Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Wednesday Thoughts on the Readings for Sunday, June 17th, 2018

Good afternoon!  God's peace and wholeness to you as you read this post!

Unfortunately, we had another death within the congregational community last week.  Preparations for the funeral and care for the family took up the time I would have used to put together my responses to the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for Sunday, June 10th.

But this is a new week, and here are my reactions and questions after reading through the RCL readings for this upcoming Sunday, June 17th.  Many will be celebrating this day as "Fathers' Day," but the Church does not officially celebrate this social holiday.  We may mention it during the prayers, but we will not make it a focal point during the worship service.

As always, you will find the RCL readings below.  After each reading, you will find my comments in italics.  If you would like to ask a clarifying question or offer your own insights into these passages, I encourage you to do so in the comments.

Please enjoy!

Ezekiel 17:22 - 24

22Thus says the Lord God
 I myself will take a sprig
  from the lofty top of a cedar;
  I will set it out.
 I will break off a tender one
  from the topmost of its young twigs;
 I myself will plant it
  on a high and lofty mountain.
23On the mountain height of Israel
  I will plant it,
 in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit,
  and become a noble cedar.
 Under it every kind of bird will live;
  in the shade of its branches will nest
  winged creatures of every kind.
24All the trees of the field shall know
  that I am the Lord.
 I bring low the high tree,
  I make high the low tree;
 I dry up the green tree
  and make the dry tree flourish.
 I the Lord have spoken;
  I will accomplish it.

The entirety of Ezekiel 17 is fascinating.  The chapter sets a context for the three verses we hear today.  We combine the political drama with the divine proclamation.  The “king” of Israel is now a vassal of Babylon.  However, the king has struck an agreement with other nations under a plan to overthrow the rule of Babylon.  The Lord proclaims that the king will fall because of this treachery.  The Lord will then pick a branch and establish this branch as the new leader of the nation.  Does this point to the next king, who will be faithful to the Lord?  Or does this point to Jesus?  Are these identities mutually exclusive?

Some quick Google research reveals that some species of trees grow better from planted twigs/branches compared to planted seeds.  Planting a sprig from the top of a tree is a very common method of planting new trees.  The tree that grows from the planted twig will be an exact replica of the tree from which the twig was taken.  ~ Gardening Know How  This causes us to ask: symbolically, what did the cedar tree mean for Israel in the days of Ezekiel?

Psalm 92:1 - 4, 12 - 15

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
 2 to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,
 3 to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.
 4 For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

 12 The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
 13 They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God.
 14 In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap,

 15 showing that the LORD is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

According to Psalm 92, those who grow within the house of the Lord will always remain healthy and fruitful, even in old age.  “Fruitful” likely means that the person is still serving in mission and ministry, carrying out the will of God by serving others.

2 Corinthians 5:6 - 10 [11 - 13] 14 - 17

6So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—7for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
  [11Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. 12We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. 13For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. ] 14For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
  16From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

The confidence in 2 Corinthians comes from the promise of resurrection, of mortality being swallowed up by life (5:4), which is guaranteed by the gift of the Holy Spirit (5:5).

How many people in our society today boast about themselves as a way of giving their audience a reason to listen to the speaker?

All have died, and all who are baptized into Christ, the one who died and was raised for us, now live in Christ.  Therefore, they (we) are new creations who know Christ in new ways.

Mark 4:26 - 34

26[Jesus] said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground,27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
  30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
  33With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

This parable in Mark 4 comes after Mark’s version of the more popular “Parable of the Sower.”  Therefore, those who are reading or hearing all of the Gospel of Mark have already heard about the differences between types of “soil.”

“The seed of both black and white mustard is similar in size, about 1.0 to 3.0 mm (1/8 inch)(11) so it is not the smallest seed but it is the smallest seed of those which "you plant in the ground" clearly indicating that the Lord was not comparing the mustard seed to all plants but only to those which were commonly grown. There would be numerous plants familiar to His audience with smaller seeds, of which the best example would be the seed of the black orchid. But there are few plants which grow so large in one season as a mustard, and few plants would be characterized by such rapid germination of the seed. Mustard planted one day could begin growing the next.” ~ ODU Plants of the Bible

Mustard plants grow very quickly once they have been planted.  In the right soil and sunlight conditions, mustard plants can grow to be 10 feet tall.  When the seed of faith is planted in good soil, many things can sprout and grow quickly, revealing the Holy Spirit’s presence within and blessing on our ministry in Christ’s name.  And if something does not grow, that should cause us to question whether the problem is the soil (not the right place/time), the seed (not a seed of faith/calling of the Spirit), or both.

Connection between the birds in Ezekiel 17 living under the branches of the new tree and the birds in Mark 4 finding rest under the branches of the mustard plant.

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