Bible Study: Proper 6 (B) – June 17, 2012

Discussion Leader: Shane Patrick Gormley, Nashotah House Theological Seminary

“Jesus 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’” (Mark 4:30-32).

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 and Psalm 20 (Track 2: Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14);2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17; Mark 4:26-34

Ezekiel 17:22-24

The depth of Ezekiel 17:22-24 is better explored by the light of the preceding context. This passage serves as the conclusion to an allegorical story of Israel’s recent history (17:1-21). God had sent Israel into exile as a punishment for their transgressions. They forsook the covenant that God had established with them. The exile was a time ordained by God for Israel’s purification. He had allowed them to prosper even under the dominion of Babylon. The Babylonian king established his own covenant and appointed one of the Israelite rulers as his viceroy. This viceroy, and the Israelites with him, forsook this blessing and reached out to Egypt for aid against the Babylonians.

Israel neglected the discipline of the exile and the blessing of the favor that they found in the eyes of the Babylonians. God saw it as an offense not only against Babylon but against him as well. “As I live, I will surely return upon his head my oath that he despised, and my covenant that he broke” (17:19). He will punish and discipline Israel. But here, in 17:22-24, God announces that no one else is able to plant Israel and cause it to prosper – not Babylon, not Egypt, and not Israel itself. “I myself will take sprig. … I myself will plant it” (22). God’s sovereignty will be proclaimed in this act. All of creation will know what God has done and that he alone has done it (24).

Do we recognize the different ways that God is acting in the world today?

How might we open ourselves more fully to what God is doing, and how he might use us to do it?

Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14

It is a good thing, and a privilege, to give thanks to God. Whether it be morning or night, brightness or darkness, we proclaim God’s goodness and faithfulness in all that we do. We sing, we praise, we work, we worship, we pray, we laugh, we cry, we serve. In all that we do, we give thanks to God, and we are to recognize God is doing a work in his people, and we are blessed by that work. This work is not always the easiest thing to recognize, but we are assured by the scriptures that it is taking place. Sometimes this work is beautiful and heroic, like the Exodus and David’s anointing. At other times the work is hard and difficult, like the discipline of the Exile and the heartache we feel at a close friend’s death. But in all things God works in us that which is good and that which gives growth.

As we are conformed further to God’s image, as we become righteous, we are made to flourish like the palm trees and grow like the cedars of Lebanon (11). We are more firmly grounded in the house of God (12). All the challenges and blessings of our lives move us to testify, even in our increasing years (13) that God does what is right, and that in him we cannot be moved. We are firmly planted and will grow to be fruitful (14). Our praise and thanksgiving are to testify to this very fact.

What do you thank God for each day?

How do you communicate to others what God is doing in your life?

2 Corinthians 5:6-10 (11-13) 14-17

In what are we confident? We are confident that God has prepared something better for us. Previous to this, Paul has said, “We know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (5:1). No matter what happens to us in this life, God is preparing something greater for us. This we may not always see; only our faith beholds the beauty that awaits us and will be revealed to us in the proper time. The confidence that Paul teaches us to have is to be enacted in the here and now. We live by faith – faith in what is being prepared for us, guaranteed by the Holy Spirit. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”

The work required by God has already been accomplished. “We are convinced that one has died for all” (14). Jesus Christ offered himself to be the propitiation for our sins, and so we enter into this work by joining in his death. We die to ourselves and live to God. “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” (15). We are remade into a new creation. “Everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (17). And we can never forget that it is God who works this in us (18).

What struggles do you encounter that you know are not a part of what is to come? Do you accept the grace to overcome those things now?

How can you live as a new creation? How can your life continually be made new?

Mark4:26-34

These two parables look at the kingdom of God, the reality that has broken upon the kingdom of this world declaring God as the true and righteous king of creation, and compare it to seeds. In the first, the kingdom is compared to the growth of a seed. Going to sleep, whether you’re a farmer or not, allows you to rest and let the world worry about itself for a little while. A seed doesn’t need us to stay awake for it to grow. We plant it and we water it, giving it what it needs for sustenance. But making it grow is up to God. Whether we think of the seed that we plant or the seed that is planted in us, we must remember that it is God who gives the growth.

When the harvest has come, we can also be assured that God will be there to reap it. God tends his garden and keeps it alive. God sustains his own kingdom and gives it the growth it needs at the proper time. He can work with anything we give him. Even the “smallest of all the seeds on earth” will become “the greatest of all shrubs.” Its large branches are the branches of the kingdom of God, which will stretch to the corners of the earth. God placed humans on earth to tend to it, and provide for its growth (Gen 1:26-28; 2:15). We are to take part in furthering the kingdom on earth, being its very branches and stretching farther and farther.

What is the soil of your life like? Do you prepare yourself to allow the kingdom of God to grow in your life?

How do you tend to the garden of your neighbor’s life? Do you make it easier for him or her to let the kingdom grow in his or her own life?

How do you spread the kingdom around yourself?

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