A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, September 25, 2011
Deuteronomy 11:13-15; “After Apple Picking” by Robert Frost
On Friday, we officially rounded the corner and entered into the season of autumn. Now, I always approach autumn with mixed emotions. The early weeks of autumn is one of my favorite times of the year. In fact, I wrote a little poem about autumn myself last fall:
Birds in flight.
On the trees,
Ripe corn ears,
Best time of year.
Fall festivals. Apple picking and apple cider. Watching children dress up to trick or treat. There is just a certain something in the autumn air that speaks to the human spirit.
But autumn is also somewhat of a sad time of the year. The warm days of summer are waning. Flowers and much of the foliage is dying. Fields where once vibrant crops grew are stripped bare. Trees will become stark, gray skeletons against a sometimes gray and mist-laden sky. Cold weather soon will be approaching.
Part of the sadness that autumn holds for me is personal in nature. It was in the fall when our young family of four made our first move away from the home we knew 450 miles across the state so I could attend seminary. That move was difficult. On late autumn afternoons, I would sit down on the back porch of the parsonage we had moved into and read letters from home as I listened to the crickets chirp, and I would be overcome with sadness. So every fall when I hear the crickets chirp, I am carried back to that sad autumn long ago. So, you might say, autumn can be somewhat bittersweet.
But enough of the personal stuff. Autumn brings with it its own splendor and wisdom. Frost, in one of his autumn-related poems, recounts how he spent autumn days picking bushels and bushels of apples from his orchard. The abundant harvest he had hoped for had become almost too much. He had worked himself down. He was tired and weary. He was ready for a good rest.
That is one of the lessons we learn from autumn—everyone and everything needs a time of rest. The earth in some respects progresses into a period of rest. Fields lie fallow. Some forms of wildlife go into hibernation and a period of rest. Autumn would serve to remind us that as humans we, too, need to take time to rest. Autumn would remind us of the need for a sabbath day of rest. A Sabbath time of rest to feed that spiritual part of us. A time of rest to observe nature and the world around us. A time of rest to give thought to those issues of life that are really important.
At the same time that we need rest, we realize that there are things we didn’t get done and will never get done. Frost, in “After Apple-Picking,” lies in bed trying to sleep with the thoughts running through his mind that there were apples that he didn’t get picked that could have been and should have been picked, and he regrets that he didn’t. Those few apples would have to go. He couldn’t do everything he needed to do. Now was the time for rest.
Many of us tend to berate ourselves for the things we don’t get done. I should be doing this. I should have done that. I’ll let you in on a little secret—this type of regretful thinking about things that don’t get done is a common companion in the life of every pastor! There are always phone calls that should have been made, members who should have been visited, books or articles that should have been read, and prayers that should have been prayed. As with Frost lying awake and thinking about the apples that should have been picked, every pastor has had the experience of lying awake and obsessing about the many things that did not get done. But you may have the same experience about things you obsess about that were left undone. But we all need rest, everything done or not done. Such is something autumn and Frost teach us.
Another lesson of autumn is the need for preparations. Just as autumn beckons us to gather in the produce of the fields—whether it be potatoes, or pumpkins, or apples, as in the case of Robert Frost—in preparation for the days of winter soon to come, autumn would speak to us of the need to make spiritual or soulful preparations in our lives. Autumn would lead us to ask, “Are you ready for the winter of life? Are you prepared for difficult days that are sure to come sometime in the months ahead? Do you have adequate spiritual provisions laid in store that will support you when the cold winds of life blow and the world starts reeling around you? When that sudden illness strikes, or the unexpected death of a loved one comes, or financial disaster visits, have preparations been made that will sustain us? Have we given thought to and come to grips with the big questions of life having to do with illness and suffering, trouble and death? And are we comfortable with our place in the community of faith, those who will support and sustain us when the winter of life comes?” Jesus, you know, on occasion spoke about the importance of life preparations, as does the autumn season.
Yet another lesson of the autumn season is change is inevitable. Last fall—when the days were warm, the sky was deep blue, orange pumpkins were piled everywhere, and the leaves were in full glory—I made the statement a number of times, “Don’t you wish it could just stay like this until Christmas Eve? Then it can snow.” I didn’t want things to change. But we all know that they do. Flowers die, leaves turn brown and fall, and beauty fades.
As much as we sometimes would like for things to stay the same in our lives, we know they cannot. Children grow up and leave home. Parents grow old and pass away. The physical beauty or handsomeness we knew as young adults fades—just a little. A job is phased out or it comes time to retire from that profession that was so loved. A good friend moves away. Things change. Some of us find change to be difficult. The lesson of autumn is change is part and parcel of the cycle of life. The earlier in life we can come to understand that change is normal and to be expected and accepted, the better we will get along in life.
At least one other lesson autumn holds before us is enjoy the beauty of each day—today. No two autumn days are exactly alike. The sky will be different tomorrow. The wildlife we see will be different. Even the leaves on the trees will all be different as colors change overnight and some fall to their deaths. So each autumn day is a fresh invitation to sit and enjoy the beauty of that day that creation gives us. Elizabeth Lawrence observes, “Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.”
But how we need to remember this, not just in autumn, but every day of the year. Every day holds its own peculiar blessing and aspects of beauty to be entered into and enjoyed and appreciated with a spirit of gratitude. Though we often think of natural beauty in the season of autumn, there are other beauties of life that we can take note of and be grateful for all throughout the year—the beautiful smile of our children or grandchildren; a meaningful conversation with a good friend; a nice meal with a friend, our partner, or spouse; a thoughtful gesture by someone we meet during the course of our day. Yes, autumn beckons us to stop and enjoy the peculiar beauty of each day as it comes to us.
And so, as we commence this glorious autumn season, may we take time to stop, reflect, and learn the spiritual lessons and wisdom autumn has to offer. And may we take time to sit and watch the leaves turn and experience and express gratitude to the Creator and creation for autumn splendor. Amen.