Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without love are nothing worth: send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the true bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you. Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Faithful Creator, whose mercy never fails: deepen our faithfulness to you and to your living Word, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Loving Father, we thank you for feeding us at the supper of your Son: sustain us with your Spirit, that we may serve you here on earth until our joy is complete in heaven, and we share in the eternal banquet with Jesus Christ our Lord.
Thus 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.
On 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.
All 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.
1 It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord
and to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
2 To tell of your love early in the morning
and of your faithfulness in the night-time,
3 Upon the ten-stringed instrument, upon the harp,
and to the melody of the lyre.
4 For you, Lord, have made me glad by your acts,
and I sing aloud at the works of your hands.
12 The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.
13 Such as are planted in the house of the Lord
shall flourish in the courts of our God.
14 They shall still bear fruit in old age;
they shall be vigorous and in full leaf;
15 That they may show that the Lord is true;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.
So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord – for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
[ Therefore, 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. 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. For 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. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
2 Corinthians 5.6–10 [11–13]14–17
He 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.
Sermon on Sunday, Trinity 3
Passages from the prophets excite me, especially when they are full of imagery I can understand. Particularly poignant are passages which liken the divine to gardening, or arboreal, services, as Ezekiel and Mark do today. Who would not feel some sympathy with a God who wants to create a paradise on “the mountain height of Israel”? After all, who does not understand the desire to shape the wilderness into a garden, by letting some trees fall by the wayside and bring others to full fruition? Who is not thrilled by the image of a great cedar as the purpose of the creator God, an image which takes on the meaning of God’s people shaped and cared for by a most solicitous gardener?
There are times in my job that I feel that inspiration, when I have been able to shape a garden so that plants will flourish and their owners feel a joy where they live. When I mow lawns, I feel I am presenting gardens at their best, green and pleasant as the land in that great hymn.
Watching all the news programs and commentaries on the health of the nation during lock-down, it was apparent that people need green spaces around them for their sanity. This is a lesson which must penetrate the whole of our lives. We must plan to have that good space around us, not just survive in boxes without souls. Such an outlook makes my job so much more rewarding. I feel I have helped produce that new creation in the environment of my customers.
The imagery Ezekiel uses is similar to the language that Jesus uses in the lesson from Mark we read for today. Again we come to agriculture for our re-presentation of our ownmost selves. Ezekiel says God will plant his domain at the heart of Israel, in the heights. Jesus speaks more plainly with his parables, “The kingdom of God is like …” or “The kingdom of God is as if …”. A famous NT scholar wrote a book called The Parables of the Kingdom. It has been the resource for many a sermon and a text on which many a theologian has pondered, let alone been quizzed on when in training.
It is an important book because it took seriously the literary critical method of reading the gospels, and it propelled the discipline of “form criticism” which is the notion that we use formulae in speaking and writing which give our words certain implicit meanings.
A parable is a way of speaking about something by clothing it in different language conventions. Today we have heard about the kingdom hidden in the verbal garb of a field being sown with seed and its subsequent harvest. We have also heard about the kingdom through the image of the mustard seed and its maturation into a tree.
Parables are signs pointing to something else, like the signs which announce Slimbridge on the various roads in the area. They tell us about Slimbridge – where to turn and how far it is away, for instance – they are merely signs about Slimbridge perhaps causing us thoughtful anticipation of the real thing. Ezekiel and Jesus employ parabolic language.
When we speak of the garden of God, paradise or Eden, we paint a picture which limits us to its expression of a something else. A parable makes you think about the subject. Here we have to think about the Kingdom of God through the imagery of a field or the mustard seed. Ezekiel’s planting of a forest in our minds also forces us to think – maybe about how we can bring about this paradise of fruitful trees.
With this in mind, wouldn’t you say that language is the problem of life? We can say one thing and mean another. We can speak about this and really be talking about that. Or, for instance, we can talk of love and mean it completely. In other words, we can speak in a manner that ties our language with what and how we have experienced life. —
And in other situations, we can lie.
Why? Why do we pervert language in this way? Why do we hide things with our words which will ultimately be revealed? The hidden will be seen in the light of a final judgement of our lives, if not the divine, juridical sense, at least by our conscience.
Let’s leave this negative use of language for private discussion and personal reflection. —
Rather let’s address this question – How can we use language positively? How can language bolster our lives with speech? How can we help others in their times of need, when a good word would raise them to a height from which they could launch themselves into the productivity of goodness? We know this positive use of language is possible because it has happened to ourselves – don’t we know this deep down in our hearts? The kind, “Good morning – how nice to see you!” does go a long way to cheer us up, doesn’t it? When someone stops to hear how things are going, I know I feel a lot better. Those few minutes of positive use of language, that pleasant conversation when we are not in the best place, does everyone the world of good. The banal courtesies of the day can and should be elevated to engagement in the life of the people with whom we stand in conversation. In so doing, we raise language above the everyday, unconscious chattering of the crowd. It is not longer talk just about the weather. The weather can become that parabolic entry into life when people converse with intent.
Prophets and poets use language in ways that are very different to ordinary, everyday expression. These writers are poetic in their use of imagery, some are prophetic, calling on the conscience of each individual to stop inhumanity and focus on the divine in life.
Through language we can transform our ordinary lives into an extraordinary lived experience, the Existence which the philosopher exhorts all people to embrace, and, in the words of the theologian, the full life Jesus offers to all who believe in Him, the word of God incarnate. It is possible that the power of our simple words can save the world, if only we would speak in truth.
Perhaps we should start thinking parabolically and so transform everything we say into a new language. I think we should try to acquire that new speech. I wonder whether George Orwell was hinting at this in his book 1984 – that spoken words are so very powerful – to bless or to curse as the bible says. Perhaps we can speak in a new way, a way that will reveal the kingdom in our spoken parabolic lives just as Jesus did.