Therefore, the only healthy option is for the tree to let go of the leaves so that leaf bud will be ready to grow in the spring. 
     It is vitally important for us to understand that when our Christian faith calls us to surrender, and to yield, and to let go, and leave the past behind, it is not about the end of life any more than the autumn leaves leaving the branches is the end of life. 
     Remember there’s a bud, a seed, behind that leaf.  All this letting go is about letting that future seed grow.  
     God has designed nature to work this way, and I think God has designed humans to work this way.  That is why Jesus sounds urgent when he says, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it.  If you let go of your life for my sake, you will gain it.”  
     That is what the autumn trees are telling us: Let it go, throw it off, and prepare for new life to come.
     Just a couple of weeks after my friend Kevin gave me that nature lesson about the autumn leaves, I heard a song that was new to me.  I was listening to a radio program that features folk singers when I heard a woman singing, “Leaves don’t drop, they just let go, and make a space for seeds to grow.”  
     I listened to the rest of the song and heard the radio host announce the name of the singer. Her name is Carrie Newcomer and the song I heard is called, “Leaves Don’t Drop, They Just Let Go.” 
     It’s a song I listen to every year at this time, and one I introduced to you in worship previously.  
     Newcomer’s warm alto voice sings about memories of her mother and father, and the relationship she has with her grown up daughter.  The song tells how life is a process of letting go to allow new growth, just like the trees letting go of their leaves in autumn.  
     Here are the complete lyrics,
Leaves Don't Drop, They Just Let Go
I wrote this song with my friend Michael Mains. 
All of life is letting go. -Carrie Newcomer
 
The truth I learned when I was eight.
My dad swam the length of Spirit Lake.
It must have been a million miles.
This I knew was true.
 
My mother sang while hanging clothes.
Her notes weren't perfect heaven knows.
But heaven opened anyway.
This I knew was true.
 
Chorus
‘Cause leaves don't drop, they just let go,
And make a space for seeds to grow.
And every season brings a change,
A tree is what a seed contains,
To die then live is life's refrain.
 
I left her with some groceries,
Said, "Check the oil and call me please.”
And she said " Hey, ma, I'll be just fine."
This I knew was true.
 
I've traveled through my history,
From certainty to mystery.
God speaks in rhyme and paradox.
This I know is true.
 
And finally when my life is through,
I'm what I am not what I do.
‘Cause it comes down to you and your next breath.
This I know is true.

Chorus
‘Cause leaves don't drop, they just let go,
And make a space for seeds to grow.
And every season brings a change,
A tree is what a seed contains,
To die then live is life's refrain. 
     That last line of the chorus expresses the spiritual nature of letting go: To die then live is life’s refrain.
     Notice that it is not “To live and die,” which is how we conventionally view the order of life.  
     Notice that it is also not “To die and live,” just combining the two.  
     The line is, “To die then live,” which is a progression from one state to another.  By letting go, then we live.  
     That is the message Jesus was giving to his followers.  That is the message of our Christian faith.  That is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that we proclaim.  
     Carry this message and this song with you as you enjoy the autumn beauty. 
     The trees are telling you, “Let it go.”  
     Now is the season for turning to new behaviors with God and Jesus Christ. 
     What a beautiful season it is.
 

- Pastor David 
Watch the beautiful autumn images in this video, with song lyrics, as Carrie Newcomer sings, "Leaves Don't Drop, They Just Let Go." 
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