Mark 4: 26-34, Ezekiel 17:22-24
How good is your ability to recall? Do you, for instance, write a list of what you need before you go shopping? If I have remembered to write items down, I get them. Doug occasionally does some grocery shopping; he doesn’t write a list. Does he remember everything? Noooo…..
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be unable to write something down, or never to read anything written? To have no way of recording something you would like to share or remember.
Sharing is something we humans have always desired. These days we do a lot of it on social media; if you tweet something that captures the attention of people who are connected with you (not necessarily just your friends!), your message can reach one million people in hours. Hours!
How often do you share posts on face book? We are good at sharing; maybe not so good at spelling or grammar, but we do like to pass on a good story or a witty saying.
Now, here’s the rub: how much of that do you remember? I shall be honest. If I do not save it to my phone, I will forget it, no matter how witty or true to life, or how funny. In this modern world we are surrounded with messages, stories, chats and tweets, but for the most part, they are shallow, a cartoon for a quick laugh, an invitation to say the colour you are wearing and the last thing you ate to make up your gangster name. For the most part, harmless fun.
Or are they? How quickly social networking has changed our world. Consider Captain Tom Moore; the story of his 100 laps around his garden went viral and raised a huge amount of money for a good cause. Consider the storming of the Senate in Washington; rallying people for a cause has never been so easy! Some are not so harmless, after all. Consider the situation of Ollie Robinson, suspended from playing international cricket for tweets he posted 9 years ago as a teenager. You may not remember, but what you do is recorded, it seems, for all time.
Let us turn now to our readings of today, firstly from Mark’s Gospel:
‘With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.’ These are the verses that really struck me this week.
And in verses 10 – 12 earlier in the same chapter: ‘When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise, they might turn and be forgiven!’
Remember, I asked earlier how good your ability to recall is? Well, consider this: Mark wrote this Gospel (the first of the four to be written) to the church in Rome about AD 60. That is almost 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. And I do think that even if the mustard seeds parable isn’t relevant to us today, it sure helped Mark to remember what Jesus said. Jesus’ parables linked what he was saying to the world around him, and the people who followed him; this helped them recall the message – although he said they were seeing but never realising, hearing but not understanding.
Now, let’s look at Ezekiel. This priest and prophet was born around 623 BC, and as a young man he went with the people of Israel into exile in Babylon. Prophesies were not always welcomed, usually because they carried bad news, but listen to what he says here:
‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel, I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the forest will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. ‘I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’ Here we have Ezekiel using parables too. In fact, in the earlier verses of this chapter, the message from God to the people of Israel was a parable of the vine and two eagles; it is a warning to God’s people.
In the Old Testament, tree imagery stands for the royal line, with a new shoot representing a fresh start. David’s dynasty had failed God, but God had a plan; he would take a branch from the line of David, in the person of Jesus Christ, who would be raised up as the source of blessing for all nations, those ‘birds of every kind [who] will nest in it’ Oh, how this is echoed by Jesus: ‘The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of all garden plants, and birds can make nests in its shade.’
The value of these stories is that they have a common theme. God is constant, his name after all is I AM, relevant in every age. He is in everything that he has made: we are made in his image and all of creation bears his hallmark.
What better way to remind us of his love and promises than a rainbow?
And the psalmist says:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
If I do go shopping and I have forgotten my list, I can walk up and down the aisles, and I usually remember some of the items I need.
I cannot see God, neither can you. If you seek God, look at the trees around you. Look at the beauty of the hands and feet of a baby. Look into the eyes of those who love you. You will see him there, and you will remember.