Sunday, 13th June, Second Sunday of Trinity
Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without love are nothing worth: send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the true bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you. Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
A reading from Ezekiel: (17. 22-24)
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. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar.
Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken; I will accomplish it.
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Psalm (92. 1-7)
It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night,
to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.
For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.
How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!
The dullard cannot know, the stupid cannot understand this: though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction for ever, but you, O Lord, are on high for ever.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be:
world without end.
A reading from the Second Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians: (5. 6-17)
So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord - for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil.
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.
For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Listen to the Gospel of Christ according to Saint Mark (4. 26-34)
Glory to you, O Lord.
He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’
He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’
With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
Reflection - DK
I guess that I’m not alone in being caught out by the pace of wildflower and weed growth in the last couple of weeks and I’m struggling to keep up with it all this year. I expect that as you came in here this morning, you’ll have noted how high the grass now is in our churchyard.
Today’s readings give us allegories of God’s actions and kingdom, using imagery from the natural world. Ezekiel’s prophecy uses the idea of a transplanted cedar cutting to convey God’s purpose in ultimately re-establishing and exalting Israel after the Babylonian exile. The prophet’s description of a great variety of birds nesting and making their living in the great tree is clearly echoed by Jesus in our Gospel extract for today,
The parable of the mustard seed, which we have today from Mark, appears in all three synoptic gospels. The other two accounts in Matthew and Luke link it with a story about a woman who hides a small amount of yeasty dough in flour, causing it all to rise. In Mark, as we’ve heard, it’s coupled with a different short account, though one with the same purpose. A person scatters seed, but then just then leaves it to its own devices. The seed gets on with its business of growing, eventually producing a harvest, even though conventional cultivation has been completely ignored.
And so Jesus delivers his mustard seed parable. We note that he stresses how small the seed is; the smallest of all the seeds, he says. It’s assumed that the plant referred to is Black Mustard. It was cultivated then in the eastern Mediterranean and is known to have been used as a condiment for at least 2,000 years. There are tinier seeds, but those of Black Mustard are likely to have been the smallest familiar ones in cultivated plants of the time. In our translation, the mustard is described as a shrub in which birds can make nests. Typically, Black Mustard can grow to about 4 ft in height and giant forms of it have also been described in the Middle East, perhaps reaching as much as 9 feet. It’s an annual, so birds actually nesting in it rather than just sheltering underneath may seem a little fanciful, but let’s not get pedantic!
There’s been some debate about what the birds really represent. The same chapter of Mark begins with the parable of the sower, in which birds that eat seed fallen on the path are later explained to represent Satan. To me, though, the birds in our parable today sound more like ordinary people welcomed into a kingdom that’s emerged from insignificant origins, but always carrying huge hidden potential.
It may seem unsurprising to us as Christians in the 21st century; after all, we have hindsight and know how the story went on. But, back then, however extensively a mustard plant might have been understood to develop, the idea of God’s kingdom coming from minimal beginnings would have been surprising to those listening to Jesus. They’d expected a messianic liberator to free them from Roman occupation: a big noise, maybe, but on a national level. Instead, we see his followers being shown how they, originally quite ordinary people, are to help bring a much greater and universal kingdom to fruition. They themselves, and we who follow them, are the hidden leaven, the small seeds.
Loving Father, we thank you for feeding us at the supper of your Son: sustain us with your Spirit, that we may serve you here on earth until our joy is complete in heaven, and we share in the eternal banquet with Jesus Christ our Lord.