by Rev. Joe Connolly
“…this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Yahweh: I will put my Law within them, in their minds, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” — Jeremiah 31:33.
I have a friend in Maine who owns a Christmas tree farm. He says there really is such a thing as the perfect Christmas tree. It exists not in reality but in memory.
It exists only in the adult memory of childhood. Adult memory transforms the childhood Christmas tree into perfection.
Well, for reasons which escape me, last week I was conjuring up in my childhood memory a different perfect tree— a tree in a Merrie Melodies cartoon. Why that childhood memory was haunting me I don’t know. But these days we do have the Internet. So I was able to do some research and find the cartoon in question.
In this animation a dog says he’s off to catch a fox and just before he takes off at a gallop he insists, (quote:) “I know every tree in this forest!” At which point the dog in question runs helter-skelter and slams dead center into a tree, does total a face-plant.
The canine groans, “I know every tree in this forest! And here’s one of them.” It’s a cartoon. So the dog turns into liquid, slides down the side of the tree and becomes a puddle on the ground.
My adult memory of childhood says this was one of the funniest things I had ever seen— a dog doing a face-plant into a tree he knew was there— a perfectly funny tree. Now, I still think that scene is funny as an adult but for different reasons.
I think it’s funny because it illustrates something we all do nearly daily. We concentrate on where each tree is; each detail in our life is located. We pay attention to trees. And we ignore the forest. We pay attention to minutiae but ignore the big picture. (Slight pause.)
We find these words in the work known as Jeremiah: “…this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Yahweh: I will put my Law within them, in their minds, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Slight pause.)
I’m a veteran. The army told me it likes to break work down into little pieces. That way no piece overwhelms one soldier. Once all the little pieces get put together, the whole job gets done. And we are adept at breaking things into pieces.
But Scripture says the creation is singular. Everything is one. Everything is within the realm of God. There are no pieces.
We often take the words from Jeremiah and think they split out the mind from heart. I want to suggest these words mean not only do the mind and the heart need to be one but if anything the heart, not the mind, leads.
You see first and foremost, this passage is an insistence on the part of God that intentional, intertwined relationship is pivotal. That is a heart first vision, a vision which does not happen without or split out from the heart.
Second, God knows us. This indicates a depth of loving which overcomes and obliterates all social stratifications. There is no elitism, no dominant, powerful people.
This tends to be an issue for us because we do have a proclivity to split the world into pieces. We do tend to split out mind and heart, whereas God sees the world as one.
Further, that we are one people is a very hard concept for us, a very hard concept for our intellect. We like winners and losers. We like tribes. We are very good at splitting things into pieces, at identifying trees— not so good at identifying forests, seeing the whole.
That is why covenant love is the key here. When we split things into trees— elitism, domination and power come to the fore. Love is and needs to be the unifying glue for us, the glue which says there is no elitism, no domination, no power. There is only the love of God.
As the poem by Ann Weems Linda shared with us earlier said, “We’re good at planning!… It’s between parades that we don’t do so well.”  And in one of her poems the poet Maren Tirabassi says this, “Dear God, forgive us our illiteracy of the heart”— illiteracy of the heart.
I suspect that brand of illiteracy comes largely from concentrating on trees. And yes— trees are important. Trees are real. But we also slam right into them, do a face plant, way too often.
Unless we realize we are engulfed and embraced first by the love God offers, it matters not how many trees we encounter, how many trees we identify, how many trees we analyze. Indeed, the promise of God is that the trees are written on our hearts. The promise of God is that the trees are written on our hearts so we will recognize that trees make up big forest called love. Amen.
United Church of Christ, First Congregational, Norwich, New York
ENDPIECE— It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Congregational Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “In Modern society it is often said, ‘Christ died for our sins.’ But that was not where the church was at for the first one thousand years of Christianity. It became a tree and we slammed right into it, did a face plant in it. Catholic priest and theologian says this (quote): ‘With that view, salvation depends upon a problem instead of a divine proclamation about the core nature of reality…. Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity. Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God.’  This message is simple. Christ was raised for our sins. Everything, you see, starts with the love of God. It’s about the forest.”
BENEDICTION: God has written the law of love within us. We are empowered to live according to that law, through the Redeemer, Jesus. In Christ, we experience God’s presence together. Where Christ leads, let us follow. Where God calls us to service, let us go. And may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge of God, the love of Jesus, the Christ and the companionship of the Holy Spirit, this day and forevermore. Amen.
 Note: this meditation was shorter than many offered by the pastor because the Church School offered a program in the course of the service.
 From the poem Between Parades by Ann Weems from her work Kneeling in Jerusalem.