June 17 – Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
by Pastor Pete Scheele
Read Ezekiel 17:22 – 24
Grace and peace to you as you let God go to work in your life, from God, our Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Thus, says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest.” (Ezek. 17: 22 – 23)
The cedars of Lebanon are magnificent trees. They grow to be tall and straight and were used to make the Temple and the Kings palaces of Jerusalem. So, when God talks about getting a young tender sprig off the top of a cedar He’s talking about a special person and the high and lofty mountain that He is talking about is mount Zion, the mount where the temple of God was built upon. So, who is this person that comes from the top most part of this high and lofty cedar tree that God is going to set up to grow on the high and lofty mount Zion? Well it’s Jesus. Jesus was from the high and loft top of the cedar of God, at His heavenly throne, when God came and took Him to be a young tender sprig in this world, a tiny baby. God, the Father set Jesus up to be the new cedar that He would plant at mount Zion, to be the new Covenant of God that would reign forever, that all the world can put their trust in.
So, did you hear what God said he would do? God said, “I myself will take . . .” “I will break of . . .” “I myself will plant . . .” God is the one who is doing all the work to bring us back to be His new covenant people. In Chapter 16 of Ezekiel, all the way through the first 21 verses of chapter 17 God is telling us what He is going to do to the people of Israel who have broke the covenant that He made with them even though He had made them His people. He’s not just talking about the people of Israel in Ezekiel’s time, He’s also talking about us, the people who are wrestling with God’s Word today, the new Israel. We too have over and over again broken the covenant that God made with us and fallen away from being the people of God, even though we said that we will keep God as number on in our life. Though we’ve broken God’s covenant with us over and over again, out of God’s great love, grace and mercy for us He comes to take us to be His people; He still comes to breaks us away from the sinfulness of this world to make us His people; He still comes to plant us as a new people as He nurtures and cares for us so that we can grow and mature to be the people that God wants us to be.
Yes, because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we can be taken from the sinfulness of this world, we can be broken out of our slavery to sin and made ready to be planted into the family of God through our Baptism. It’s the Holy Spirit who does this mighty work in our lives through God’s Word and Sacraments and it can be seen in our lives and in nature as you plant seeds in the ground, as Jesus explained in the parable of the seeds found in our Gospel reading for today. It can be seen also in the starting of a tree from a young tender sprig, like talked about by Ezekiel. (Bring out the bucket of sprigs.)
How many of you know that there is a Willow tree on the church property? Now you might think that there can’t be a willow tree on the church property because there’s not enough water on the church property to keep it growing. Well I would agree with that logic, but at the lowest point of the lower parking lot just over the bank there is a Willow tree growing. Now all of you who are setting on the north side of the Sanctuary near a window can see that tree by look out the window and across the parking lot. There is only one deciduous tree there and it’s about 30 feet tall. For all of you that can’t see the willow tree on the far side of the lower parking lot I have cut off some of the tender young sprigs from that willow tree and set them in water. Now I didn’t climb up the top of the willow tree to get these tender young sprigs, like God said that He is going to do, but I’m going to us these tender young sprigs to show you and explain to you what God is talking about through the words from the prophet Ezekiel.
Now it’s rather unique that a willow tree is growing just off the parking lot of the church because there is no constant source of water flowing there and the fact that you’re going to have to look a long ways away from the Church parking lot to find another Willow tree like this one is another part of the mystery. So, you might be asking, “Where did this willow tree come from?” A willow trees like this one only has the ability to reproduce by seed or by a young tender sprig being broken off another willow tree and then put into water till it has the ability to sprout roots and develop a root system to keep the tree growing. In other words only God knows how it got here and only God can make it grow.
Jesus says in our gospel reading for this morning, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4: 26 – 29) Just like a seed that is planted in the ground it takes the right amount of water and heat from the sun to cause it to start to grow. So the same thing is true about sprouting a sprig from a tree. It takes water and the warmth of the sun to cause the tender young sprig to start to grow roots. Then when the roots begin to grow it takes just the right amount of water, soil and sunshine to enable the root to cause the sprig to grow into a tree and to keep the tree growing to become a strong tree that can produce fruit and seed while protecting and shading the birds of the air. It takes the miracle of God.
So how does all of this relate to you and me? Well, let me use Joey, our conformant today as an example how this relates to each of us. Joey is one of these sprigs. The faith that Joey has comes from his parents. They started the faith in him when he was brought to the church to be baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. At that moment, Don and Sheila planted the seed of faith in Joey as all his sins were washed through the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross of Calvary, in the water of his baptism. The water and God’s Word started that faith through the work of the Holy Spirit in Joey’s life. Don and Sheila kept that faith growing by bringing him to Church and reading to him God’s Word, the living water. During the past three years Joey has been getting large doses of God’s Word in his life to stimulate his faith to grow even more, kind of like miracle grow being added to the water of your plants to stimulate their growth.
In a way today, by Joey’s confirmation of his faith in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Joey is being cut off from the tree of his family to grow into a mature tree on his own. Now Joey’s faith may be started and there may be roots to sustain it but there is still the need for the water of life, God’s Word, to be a part of his life and the nourishment of God’s food, the Lord’s Supper to help that growth along with the right amount of sunshine, God’s love shining and encouraging him to more growth.
Joey, God will is to make your faith strong and sturdy to support and protect those that you love and those that God brings into your life., but you have to let Him go to work in your life. God will do it because as you grow in your faith you will receive protection from the old evil foe by other supporting you in your faith and by God’s Word and Sacraments giving you the defense and the nourishment you need to grow. Joey, God wants you to grow in your faith in Him and to flourish but that’s only going to happen as you let the Holy Spirit go to work in your life through God’s Word and Sacraments. Joey, today you are going to confirm that you have the same faith that each of us have, built upon the rock of Jesus Christ and are growing in our faith by the living water of God’s Word and Sacraments. Joey, we come together to celebrate this day in your life because we want to see you grow and mature as a cedar or a willow, a man of God that He wants you to be, so that you can share your faith with others and maybe someday with God’s blessings have a tender young sprig that attached to you ready to be taken from you to grow and mature with your help.
Yes, each of us here are just like these tender young sprigs of that willow, pine or aspen tree out there. We all need the living water that comes from God’s Word in our lives constantly if we have a hope to grow and flourish in this world. But if we don’t want God to be a part of our lives God says to us, “And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” (Ezek. 17:24)
This is the warning that God give to all of us and this is the promised blessing that God wants to give to all of us, so which do you want? As we strive to keep God the focus of our growth in this world we will flourish and live in the love, peace and joy of God all our lives for eternity. But if we strive to make other things of this world the focus of our lives God will allow our faith to dry up. It’s God’s love, grace and mercy that is given to each of us our faith that can flourish now and forever with Him. It’s God who takes us from this world to make us His child and enables us to grow in our faith and love of Him. It’s God who breaks us from our slavery to sin and enables us to be His people by the Holy Spirit working in our lives through His Word and Sacraments. It’s God who plants us in His Church so that we can grow and mature in our faith that will help us to protect and provide for others with the Love, grace and mercy that God has given to us.
We come to celebrate Joey’s confirmation of his faith and ask God to work in his and our lives so that His faith will flourished and grow so he will be ready take a part in the protection and support for others as they grow and need support in their faith so that they can be in God’s loving arms now and forever. We also come today to celebrate our father’s role in making us young tender sprigs that mature enough in our faith to be ready to grow and become that cedar that protect and provides for others with God’s love, grace and mercy. Amen.