Even From an Old Stump – Revisited

April 28, 2019 — Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Text:  Isaiah 58: 1 – 12 & Colossians 3: 15 – 17


Recently Ed and I took a 4,500 mile trip in our tiny green Ford Fiesta…to explore the south and get away from the ice and snow.   I brought three things home from that trip…a refrigerator magnet from the Okefeneke Swamp, a small bird’s nest we found on a trail, and the gorgeous red cedar driftwood you see before you on the worship table.

Ed and I have taken many road trips, which have stirred up a variety of emotions and tested the strength of our long marriage! Have to tell you this amusing story before I get serious …and I will get serious!

Ralph and Janice were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Friends asked Ralph to share some insight into how their marriage lasted all those years.
Ralph said, “Well, I treated her with respect and spent money on her—but mostly I took her traveling on special occasions. For our 25th anniversary, I took her to Beijing, China.”

 So, tell us where you’re going now for your 50th anniversary?”

Ralph replied, “I’m going back to get her.”

I KNOW that there were moments on our trip when Ed wanted to leave me behind in the hills of West Virginia or deep in the swamp!

One of those incidents may have been when…to my great delight and Ed’s great dismay,  I discovered that huge piece of driftwood laying on the bank of the Kentucky River as we were exploring a park on the Kentucky/Tennessee border.  I fell in love…with the beauty of that gnarled, twisted wood and with the wealth of metaphors and mysteries it awakened in me.    What stories it could tell of its transformation from a strong, graceful Cedar tree to a piece of driftwood, fashioned and transported by the swift current of the river and dumped on a river bank… and then…finally to become a cherished treasure for our garden.

You can just imagine that very large driftwood taking up the whole backseat in our tiny Fiesta!

This gorgeous piece of driftwood brings to my mind our spiritual  journeys…. The twists and turns, gnarled knots and deep cracks reflecting perhaps frequent assaults by raging storms and devastating droughts.  The ups and downs of our lives…disappointments and achievements, sorrow and joy….death and rebirth…..the deep valleys and high mountaintop moments of our walks with God that are at times painful and other times glorious. Our spiritual life is continually evolving, changing, impacted by daily happenings, tragedies and victories.

The sermon title and bulletin cover image suggests that I have been inspired by stumps and trees and driftwood previously in my life and ministry.

On June 1, 2014,  I preached a sermon here called Even from Old Stumps  

I wrote:  “Our yard is blessed with several old stumps….and I love them! They are especially appealing to me when they begin to decay….to take on character….. and when interesting things begin to grow out of them. One never knows what fertile seeds dwell in the depth of them…. ready to come forth….having been denied sunlight for so long, now eager for growth.  There is one old stump that has been slowly decaying, a favorite of mine that I used and am still using as a planter, though it has almost disappeared, it’s descent back into the Earth almost complete.”

Since that writing, the dear old stump has disappeared into the earth,  after providing me with years of inspiration and pleasure..and the birds, squirrels and chipmunks….and insects,  a treasured resting,  feeding and hiding place.

On Thursday afternoon, I had a magical , mystical moment when a book I ordererd arrived via FedEX as I was working on my sermon. It’s a wonderful book called The Songs of Trees by David George Haskell..  I opened it immediately and turned to a random page, page 97and found to my utter amazement these words about dying trees and stumps. He wrote that we are prone to use negative words describing the afterlife of a tree or stump, “ rot, decomposition, punk, duff and deadwood are slack words for so vital a process. Inside and around the tree, death brings about thousands of interactions, each one exploring ecological opportunity. By catalyzing new life in and around their bodies, dead trees bring about new connections [in the forest} and thus new life.”

 That blew my mind!  Did I just happen to open to that page!!? The author’s observations have awakened metaphors I don’t have time to explore right now.  But I will!  It’s yet another reminder of the marvelous miracle of Creation and the brilliance of its Creator!….

What could that incredible process suggest about life energy persisting after death ……. to the continual nourishment of the soul of the Universe?  We are continually blessed by the enduring legacy of our loved ones, of saints, scholars and prophets throughout history… and most extraordinally for Christians,  the wisdom and love of Jesus the Christ…. his risen spirit which energizes and instructs Christianity…which lives on and enriches the universe.

So, yes, this sermon was inspired by my love for stumps… and now  also by all the mysteries that take place during its afterlife beneath the forest floor!   It does NOT refer to me as an old stump from which new life can still grow.  Although that’s true!!!

And this message was also inspired, by a favorite poem by Joyce Rupp from her beautiful book:  Rest your dreams on a little twig.

A green shoot grows out of

an old tree stump,

announcing to the world that power

lies within death.

All the resurrections ever birthed

in this world find a sister

in this green shoot growing

from the old wooden stump

Things in me  that have died,

the worn-out and the worthless,

they are waiting to give rise to some

green shoot of a sister.

They are inviting me to faith in resurrection

and reverence for old tree stumps.

Last Sunday, many of us enjoyed an inspring Easter with mirraculous  messages of resurection ..a day of joyous celebration and an affirmation of our faith in the victory of life over death, light over darkness, hope over despair.  Easter for me is a celebration of the power of new vibrant life even in the bleakest of places. …even beneath the florest floor.

I offer you a few more inspired words by author, Joyce Rupp, again from   rest your dreams on a little twig: 

How I love it when what I’ve known as a weed in me suddenly becomes a beautiful flower.  How I delight when the rejected part of me becomes my friend. How I cherish the struggles that change my inner enemies into my beloved friends. I  love that!

An important part of the resurrection process is the act of forgiveness. Difficult to move on if we don’t let go.  Paula shared an inspiring story last Sunday of a man that was able to forgive the man who hit and killed his wife and their  unborn child.  Quite extraordinary.

There are abundant stories ….  of new life emerging from the ashes of destruction, of hope restored in the midst of depression.  Countless communities and families that have been restored to new life and vitality after the pain of devastating floods, hurricanes and tornados…..or horrific terrorist attacks….. by working together, by holding one another in loving prayer and faithful action.   I would guess that most of us here have experienced these precious moments of restoration and love in the midst of pain and devastation.

Philadelphia  work projects. (East Baptist Church, Fishtown. Slept under a Pokemon slot machine! for a week!

Little parks filled with dangerous debris, needles and disease ridden trash transformed into a park with flowers, benches, a basketball hoop and playground equipment.  Life changing affect on the teens and the neighborhood…and me!

How wonderful it is….. IF we can surrender to the guiding of God’s miraculous spirit and allow what has been dormant or devastated within us to be transformed…..to be resurrected…. to become healthy and beautiful…to blossom in all it’s potential glory!   We have to believe that the Divine Energy is capable of breathing new life into a desecrated people and enabling them to rise up and dance. God will empower us to do the work of Creation and restore it to a place of peace and justice.

Resurrection is not just a historical event, it is an ongoing process of  faith and life.

We have all been there, haven’t we?  We have had to surrender, to let things die in us in order for new life to be awakened or born anew.

Fr. Richard Rohr asks us:  “ Can you recall a time when you came out the other side of a hard experience, a day when you suddenly felt free? Can you imagine joy and healing and actually feel it in your body?”

The Prophet Isaiah, who lived about 700 years before the birth of Jesus was an articulate voice of the Divine.   We heard these important, inspiring words this morning:

    What does it really means to worship the LORD?
    Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. 
    Free those who are abused! 
    Share your food with everyone who is hungry; 
    share your home with the poor and homeless. 
      …….Then your light will shine like the dawning sun,
    and you will quickly be healed… and you will be like a well watered garden…flourishing…. revealing the goodness and glory of God.

And the very powerful verse 12:
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in

We are God’s partners in the ongoing evolution of Creation and it is imperative that we do our job!

Mother Theresa said: “ There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly, the Spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways.!”   We are all connected to each other and to this planet in extraordinary ways. Alleluia!

One of his most beloved lyric lines, from the song “Anthem” — a song that took Cohen a decade to write — remains what is perhaps the most meaningful message for our troubled and troubling times: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” It springs from a central concern of Cohen’s life and work, one which he revisited in various guises across various songs — including in “Suzanne”, where he writes “look among the garbage and the flowers / there are heroes in the seaweed,” and in the iconic “Hallelujah”: “There’s a blaze of light / In every word / It doesn’t matter which you heard / The holy or the broken Hallelujah”.  Cohens legacy will live on in his music and passion.

In a radio interview, Nazi concentration camp survivor Gerta Weissman recalled an episode one spring when she and  other concentration camp inmates stood for roll call for hours on end, nearly collapsing with hunger and fatigue. She said, “We noticed in the corner of this bleak, horrid, gray place that the concrete had broken in a corner and a flower had poked its head through it. And you would see thousands of feet shuffle every morning to avoid stepping on that flower . . .”

As  Easter people….. resurrected into a state of new life….nurtured by the risen Sprit of Jesus the Christ… What are we called to be and do?   What needs to rise up within us?  What is waiting to be reborn?


ee cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing

day :for the leaping greenly spirits of trees

and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything

which is natural which is infinite which is yes 

(i who have died am alive again today,  Thanks be to God! Amen


Benediction: The Apostle Paul has the final word:

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[a] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.  Go in peace.   Amen.

 What shall I do

with this quiet joy?

It calls forth the expanse

of my soul, calls

it forth to go singing

through the world…

to collect the rain

in my hands

and spill it

like laughter…

to bear into this world

a place where light will glisten

the edge of every wing

and blade of grass,

shine along every hair on every head,

gleam among the turnings of every wave,

glorify the turning open of each life,

each human hand.

~ from “Magnificat”

by Christina Hutchins.