Tuesday of Pentecost 4 – Ezekiel 17:22-24 

22 Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. 24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.”

Roger Lovin’s short story “Apostle” imagines a future in which God has brought the world to an end. His instrument for doing so was a terrible race of cruel aliens whose superior technology made short work of humanity and the whole earth. But they did not kill all the humans, not immediately. Being an exceedingly cruel race, they saved some for sport. Lovin’s story focuses on the very last of these people, a wretched man who had been an alcoholic and wastrel before the end. Now he was being hunted on a strange, icy planet. The story opens with him running for his life. Finally, he had had enough. He turned on his pursuers and refused to run any more. They stopped and wondered at this. One of the aliens asked him why he was not afraid to die. He told them the story which he had learned as a child in Sunday School, of Jesus who would raise him to life again. He was not afraid to die.

They killed him after he said that, but some of the aliens heard what he said, believed what he said, and began to tell the story to others. Soon spires rose on other worlds and hymns were sung in languages unimagined on earth.

It is a fiction, an imagined story, but it imagines something of which this text reminds us. The church, all its people, property, traditions, and liturgies, they all belong to God, and they are all the product of God’s gracious work. We sometimes fret when our congregation is shrinking, or when it looks like we won’t meet our budget goals. But the church is a twig which God plucked from the tree of Judaism and planted through the foolishness of a proclaimed Gospel. On the one hand, this means that we can take no credit for whatever successes we have seen. It is all God’s doing. On the other hand, however, it also means we always have hope. If I cut a twig from a cedar tree and stick it in the ground on top of a mountain, it will not grow. Cedars do not propagate that way. But if God puts that twig in the ground, even something which I know will not work, it works. You might be afraid for your congregation and church today. You might have reason for that fear. The church seems to be in retreat in so many places and hostile forces seem to be gathering on the horizon. Trust God. He started long ago with Abraham, an old childless man, and made a mighty nation of him. He started with a handful of modestly educated disciples and built the church. He is not constrained by our expectations of what will work.

Scroll to Top