6.11.2009

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B (Proper 6)

Ezekiel 17.22-24
Psalm 92. 1-15
2 Corinthians 5.6-17
Mark 4.26-34

Have you ever noticed the prevalence of Growth imagery in our Holy Scriptures?

When we think about why that might be, one of the first responses (from your average contextual critic of the bible) cites the fact that the folks who wrote the scriptures and the audience that was listening were all really rural and really agrarian. And that is true....except for the folks that lived in places like Jerusalem and Babylon and Rome.

Another important reason for the prevalence of Growth imagery is because this is something that is common to all living things. Every thing that Lives, Grows. Also, everything that Lives and Grows, Dies; but that is for another day.

Everything that Lives, Grows.

And something that is always Growing is always Changing.

Sometimes things Grow in ways that are not healthy or productive. But often, living things Grow up to be exactly what they are created to be. The Growth process is sometimes slow and it is sometimes fast, but any time something (plant, animal, or otherwise) it changes.

We have quoted him here before, but it is good so we will quote him again...the early Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "One cannot step in to the same river twice". And this statement could be reframed as "Once cannot climb the same tree twice" (because they are constantly Growing and changing) or "One cannot kiss the same baby twice" (because they are constantly Growing and Changing). And so on.

All of that is to say, Growth imagery is around every corner in the bible because the bible is primarily concerned with describing / illuminating the relationship between God and Humans and the resources of the Earth. The stories we find in scripture mostly deal with the ways Humans Grow and change in relationship to one another and to God and to the world around them.

Now, on to this week's scriptures.

In the words from the prophet Ezekiel we find a beautiful passage that talks of how God will restore Israel [need historical context about where Israel was at this point]. Ezekiel was writing during the time of the fall of the Temple and the Babylonian exile. His writing reflects experiences in exile and upon return to Jerusalem. He had seen a lot. No, really, he had seen A LOT...a lot of culture shifting, life changing, irrevocable change. In this passage, he's writing about God's power and attributing all, good and bad, to the power of God. And pay attention here, God / Ezekiel does not say Israel will be just like it was before...what is described is a new Growth, a new establishment, a new Creation.

In Psalm 92, the psalmist writes a hymn of praise for God's vindication of the righteous (a group that includes the Psalmist, we assume). The Psalms are packed with images of growth, and Psalm 92 is no exception. The Righteous are compared to flourishing palm and cedar trees that produce on and on and on into to old age. "In old age they still produce fruit; they are always green and full of sap..." --that is such a great verse. Here, growth is a good thing, a positive response to God's action in the world.

In his letter to the people of Corinth, Paul does not directly use imagery of Growth from nature. He is talking (as he often does) of followers of Christ becoming more and more and more like Christ as the days go by. He talks of becoming a New Creation. This idea of "new creation" is an old one in the tradition which formed Paul. The prophet Isaiah speaks often of a new heaven and a new earth after the destruction of Jerusalem. That new creation represents all sorts of potential for change for the better in this case.

And in Mark's gospel we find Jesus doing what he does so well--trying to explain such a fantastic idea like the Kingdom of God by using examples of plants growing from seed. Here, the image is one that would have been very familiar in an agrarian community. Both the image of grain growing up from the ground and becoming fat with ripe kernals and the image of a tiny mustard seed growing into a tremendous plant provide all sorts of things to think about in terms of what the Kingdom of God might be. Here, Growth represents potential and reach and depth.

Yesterday, we Grew; today we are Growing; tomorrow we will Grow.

What image of Growth might you draw or describe for your own life?
Where do you see Growth around you today? Is it good? Is it scary?
Do you have expectations for future Growth?

God, we are caught in a society that wants us to produce,
But they do not care if we Grow.
Guide us as we attempt to Grow toward your Light.
Guide us as we trust that our DNA
Will take us exactly where we need to go.
Help us allow the seed you have planted in us
To Grow.Amen.

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