Preach stared down at the faded mat, the reds and blues, pale and threadbare. “Guess that’s me and the church, Lord. Old, washed out and past our best.”
Look outside, Preach.
The old man struggled off his knees and limped to the cabin window. For as far as he could see, natural forest spread over soaring slopes, a mass of gold and scarlet with splashes of verdant green. “Just a bunch of old trees there, God.”
Look at them more carefully.
Preach stood for a moment, then shrugged on his lumber jacket and stepped outside. “They just trees, Lord. I’m worried about my flock. All our youngsters have upped and gone to the cities; to Ottawa and Quebec and Toronto. There’s no fresh blood here apart from tourists. Just tired old people.”
What type of trees are these, Preach?
He gazed around. “Mostly sugar maple.”
And what does that make you think of?
“Our flag... Canada...syrup.”
Your people are like these trees, Preach.
“Really?” He stood for a long while before heading into the forest, breathing crisp air and marvelling at warm threads of sunlight. “How can that be, Lord?”
You tell me.
Preach kept walking, the ground a spongy mat beneath his feet. “Well...the trees are old.”
And is that good or bad?
“Good for sugar maples. It takes decades before we get a whisper of a seed from them.”
The correlation began to sink into Preach’s heart. “You mean our age is an advantage, God.” He changed direction slightly and started heading west. “I never thought of it that way.”
And what happens when you make cuts in a tree?
The sap runs out and we make maple syrup.”
Birds warbled softly above him as the trickle of hope began to swell. “Best I go get one of those tourist brochures from Jim.”
The local sugar shack was set in a hollow in the forest and accessed by a paved pathway. In spring and summer, tourists poured in to see the sap running from the trees and being boiled up in big cauldrons. Preach could almost smell the aromatic wood fires and the tang of burnt sugar and warm maple.
He tapped on the door and presented his request. “Afternoon, Jim. Could you spare me one of those papers you give your tourists?”
Climb to the top, Preach.
Brochure in hand, the old man merged back into the still coolness and clambered upwards to his favourite thinking spot. “I’m here, Lord.” he said as he lowered himself onto a tree stump. In the far distance, Lake Ontario sparkled; ripples of sapphire against amber and crimson leaves.
Now tell me about the trees.
Preach squinted down at the brochure, reading each word carefully and allowing the Lord to illuminate truths. “Maples grow strong and tall and straight.” he mused. “Guess that describes my people.”
And what else?
“They’re hardwood trees. Their timber is used for furniture and flooring, for basketball courts and bowling alleys.” He thought for a moment. “So we’re a practical people, strong and hardy.”
What about the roots?
Preach read some more. “When planted in good soil, maples develop extensive root systems that go deep and branch out horizontally. They continue to grow in winter months, so long as the soil is not frozen.”
Will you allow your heart to freeze?
“Oh no, Lord.” Preach could feel the fire and passion of his younger days kindling afresh. “I see what you’re telling me, Lord.” He kept reading and passages seemed to come alive with meaning. “Sugar maples begin to bear seed from thirty years up and the flowers are more plentiful as the tree ages...they have a strong tendency to sprout in response to fire, cutting, disease, or physiological disorders...they are shade resistant and can survive long periods of suppression.”
So are you a sugar maple, Preach?
He fell on his knees, prayers pouring from his brokenness. “I want to be, Lord.”
The sun was melting into Lake Ontario as Preach rose from his spot beside the stump. His heart was full of passion, and the truths God had shown him burned deep within. “Thank you, Lord.” he whispered. “Thank you for reminding me of who we are, of what You’ve created us to be.” He tipped his head sideways and smiled. “I know what I’ll be preaching, come Sunday. I’ll be calling it The Maple Syrup Sermon.”
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