Year B, Proper 6, Pentecost 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 and Psalm 20 Ezekiel 17:22-24 and Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 • Mark 4:26-34 “We walk by faith, not by sight,” declares Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:7. Is Paul declaring that we literally walk blindly through life? That our eyes do not guide us? Of course not! This would be silly to assume. Paul is speaking metaphorically rather than literally and we all know this when we are reading 2 Corinthians 5. Metaphors are such a large part of language that we are in danger of becoming immune to their power. As scholar, John Dominic Crossan, writes in his book The Power of Parable,” [Metaphors] are …the tectonic plates of language and it is never wise to forget or ignore tectonic plates. (That’s a metaphor.)” Crossan’s metaphor becomes clear when we have an image of tectonic plates deep in the earth. It could be a visual image from a science text. It could be a kinesthetic image and memory of what it feels like when tectonic plates shift if we have actually experienced an earthquake. Almost all of us have recently seen earthquake pictures on the news. We understand from these sensory experiences the devastation and reconstruction of a landscape that can occur when places and people are not prepared for the shifting of tectonic plates. There is great power here. So we understand Crossan’s use of the tectonic plates to describe the import of metaphor in language. Great power.
Metaphor and story are yoked through image. We experience stories through the sense images they evoke. We understand metaphors through imagery. It behooves us to remember the power metaphor in scripture as we remember the power of scripture stories and the stories behind the texts. This is why I focus on the concrete images in the lectionary texts. Harp on them to use a metaphoric statement. Images together with exegetical word study, historical-critical and sociological understanding and literary analysis bring us to the heart of meaning in our sacred texts. Images engage our bodily selves, our emotional selves and imagination of our souls! This week one major metaphor in the lectionary texts can be described with Paul’s phrase “walking by faith and not by sight.” God is at work in hidden ways in each of our texts. In Ezekiel, the prophet tells us that God will take a cutting from a great tree, plant it, nurture it, and grow it into an even greater tree of life. What was dry becomes alive with moisture and what was wet is dried up to the bone. What was alive will die and what was dead will spring to life. We know that this metaphorical action of God is about the restoration of the God’s people from oppression and exile. In the midst of their struggle and suffering the prophet proclaims that God is making all things new even when they cannot perceive the newness. The imagery is much more inspiring that just saying, “Hang tight, God will save you.” The Tree of Life, that ancient sacred and fabled Middle Eastern image, is being re-created by God in the restoration of God’s people.
Bristlecone Pine Seedling, 1 year
In Mark Jesus uses parables of seeds to describe God’s hidden work in the world. Crossan defines parables as “metaphorical stories”, stories that point beyond themselves to the bigger story of meaning in life. In this case, Jesus is pointing the people toward God’s bigger story of meaning. Seeds grow when they are out of sight. Like a pot of water waiting to boil, watched seeds seem to take forever to come to fruition. (I am currently watching and waiting for my summer basil to sprout.) Then suddenly the crop is up and growing by leaps and bounds. Growing from the smallest of seeds into the greatest of bushes, into the Tree of Life. It seems like no time and the harvest is bearing fruit. And this is the way it is in the Kingdom of God. The work seems secret and hidden at first, but watch out because like the power within those unseen tectonic plates, God’s power is mighty in the world changing things, turning creation upside down for those who need redemption. “We walk by faith and not by sight” and on the journey everything becomes new when we are in Christ. Growth happens in church when we thought all was dried up. Our spirits are renewed as we walk in faith through sorrow and painful times rather than around them. In keeping with our metaphor of growing trees, we hear the psalmist sing “The righteous flourish like the palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God.” (Psalm 92:12-13)
There are two children’s stories that could be a lot of fun in worship or Sunday school using the metaphor of seeds as God’s Kingdom growing in secret. The first is a very familiar Russian folktale that is also found in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, “The Great Turnip.” If you google this story you will find many delightful versions on the web. Here are two:
In the telling I would emphasize the time that the grandfather and his family had to wait after the turnip seed was planted and as it was growing. You can tell this part of the story with repetition just as pulling the turnip up has repetitive action. You could involve the children in simple actions of planting, waiting and pulling up the turnip. The second story comes from the children’s book series on Frog and Toad by Arnold Loebel. You can find the story titled “The Garden” in Frog and Toad Together. ( http://www.amazon.com/Frog-Toad-Together-Read-Book/dp/0064440214/ref=sr_1_8?ie=UTF8&qid=1433455470&sr=8-8&keywords=Frog+and+Toad+storie ) It is a delightful tale about the frustration of Toad in waiting for his seeds to grow in his garden. I have even used this story in “grown-up” sermon. Simple but a profound metaphor for those of us, young and old and in between, who are gardeners in God’s Kingdom garden. You can find the story on-line at http://www.cwasd.k12.wi.us/cms_files/resources/rsstories3-4.pdf.
The text from I Samuel follows the theme highlighted above. As Samuel follows the Lord’s instructions he is called to walk by faith and not by sight. He has anointed Saul but the Lord is not please with Saul as a king and neither is Samuel. What to do? God gives Samuel mysterious instruction about making a sacrifice and inviting Jesse and his sons. In doing this he will find the new king for Israel. When Samuel sees the sons of Jesse, he thinks his problems are solved for they are all seem strong in character and body. Yet the mystery continues as none of them are the “one.” It is only when the youngest and least likely is called that God is pleased and Samuel is instructed that this young one is the new king. How can this be? Once again God’s call is to walk by faith and not by sight.
Telling this story to the children would be a wonderful way to introduce the thematic metaphor discussed above. Many of them may have heard the story of David and Goliath but will not know this story of how David is chosen to lead. Wow! Could one of them be such a leader some day? Consider how you might “stage” the story by lining up some of the bigger and stronger children as Jesse’s older sons to create a repetitive telling of the choosing. And then the smallest one of all is chosen! This story could also serve within the adult sermon to illustrate “walking by faith and not by sight” with God. As we know it did not start with Paul.
Blessings on your story journey this week! Jane Anne  John Dominic Crossan, The Power of Parable; How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus, (NY, NY: HarperCollins, 2012, 8). ©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2015 and beyond. Text and photos to be reprinted with permission only.