Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Everlasting Kingdom

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Thus says the Lord God:  I, too will take from the crest of the cedar, from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain; on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.  It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar.  (Ezekiel 17:22-23b)

(W)e walk by faith, not by sight.(2 Corinthians 5:7)

Jesus said to the crowds:  “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.  Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come…. To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it?  It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth.  But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants… ”   (Mark 4:26-32a)

From eternity to eternity you are God.
(Psalm 90:2b)

It seems to me that the “good old days” are by and large someone’s cherished myth.  Some times and places are undoubtedly better than others, but trouble abounds, if you look for it, in every generation.

When I turn on the news or pick up a newspaper, there are grisly details of vicious attacks and murders not far from here, reminders that racism is alive and well in our country, accounts of the hardships of life in war-torn areas in the world, and stories about the latest atrocities carried out by ISIS members.  Polar ice caps are melting. Weather patterns seem changed.  Problems abound.

But other people in other times and places have had their share of troubles, too.  The prophet Ezekiel spoke to a people carried off into exile in Babylon.  Their captors called the shots.  They wept and mourned the loss of all that was familiar to them.  They wondered if they would ever see their homeland again.   
Mark is believed to have recorded his Gospel around 70 A.D., about the time when the Romans devastated the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.  There were problems between Gentiles and Jews throughout all of Palestine as a result. We know the church was made of of people of both backgrounds.  Christians had been persecuted.   It must have been a frightening, uncertain time in which to have been a believer in Jesus Christ.

Our Scripture readings today sound notes of hope for the fearful, persecuted or downtrodden of any time or place.   Ezekiel used the image of a cedar tree as he addressed the exiles in Babylon.  God is going to bring you home, the prophet says.  God will tear a shoot from the top of the tree, representing those of you stuck in Babylon, and plant it high on a mountain top for all to see.  It will grow and prosper, bear fruit and become a great cedar.  No matter how far you have wandered or been taken, it’s not too late.  God will restore you to your former stature and make you fruitful once again.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus illustrates two truths about the Kingdom of God.  In the first instance, he tells us that the Kingdom is everlasting.  No matter what the troubles of the day, God’s reign is eternal.  The scattered seeds sprout and grow, whether we’re asleep or awake.  Nothing you or I do can stop that process.  The Kingdom will go on.

Then Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed.  It may start out very small, but it will become a huge shrub.  I read that once the roots of a mustard shrub take hold, they are like kudzu; there’s no getting rid of them.  They spread like wildfire. The Kingdom of God is growing and here to stay.

The Kingdom of God is not always readily apparent, but the apostle Paul reminds us that, as Christians, we walk by faith, not by sight.  Pray for the courage to put your faith in what is lasting.  Don’t get sucked into the “good old days” myth.  Troubles come and go.  Good times come and go.  The only thing that is forever is God’s reign.

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