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Series: Ordinary TIme

Category: 2018 Sermons

Passage: Ezekiel 17:22-24

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

My kids had a great-grandmother on John’s side of the family we called Grossie. In Grossie’s later years when you asked what she was doing, she’d say..”Oh just sitting and watching the trees move.” She said that with joy, not boredom. I didn’t fully understand that at 28 but today I can say that sitting and watching the trees move is one of my favorite things to do.

The enjoyment of doing that is even better if you imagine that when a tree moves, it the trees way of praising God.

Thomas Merton wrote-
“A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying [God]. It “consents,” so to speak, to [God's] creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree” 

So there’s a tree, just being a tree, branches that lift upwards and sway, dancing for God praising God in their very being,  just being what they were created to do and be. And, for me, the best part of that is that that praise is always taking on new forms, growing into new shapes and sizes, with new branches and buds, as they grow into becoming what God created them to be. That’s the best metaphor for our faith I can think of. A tree’s song, its movement, and its growth is always taking on new forms.

If trees do that, are we doing the same? Are we consenting to God’s creative love? Are we expressing the very essence of God who gives us life, who sustains us through the spirit and who lives inside of us in Jesus Christ. Are we allowing our faith and praise of God to take on new forms of expression? Or are we stunting our growth by trying to fit it into the old ways?

That’s true of our biblical understanding as well. We grow as a society, culturally, through a greater awareness and consciousness, we no longer subscribe to some of the strict laws prescribed in the bible. Neither is our faith fixed in a few lines of a creed or confession. Faith, like the bible, is a living growing gift from God. Faith is cultivated through our experiences of how God sees us through the worst of times so that we can experience the best of times once more. The root system of that faith, like that of redwood trees, is old and connected among us, but our expression of those roots takes on new forms over time.

The powerful metaphor of a tree is used biblically over 50 times in one way or another, it carries imagery as a life force but also a life susceptible to fire, which then regenerates into new growth. Looking to God’s creation as a metaphor for our lives moves beyond metaphor if we understand humanity as just one more piece of God’s same creation. Our self-consciousness and ability to reflect may separate us from trees, but our susceptibility and exposure to the harsh realities of life remain universally true for all God’s creation.

The prophet Ezekiel (you heard) knew the harsh reality of this life in ways we’ve never experienced.

Ezekiel was writing during a time of great despair in exile. The Babylonians attacked Jerusalem in 598 BCE and deported Judah’s leading citizens, Ezekiel being one. The devastating destruction of Jerusalem and the temple to follow[1] is a kind of exile we can only imagine.

Imagine with me for a moment, what it must have been like then, and for some in the world today… to be invaded, forcibly removed from your homes. Carried into exile in a foreign land, the foundations of your homeland, of the very foundations of your religion and temple destroyed. The Hebrew people believed God to be dwelling within that temple, in the holy of holies, a separate room that only high priests could enter, is now gone, which left them with the question, Where is God now? …these are the people for whom Ezekiel is writing; people who blame themselves thinking they must have done something wrong to deserve divine punishment…Despair can do that. Despair takes over and blame and shame and isolation follow;  which makes these words of Ezekiel’s, speaking for God, all the more important. Words that move beyond hope into promise…using trees to make his point.

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…

I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.

The high trees for Ezekiel are the oppressors. They’re the politically rich and powerful of ancient times who take cruel advantage of the weak. They’re playing God with people’s lives, oblivious to the suffering they are responsible for, using human lives as pawns in their pursuit of power. None of which is permissible in God’s kingdom, not then and not now. In God’s kingdom, the lion lays down with the lamb, and God is always redefining what power looks like by humbling the powerful and elevating the oppressed.

Not with more violence or devastation but with a spring and a twig in Ezekiel's passage, and a seed in Mark’s gospel, and a baby boy born of an ordinary girl the day God gave us Jesus.

Listen to Mary’s Magnificat in Luke’s gospel and how similar these words are to Ezekiel...

He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

This is God’s promise to us today as it was then to the Hebrew people…

Verse 23-Under it (this noble cedar that God will plant) every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind.

Every kind of bird, winged creatures of every kind…That is, all people…not only the Hebrew people then, not only Christ followers today. This is a God who protects all people, finding their home, their refuge in a land that belongs to God.

And then this verse.

All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord.

Lord is a controversial title to use in times when rulers themselves were considered lord. Ezekiel knew that. Jesus and his followers knew that when they referred to him as Lord. And we know that experience when we understand the values of our Lord Jesus Christ to supersede the values of our leaders. Our Lord is the tree that all the other trees know to be Lord. It is the tree that houses birds of every kind. Can you imagine the comfort those words must be for people in exile of any kind, ripped from their homes, foreigners in a strange land, or experiencing a kind of exile as you wait to be returned to security.

And then, can you imagine how faith takes a new form once delivered from exile? Once prosperity returns and despair becomes a thing of the past? Trees produce fruit, and we develop a compassion so great, we can’t help but extend the love we’ve been given to others, creating branches of our own, rooted in God.

Faith, trust in God… grows out of our experiences. It isn’t something we do but rather something that’s cultivated because of what God has done for us and with us. For Ezekiel, this was true during the worst of times.

For the apostle Paul that you heard, this was true despite every criticism and doubt he received from the community he helped start. We can all relate to criticism of religion. Criticism and judgment were creating splits within the community and people were losing faith and walking away then as they are today, which is only one reason why these words of Pauls are timeless...

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old has passed away, see everything has become new.

We are no longer stuck in our human judgment. We are no longer stuck in our limitations and old ways of thinking, of trying to return to something that is no longer a reality, because the world has changed. Jesus made sure of that. If anyone is ‘In Christ” To be In Christ, is a way of life. To be rooted in Christ…as Paul says in Colossians. Listen to that Merton quote again, only listen to it as I rewrote in direct relationship to Christ...

“A person gives glory to God by being a human being. For in being what God means us to be we are obeying [God]. We “consent,” so to speak, to [God's] creative love. We are expressing faith- which is in God and Christ- never distinct from the essence of God, and therefore we imitate Christ by being a human being.”

We praise God as we consent to God’s creative love. We consent because we’re clear about who Lords over us. Creative love never stops growing, spreading its arms to embrace and serve human beings of every kind, creative love is never finished. Everything has become new. And faith takes on a new form.

Trees are a holy part of God’s creation. It’s why some prefer hiking to church. How many times have I heard people say their church is Mt Tam? It’s mine too, but it’s not enough. This is the place we come together in community to worship the one who created that mountain. This is the place we are reminded in the community that we move beyond ourselves into service through compassion for all people. This is the place we hear the ancient holy scripture of a universal experience, rooted in God. This life and this world is so much bigger than our being and at the same time, our very being’s greatest purpose is to praise our life’s source. To live a life in Christ is a constant reminder that Sunday is simply the best day of the week.

Your about to hear an anthem, a song title Hallelujah one more time…Hallelujah by definition means…God be praised…

It’s a song about that praise. It’s about faith that grows and takes on new forms in the midst of dark times…as it looks to nature as confirmation of a God who is always with us. The birds of the air know this, the trees of every kind express this…

This is our call as people of faith…


[1] Feasting on the word, 123