Reading & Reflection for June 13, 2021
No matter what is going on in the world or in our own hearts and lives, we begin by consciously turning ourselves towards the One who made us. We remind ourselves of the gift it is that we are here, that we are able to bring our focus to our Creator, the God we know through Jesus. In doing so, we allow our inner self to be reoriented, simply by being in God’s presence. Take a few moments to breathe deeply, slowly, eyes closed, allowing yourself to ‘come to rest’ before entering into a brief time of reflection and worship, below.
Call to Worship
It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night ...
From a place of quiet, O God, I turn to you.
The busyness of the world, the challenges of my life, the questions in my own heart ~ all of this and more, I bring to you, and ask you to receive me as I am.
You are the one who knows everything about me, and far more about the world than I do; therefore I look to you for guidance;
I come to you for healing and forgiveness for when I have gone astray; I receive from you strength, energy, and motivation for today, and the days to come.
Grant your healing to our world, we ask, and encouragement to all who look to you in hope.
Help us to follow the way of Jesus, to be openhearted to others, to delight every day in your world.
Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar.
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.
On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, that it may produce boughs, bear fruit, & become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live; in its branches will nest every kind of winged bird.
All the trees of the field shall know that I am the LORD.
I bring low the high tree, I raise the low tree; I dry up the green tree & make the dry tree flourish.
I the LORD have spoken, and will do it.
Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15
It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap, showing that the LORD is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
2 Corinthians 5: 12 -17
We 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.
If we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.
And 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.
From 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.
If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
Jesus also said, "The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come."
He also said, "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet 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."
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
One of the most enjoyable experiences in the late spring is to see the lush growth of every plant around us! Blossoms on trees, daffodils, tulips, and, now the promise of roses, lilac, and many other flowering shrubs bring enjoyment to our eyes each day. If you are fortunate enough to have a garden, of course you watch for seeds planted to sprout and give evidence that they are taking root, allowing you to anticipate what is to come in the next weeks and months. Over the last few years I have been able to work at the area we have behind our house available for planting. It has not been easy to make the earth more responsive to my gardening hopes, but there is some success now, and the promise of more to come. Anyone who enjoys imagining the process of transformation in a yard, once hard work is applied, will resonate with the feelings of accomplishment and anticipation all wrapped up together as I look at the tangled growing jumble of our yard!
Stories in the Bible (like 2 or 3 of ours for today, see above) remind us that God sees the earth as a garden which draws his singular energy and focus for ongoing development. Ezekiel sees God transplanting a small sprig, which will become a full tree under which “every kind of bird” will flourish. To imagine God as a gardener planting vegetables, flowers, shrubs, and fruit trees in an area that has been cleared, watching for the growth which is sure to follow, is to “feel with” our Creator as he looks at the world with us in it.
When Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God as the smallest of seeds which will grow into the largest of trees, under which it will shelter many birds and animals, he is specifically using an image we know, in order to give us the vision of what he sees, and wants us to see with him. The work God is doing among us might seem almost invisible right now; but God can see the growth beyond our time-frame, and the large, beautiful result.
From tiny seed, to “largest of all trees” encompasses not just a contrast in size, but in patience over time to take note of the growth, the contrast between tiny beginnings, and large-scale results. These images are an invitation by the Spirit of God for us to see with the eyes of our hearts, through faith, to capture through the capacity of our imagination the potential of God’s continual seeding of his purposes among us. In a sense, when we do glimpse “what might yet be in process” we are witnessing a miracle. From small beginnings in the mists of history, God’s purposes grow like an immense tree, to metaphorically shelter us all. From a scrubby piece of raw, unkempt land, we are called to imagine the lush garden that God sees, and opens before us.
The news, by its very nature, tends always to convey a kaleidoscope of stories from across the world. But it is usual that our attention is drawn instantly by the accidents, tragedies, or crimes ~ as though we could feel ourselves impacted emotionally and physically by those events. It is hard to persist in hope against the stream of these stories, unless we can expand our frame of reference and see in addition the positive stories which are simultaneously blossoming around us.
To be human is to be drawn to an ongoing re-balancing process between the good and the bad, the positive and the negative, between hope and despair. When God invites us to “see” what he perceives, and especially to witness the illustration of a blossoming garden suggesting the process of God’s will being accomplished over time, as the “Kingdom of God breaking in among us”, I believe he is encouraging us not to give up, not to let go of faith, hope, and love. God is not finished the work of creation, or the rescue of creation from forces which would degrade and destroy it. For him to share his “working plan” with us, as he does through the images in our readings today, is to invite us to participate in what he is doing.
We are not invited to be spectators in God’s mission; no! ~ we are grabbed by the hand, called, inspired, and equipped to be agents of that process of transformation. Just like a “garden party” might not be a lazy afternoon over drinks and chit chat, but rather an invitation to pick up a shovel, rake, or hoe, and help shape the creation at your feet to more clearly reflect the beauty and wonder of the God who made it, and who places us here to help in the gardening! To anticipate the celebration after the “garden work” has been done is to imagine so much more of a party/extravaganza, where God provides the music, food, dancing, healing, wholeness, and renewal for all, is to see a glimpse of “the Kingdom Come.”
In the meantime, we are here, you and I, as fellow gardeners working for the Owner with a sense of purpose that is spelled J-O-Y ! God has shared and is sharing with us images of his purpose, the target towards which we are steadily moving. The invitation is not just to “look and see”, but to respond to the burst of energy motivating us all towards the fullness, and balance, and blossoming and hope fulfilled of arriving fully in the presence of God.
Look again at the passage from 2 Corinthians above. Paul says, “the love of Christ urges us on” ~ that is, as partners in the mission and ministry of Jesus, until everyone and all creation are joining in the celebration/fulfillment of God’s work. But he goes on to say, “...because we are convinced one has died for all; therefore all have died!” This is an image of rescue, not of death; in the same way that David won the battle with Goliath in the Old Testament, with the result that all Israel was saved/rescued/freed through David’s action, he is telling us that Jesus’ death encompasses yours and mine as well. If Jesus has tasted the worst of death “for us”, then we should feel comforted and not afraid.
But what does Paul say results from Christ dying for all? “Those who live, no longer live just for themselves, but for the one who was raised for us all”, through whom we are being raised. In other words, Jesus has broken through death itself, and turned it inside out, showing us that there is more to come, that Jesus is already there, on the other side, as well as here, still giving comfort and strength and guidance to us here and now. Through the dying and rising of Jesus, we no longer live within the small framework of our lives as we have known them, but in the conscious awareness that death is not an ultimate boundary.
Since Jesus conquered death and demonstrated himself alive and transformed on the other side of death, we live today “not for ourselves” but in the awareness that we are caught up in the larger framework of life which is given us all through the risen Jesus. Another change for us from Christ’s dying for all is that through him we no longer look at others “from a merely human point of view” ~ i.e. as though what we see is all there is.
Paul is teaching us to “see” with the eyes of Jesus, as we look at those around us. We can imagine them as babies, perhaps, even as little children. Can we imagine them also as the beautiful reflections of God they are called to become, as God continues the work of bringing us to “complete fullness” through Jesus’ resurrection? Because of what the early disciples experienced of Jesus, following him as a teacher, wonder-worker, and spiritual leader for several years, they saw the resurrected Jesus after the trauma of his death literally “in flesh and blood”, yet as more than merely human.
Paul opens this experience of the disciples before us all, and invites us to “see” each other as we are today, but also as the “much more” we are becoming as God continues his work of transformation even in us. As Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation!” This is our calling today, to participate as those invited to join in God’s transforming work ~ like gardeners; and also to “see and know and become” the “so-much-more-than-mere-humanity” that God is creating us to be.
As we humbly stumble forward, asking Jesus to guide us and help us, we will experience more than we can imagine now. God is not finished with us, but continues his mysterious work of redemption ~ which simply means “rescue” from the pattern of slip-sliding-away which we are accustomed to think is the sum total of what it means to be human. God’s work through Jesus continues; the breath of the Holy Spirit is breathed into you each day. Allow yourself to be drawn into God’s embrace, to enjoy and delight in the blossoming of his purposes in you, and joyfully to join in his work of encouragement, fellowship, and celebration.
O God, whom we know through Jesus, we look to you for life, today and forever. We thank you for this amazing world, the opportunities each day brings, and for the times when we feel your presence with us.
We pray for those close to us, in their personal situations.... We pray for our church, the larger community around us, and for our nation.... With Jesus, we ask that “your kingdom come on earth” as it is in heaven...
Open our spiritual eyes, we ask, that we be equipped to see your presence, in others, in circumstances every day, and in ourselves. Thank you for your vision of our lives. Thank you for our community, for those who love us, and those whom we love.
Let us reflect your goodness in our own words and actions, in ways that encourage and strengthen those we know. Bring healing, peace, and harmony to our world, we pray, Lord. Please hear the unspoken longings of our hearts, as we use the words Jesus taught us to say: “Our Father ...