Readings for the week of June 17, 2018

The First Reading is recorded in Ezekiel 17:22-24. This passage begins by bringing up the beautiful image of the cedars of Lebanon, cedar trees that graced the high hills of Lebanon, and that were used in building the Temple in Jerusalem. In this passage the Lord proclaims that He will take off a sprig from a lofty cedar tree and then plant it in Israel. This passage gave hope to a people in exile in Babylon: the city of Jerusalem had been destroyed, thousands had been slaughtered by the Babylonians; of the remainder, the best and most useful were taken into exile in Babylon. The people were losing hope and were beginning to despair. As their hope of rescue and restoration to Israel began to fade, the prophet Ezekiel proclaimed that the Lord would rescue and restore, which happened when Cyrus of Persia defeated the Babylonians and allowed the people of God to return to Jerusalem. God kept His promise.
But this passage also has another fulfillment in Jesus: the Lord will one day take Jesus, plant Him in Jerusalem on a cross, and cause His dead body to rise, and by so doing bring life to all who are facing hardship, heartache, sin, death, and are falling into despair. God has spoken, He will do it, and He has in Jesus.
Let us always be hopeful that He will rescue and restore us in Jesus, even when life seems to be hopeless and to wear us down. It is God Who gives life!
Note also that as the cedar (the “cedar tree” of Jesus) is planted in Jerusalem, all people will find shelter in His shade, which they do in His Body, the Church.
Lord God, all thanks, glory, and honor to You for keeping Your promise to bring life to, and restore, Your people exiled in Babylon. More importantly, all thanks, glory, and honor to You for keeping Your promise to bring life to, and restore, us through Jesus. Your grace, mercy, and steadfast love are truly awesome. Keep us steadfast in You. Amen.

The psalm for today is Psalm 1. Again the image of a growing, flourishing, productive tree is used. This time a righteous person, who walks in the way of the Lord, is compared to a tree growing along a river bank, which is always strong, healthy, and productive.
In contrast, the wicked are not so, but are like chaff, the worthless trash from the wheat harvest, that the wind blows away.
God will separate the righteous from the wicked. If we are honest with ourselves, we will see that we are wicked; but in Christ, God only sees the righteousness of Christ in us. Let us remain rooted and growing in Christ, bearing fruit for His glory.
Holy Spirit, keep us rooted, grounded, and growing in Christ. Let us bear fruit to Your glory! Amen.

The Second Reading, 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 (11-17), carries many images to which the apostle Paul likens Christians. Our lives in this body are like living in a temporary tent, and one day the Lord will clothe us with His complete righteousness (the alb, the white robe many pastors wear, is a constant reminder that we are/will be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. So, when you see the alb, think of each of us as being clothed with the righteousness of Christ in Baptism). As Paul says, we long to be with the Lord, and by grace through faith we will be. Trust Him.
Notice that Paul proclaims that in Christ we are new people, a new creation. This has happened because Christ has died for us and makes us new in Himself. This He does by joining us to His death and resurrection in Baptism (see Romans 6). Let us be new people in Him.
Lord, continue to clothe us with the righteousness of Christ, He alone is our hope, life, and reconciliation. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.

In the Gospel for today, Mark 4:26-34, we again see the image of growing crops and plants. In the first parable Jesus talks about the power of the seed broadcast on the ground. The farmer doesn’t understand how growth happens, but it does. In the same way, we don’t know how God’s kingdom grows, but through the work of the Holy Spirit it does. And then the harvest comes. Let us sow the Word of God and let the Holy Spirit do His work in causing germination, growth, production, and harvest. We are called to sow and then to reap in His kingdom. The second parable is the parable of the mustard seed, the smallest of the garden seeds, but which grows into a huge plant, 20 feet wide by 20 feet tall, and so thick that the birds are safe in its branches. The kingdom of heaven began tiny – with Jesus, then 12 followers (when the 12th was added in Acts 1), then 120 at that time, then 3000 on the Day of Pentecost, then the kingdom has spread throughout the whole world, so that people of all nations can find a home in the kingdom of God. Thankfully, we have been called into this kingdom, a call which has caused faith to grow in us through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Notice how the Gospel ends: Jesus explained everything privately to the disciples. We are included in this. This is what Christian education is all about, this is what Bible study is all about, this is what devotions are all about, this is what preaching is all about, this is what Christian conversations are all about, etc., to explain everything to you His disciples. Be where the explanations happen.
Holy Spirit, enable us to grow every way into Christ the Head of the Church. Enable us to bear fruit for His glory. Amen.

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