Preaching on the occasion of a wedding is an interesting exercise. In my experience, whatever words the preacher offers on such a special day for the couple and their families are often “forgotten” in the solemnity of the exchange of sacred vows, as well as the overflowing effervescence and joy of the bride and groom and guests.
I have sometimes, on such an occasion, told the true story of the “shoe tree” - a very large willow tree that stood beside U.S. #150 - desolate stretch of highway crossing the high plateau of the Nevada desert. Hanging from the branches of that willow were thousands of pairs of shoes, so many in fact, that the tree’s branches bowed low to the ground with the weight. How the shoes got into the tree is a story tying stewardship at Christ Church with the hope and invitation that all our members make a sacrificial response of thanksgiving to God. Stewardship is returning some fair measure of all that we have received from God, to God and God’s ministry in the world.
Many years ago a young couple, just married in Reno, traveling the highway home decided to camp under the willow tree for the night. The new husband was angry at his new wife since she “lost” their money in the slot machines in Reno. After listening to her new husband rant and rave about her role in making them poor, the new bride threatened to walk home by herself. Rising to the challenge, the husband threw her shoes into the tree saying, if she was going walk herself home, she would have to walk there in her bare feet.
Furious with his wife, the groom hopped into the car and drove off, leaving his bride alone under the willow tree. A few miles down the road he found the only public house for miles—the Middlegate Bar and Grill. He stopped for a few beers. After a couple of hours of nursing his grudge and telling the bar-maid, Fredda, his story, she said to him, “With an attitude like that, you’ll be fighting for the rest of your lives. Go back there and tell her it was your fault”.
The man did as he was told. The couple patched things up. Then the groom threw his own shoes up into the tree as a sign of solidarity. As Fredda tells the story, a year later the couple returned with their baby and threw the baby’s shoes into the tree as well.
The story of the Shoe Tree is a story of solidarity, of acceptance, of sacrifice, love and hope for the future. Though it may appear unlike stewardship, the invitation for members of Christ Church to “throw into the tree” their pledge of support for Christ Church (giving back to God) is a sign of meaning, purpose and vitality for our lives. A pair of shoes, even well-worn, is a pair of shoes to get us from here to there. What will be our sign or symbol of the offering our solidarity, sacrifice and love with God this year?