Trees figure in both the Ezekiel and Mark readings on this day. Perhaps the preacher might be inspired to evoke the lush place held by trees in scripture and, indeed, in the life of Earth itself. The Gospel, of course, shows us the lowly mustard seed becoming yet another large home for the nests of winged creatures.
Residing at the heart of today’s imagery, trees teach us about God’s care for all living things, including their own kind.
Gail Ramshaw, in her book, Under the Tree of Life: The Religion of a Feminist Christian, described the nurse-log. In the forest, a fallen dead tree is hollowed out by rot, giving the food of its trunk to the mosses and creatures of the forest floor. But it also gives life to the sprouts of seeds that grow to become new trees: nourished by the remains of the dead tree, a new tree rises in its place.
Ramshaw used this image to illustrate the relationship between her first marriage and her second. It is also a useful image for other human experiences of loss or change: the death of a parent or spouse devastates a family, but may also nourish the ever-evolving family with both the wisdom of the dead and the painful lessons of death itself. The end of an old sibling rivalry, heated but oddly useful in childhood, gives life to a new friendship between adults—adults with a shared history, a lifetime of companionship in all its delights and frustrations. The loss of a troubled romantic relationship can give birth to a deep and abiding friendship. – Stephen Crippen
A tree fallen to the ground, serving up its body to earth, gives life to new trees. Together, trees grow up into forest communities, root systems for watersheds, canopies of life-giving branches and leaves, homes for insects and birds and climbing mammals, shade and rest for humans. The metaphor holds that the growth of giants comes from smallness, creating individuals and also communities.
How does the parable of the mustard seed grant hope and encouragement to churches and individuals who see their efforts to serve God as being small or insignificant? How can this parable help our congregations see that small acts of love and justice can grow into expansive and flourishing expressions of God’s shelter and peace? – Ben Sharpe
Ezekiel gives us the mighty cedar––a home for birds and a signal even to the fields that the Lord is at hand. Creation rejoices over itself. In the response to the first reading, Psalm 92, the cedar and the palm are used as visions of what the righteous resemble: a tall, straight, grand tree!
God’s power stretches in many directions: inside created things, outside of creation, beyond the universe, bigger than existence itself, and also between creatures. God’s power, in other words, also works to sever and to bring together. The Epistle reading takes our thinking in the direction of God’s ultimate judgment, final recompense for how we have lived our lives. Ben Sharpe asks us to ponder reconciliation in the light of the writer’s call to “regard no one from a human point of view…” Where the “old” has passed away, a new creation can be born.
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
The 2 Corinthians passage focusing on reconciliation virtually sings with wonder and love for the One who reconciles us to one another and God. Does the ministry of reconciliation set us singing? How can we help our hearers experience and express the ecstatic joy that comes with a new creation born out of reconciliation with God through Jesus Christ? How is the reconciliation Paul rhapsodizes about effected? What sacrifices and self-giving are required from us as we share in the ministry of reconciliation? Does every act of authentic reconciliation require a cross of some kind? – Ben Sharpe
Stephen Crippen is a psychotherapist and a deacon in the episcopal Diocese of Olympia, Washington.
Ben Sharpe is a minister of Christ Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, of the Anglican Mission in America affiliated with the North American Missionary District of Province de L’Eglise Anglicane Au Rwanda (PEARUSA).
Homily Service 39, no. 7 (2006): 31-41.