Ordinary Miracles

Message for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (6/16/2024)

Ezekiel 17:22-24 & Mark 4:26-34

Even a cursory glance at Holy Scripture reveals that the grace of God is bursting forth in little ways all around us. The Bible is filled with images drawn from nature that bear witness to God’s ways in the world; for instance, the image of the tree of life in the readings assigned for today: “Thus says the Lord God… I will break off a tender [sprig] / from the [top of a cedar tree]; / I myself will plant it / on a high and lofty mountain… / 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.” How to describe God’s goodness? Just look at a transplanted cedar branch– give it some time, and it will become a refuge for all kinds of wildlife.

Jesus borrows this image in today’s Gospel from Mark, although he improvises a little: The realm of God “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.” This time, winged creatures find rest beneath the branches of a mustard bush, which, of all the majestic bushes in the world, is apparently the most majestic. Take a moment to appreciate Jesus’ sense of humor: the Greek word for “shrub” in this translation literally means “garden vegetable.”[1] So, to the prophet Ezekiel the realm of God is like a great tree, but to Jesus it’s more like a vine of cucumbers.

And let’s not neglect that easy-to-miss parable that precedes the parable of the mustard seed in today’s Gospel: “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.” God’s gentle providence, in other words, is revealed in the ordinary miracles that surround us every day, like seeds that sprout while we slumber.

In all three instances, the meaning is evident: Just look at the forests and fields of the world, and see that God’s will is for flourishing. And where God gives the growth, we are invited simply to marvel and to reap the benefits.

Which brings me to a reflection from one of my favorite contemporary theologians, Barbara Brown Taylor. Bear with me while I quote at length from a chapter in An Altar in the World called “The Practice of Waking up to God”:

[Excerpts from pp.10-13]

Friends, if we are guests in the House of God, we are privileged guests indeed. What a privilege to be surrounded by the simple-yet-miraculous. What a privilege to sit at the feet of a Teacher who insists on abundant life for us and for the whole world. What a privilege to partake in God’s goodness, both for our sake and for the sake of our neighbors. What a cause for gratitude and wonder.

[1] See C. Clifton Black, www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-11-2/commentary-on-mark-426-34-6.

Liturgy © 2022 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.
Liturgy © True Vine Music (TrueVinemusic.com). All rights reserved. Used by permission under CCLI license #11177466.

“What is This Place”; Text and arr. © 1967 Gooi en Sticht, BV, Baarn, The Netherlands. All rights reserved. Exclusive agent for English-language countries: OCP Publications, 5536 NE Hassalo, Portland, OR 97213.
“God of the Fertile Fields”; Text © 1955, ren. 1983 The Hymn Society, admin. Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved.
“Taste and See”; text: James E. Moore Jr., b. 1951, based on Ps. 34; music: James E. Moore Jr.; text and music © 1983 GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.
“For the Fruit of All Creation”; Text © 1970 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Outside USA: Arr. from The English Hymnal, © Oxford University Press 1906
“Sent Forth by God’s Blessing”; Text © 1964 World Library Publications. 3708 River Road, Suite 400. Franklin Park, IL 60131-2158. www.wlpmusic.com. All rights reserved.