|Pentecost 17, Year B, Season of Creation 3||September 19, 2021||Pentecost 17, Proper 20, Year B, Season of Creation 3||Psalm 54, Mark 9:30-37|
|➤Pentecost 16, Year B, Season of Creation 2||September 12, 2021||Pentecost 16, Year B, Season of Creation II||Mark 8:27-38|
|Pentecost 15, Year B, Season of Creation 1||September 5, 2021||Proper 18, Year B Season of Creation 2021||Isaiah 35:4-7a, Psalm 146, James 2:1-10, 14-17, Mark 7:24-37|
|Pentecost 13 B – Rev. Amy Turner||August 22, 2021||Pentecost 13, Proper 16||John 6:56-69|
|Pentecost 12, Year B||August 15, 2021||Proper 15, Pentecost 12, Year B||John 6:51-58|
|Pentecost 11, Year B||August 8, 2021||Pentecost 11, Proper 14, Year B||John 6:35,41-51|
|Pentecost 10, Year B – Rev. Bambi Willis||August 1, 2021||Pentecost 10, Proper 13, Year B||John 6:24-35|
|Pentecost 9, Year B||July 25, 2021||Proper 12, Pentecost 9, Year B||2 Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21|
|Pentecost 8, Year B||July 18, 2021||Proper 11, Pentecost 8, Year B 2021||Psalm 23, Jeremiah 23:1-6, Mark 6:30-34|
|Pentecost 7, Year B||July 11, 2021||Proper 10, 7th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B||Amos 7:7-15, Psalm 85, Ephesians 1:3-14, 2: 11-22, Mark 6:14-29|
|Pentecost 6, Year B||July 4, 2021||Pentecost 6, Proper 9||2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13|
|Pentecost 5, Year B||June 27, 2021||Proper 8, Year B||Mark 5:21-43|
|Pentecost 2, Year B||June 6, 2021||Proper 5, Year B||Genesis 3:8-15, Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1, Mark 3:20-35|
|Trinity Sunday, Year B||May 30, 2021||Trinity Sunday, Year B||John 3:1-17|
|Day of Pentecost, Year B||May 23, 2021||Day of Pentecost, Year B||Acts 2:1-21, Romans 8:22-27, John 16:4b-15|
Pentecost 16, Year B, Season of Creation 2
Sermon Date:September 12, 2021
Scripture: Mark 8:27-38
Liturgy Calendar: Pentecost 16, Year B, Season of Creation II
In today’s sermon, I’ll be sharing with you some insights of Donnel O’Flynn, an Episcopal priest whose book, Holy Cross, Life Giving Tree, came out in 2017. His writing brings new life to the meaning of the cross in this Season of Creation.
In today’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples and the crowd that those who wish to become his followers must “Take up your cross and deny yourselves, and follow me.” And those who follow him and lose their lives for his sake and for the sake of the gospel, will save their lives—that is, they will obtain eternal life by following Jesus.
When we follow Jesus, we find the way back to Paradise, which is good news for us!
At the beginning of the story of our salvation, we human beings closed the way to paradise through our actions in the Garden of Eden.
Rather than denying themselves what God has asked them not to touch, Adam and Eve indulge in eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now they know about not only goodness, but also about evil, and evil is the thing that we human beings find almost impossible to resist.
God says of this act on their part that “they have become like one of us, knowing good and evil, and now, they might reach out their hands and take also from the tree of life, and eat and live forever.”
“Therefore, the Lord God sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden.” (Genesis 3:22-23a)
The tree of life is now off limits to Adam and Eve. God drives them out of the garden, and at the east of the garden of Eden, God places the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)
Eventually in the Bible we come to the center of the story of salvation. Jesus comes to be with us, and takes up his own cross, carries it to Golgotha, and is lifted high on the cross.
When Jesus is lifted up on the cross, he re-opens to us the gates of paradise which had been closed to us ever since God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden.
Jesus gives us the ability, through him, to lay down the evil in our lives forever and to live in paradise, starting now.
Early Christians understood the cross as a symbol of the new tree of life in a newly opened paradise.
We have a hymn in Wonder, Love and Praise, The Tree of Life my soul hath seen” that is a good example of the cross as a symbol of new life. This hymn, which was written in the 1700’s, calls Jesus Christ himself a tree– an apple tree. Listen to the first and last verses.
“The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.”
This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.
This idea of Jesus himself as an apple tree recalls the tree of the healing of the nations that lines the banks of the river of life flowing from the throne of God in the New Jerusalem in the book of Revelation, the closing book of the Bible, the great culminating vision of the story of our salvation. “On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leave of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
Even though the Bible begins with the story that closes the gates of paradise and ends with the vision of the New Jerusalem come down from heaven, we are not yet at the end of our story of salvation. We are still living in the middle of the story.
The middle of the story is a time of “now and not yet,” as one of my seminary professors liked to say. We live resurrection lives already, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. We can see glimmers of the vision of the completion of our salvation now, and even experience it imperfectly, but we are not yet dwelling in the complete realization of that vision.
So in the “now” of new life in which we Christians already live, we followers of Jesus still take up our crosses.
And when we take up our crosses and follow Jesus, we get to enter now into the time of not yet, the time of new resurrection life, completed and perfect.
Think of these words of Jesus, “Take up your cross and deny yourselves and follow me” as an invitation to take up a lifegiving green and growing cross that brings new life to you as you carry it.
Think of denying ourselves as the idea of letting go of the things that bring death into our lives.
Think of following Jesus as he leads us along a green, growing living pathway of life as we all carry life giving crosses that fill us with new life and strengthen us to, like Jesus, become the fruit that is for the healing of the nations.
As O’Flynn points out in his book, one of the saints in our church, Hildegard of Bingen, understood this idea of taking up a lifegiving green and growing, life giving cross.
Her day on our saints’ calendar comes later this week, on Friday, September 17th.
Hildegard was born in 1098. She lived to be 81, and throughout her extraordinary life, she experienced visions which led to her extensive writings, artwork, and music. Among her innumerable accomplishments, she established two convents, carried out four preaching missions in northern Europe, and practiced medicine. She corresponded with kings and queens, abbots and abbesses, archbishops, and popes.
Hildegard regularly used the word viriditas in her writings. Viriditas is the Latin word for greenness.
O’Flynn says that in Hildegard’s writings, “viriditas is the color of life itself. It is the freshness of new growth, found in the joyfully bedewed grass, its verdant trees, in flowers, and even in human beings. If any one term could suggest the life-giving force present in an image so imposing as The Tree of Life, viriditas would be it.”
O Flynn quotes John Van Engen, who has written about Hildegard, and who says that Hildegard adopted “the image of a gardener, with the abbess as the gardener and the flowers or herbs cultivated into full bloom as the virtues alive in her subjects. The goal towards which a person was to strive, in herself of in her charges, was ‘greenness’ and ‘fragrance.’”
Hildegard believed that the best way for us to carry our crosses is in the company of others, all of us working together in “intimate mutual care.”
So as O’Flynn suggests, when we focus on the cross as life giving, and leading us to Paradise, we can be, right here and now, here in our own parish, “a little Paradise of mutual affection and common service” to one another and to the world.”
O’ Flynn says that the “mutual support in times of adversity, the great happiness of transformative worship, the sense of accomplishment when outreach or social justice have been addressed, and even the holy gossip of a covered dish supper keep us coming back for more. The greenness and fragrance of such settings can become quite addictive.”
And there’s more.
The Eucharist, the bread and wine we share each week, is the fruit of the Tree of Life, Jesus’ body and blood given for us.
And the cross as the Tree of Life is also the tree that bears the fruit of the Spirit. In his letter to the Galatians in Chapter 5, verses 22 and 23, Paul lists these fruits of the Spirit –”love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:24).
I like this idea of thinking of the cross as “a channel of spiritual fruitfulness.”
In summary, and what I hope you will remember from all I’ve said today about the cross as the tree of life is that, as O’Flynn says, “the Cross of the Living Tree focuses our attention on the results of Christ’s work…it invites us to join the risen Christ in the New Creation. The Life-Giving Cross does not deny the death of Christ; after all, it is still a symbol of the instrument of his death. But it is transformed just as Christ’s crucified body was and revealed for what it was intended to be from the beginning: a gracious symbol of God’s unending purpose of giving life.”
When we take up our crosses, remembering that we are carrying a life-giving cross, we can lay down the things in our lives that bring death.
We can rejoice as we bear the fruits of love and joy and peace growing in us and sustained by the life of the cross we carry.
We can revel in the greenness of new life growing in ourselves, in those around us, and in creation itself.
And we can be givers of new life to those around us, and to the earth, remembering that the earth continues to sustain us as it did the Tree of Life itself, in the beginning.
O’Flynn, Donnel. Holy Cross, Life Giving Tree. New York: Church Publishing, 2017.
Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints. The Church Pension Fund, 2010.