The Parable of New Leaves from a Dying Tree

To what shall I compare the Kindom of Heaven on Earth? May those who have ears to hear, hear.

In our neighborhood in Philly there’s a scrap of land running along a creek called Cresheim Creek that’s been protected from development. It leads into the park surrounding the Wissahickon. On a map it looks like a strip of paper has been torn out to reveal green.

There’s an access point not too far from our home with two little loops of walking trails through the scrappy, brushy riparian woods. These particular trails are small and don’t link up to others, this little bit of this green space along Chesheim Creek is penned in by the SEPTA tracks and residential streets and a busy thoroughfare.

So, it’s small, but it’s big enough for a lot of life. We’ve seen foxes there, and woodchucks, and once found a deer skull. There’s a spot under the bridge where people in need of shelter occasionally bed down for the night.

A week ago, or so, I was poking around along the creek in the cool early spring air. I’d occasionally look up to enjoy the color that sunlight makes when it shines through the new leaves of the canopy, which just the week before had been only branches and buds and sky.

I looked down from the canopy and turned a corner on the trail. I was stopped short by the sight of a gnarly old hunk of tree trunk with bushes of leaves pushing out from big warty knots at my eye level and below, these wild dense clusters of leaves that you’d expect to be coming out of branches, not directly out of the trunk. But as a I said, this was a big old hunk of trunk. Only the base of the original tree was left, and it was bigger around than I could reach. The top had been shorn off maybe twenty feet up, weakened from rot. It clearly had been rotting from the inside before the trunk broke. It must of have happened some years ago – you could see part of what was left of the fallen tree on the other side of the creek, quite decomposed.

Read Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg’s full sermon from April 28, 2024, here.