preached on 8 July 2018 at Holy Cross Anglican Church in Baton Rouge, LA
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God is the God of life. He creates life. He sustains life. He changes living beings. He takes away life in due season. From Genesis to Revelation, we see that all of life is the story of God’s wisdom made manifest. This is true not only of eternal life, but it is most especially true of our temporal lives, life on this earth. If we want to understand how we are to live, by what means we are to live, and what constitutes the good life—topics which have perplexed civilizations for as far back as we can find—we must find the answer in the One who is eternal and infinite life.
Please turn in your Bible with me to Colossians 2:6-15. I would like to read again for us today’s passage, Colossians 2:6-15.
Our Anglican tradition has been so kind to us, to follow Scripture, and one way we see our Anglican heritage being faithful to God’s Word is that it has passed down to us symbols, patterns, typology, and colors for our imaginations. There is a genius to the psychology of the Church calendar. God’s providence is one which pervades our whole person. And so every part of the Church calendar has something to offer us in heart, soul, mind, and strength. So what are we to make of what we call Ordinary Time? Why is green its color? And how may the Lord bless our consideration of the deep theological truths found in Ordinary Time?
The Ordinary Time in our Church calendar comes after the culmination of Pentecost and before the proclamation of Advent. It is safe to say that this time in the Church calendar is most indicative of the time in which you and I live. Consider it for a moment.
In this Ordinary Time of the Church’s calendar, we have celebrated the passing of Pentecost. In this part of the Gospel’s story, we have also celebrated the Holy Spirit’s advent, power, and authority.
In this Ordinary Time of the Church’s calendar, we await the celebration of another Advent, we await the season of remembering the Lord’s first coming and anticipating his second coming. In this part of the Gospel’s story, we await our Lord’s second coming.
God, in his infinite wisdom, chose to put your story and my story here. Now. Not in the Roman Empire; not in Ancient Athens; not in 22nd century Canada. You and I live now in redemptive history. What we do with our Ordinary Time in the Church calendar says a lot about our imaginations concerning what we are to do in this life, between the first true Pentecost and the second true Advent. What do you do with your ordinary time? How full of growth is it? We could go up a bit higher and look at a broader level. How green is the Church? How full of growth is she, as she waits upon her bridegroom, to come again, to perfect his kingdom, to close this season of God’s story? How fruitful is the Church now, in this season after Pentecost and before Advent? Because you, and not just the clergy, are the Church, these questions are for all of us. We are here, at this place in the Church’s calendar. And we are also here, at this place in God’s story.
In answering the question, “How green is your Ordinary Time?” I’d like for us to consider two images in Scripture, both of which we will take a passing glance at this morning, but both of which are saturated with theological beauty. I‘d like for us to consider the color green found in Scripture as well as the symbol of the tree of life.
The color green is found 41 times in the King James Bible, thirty-seven times in the Old Testament and four times in the New Testament. The first time we see the color green is in Genesis 1:30 “And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.” Green, therefore, begins as a symbol of God’s providence, and not just any providence but providence which is necessary to sustain our lives, the providence of food, providence we eat.
Every other use of green in Scripture follows this general symbol, relating to life and providence: green herb, rods of green poplar, green ears of corn, green ropes for Samson’s wrists. In the first chapter of Song of Songs, Solomon even references his marriage bed as being green. When green is present in Scripture, it is a symbol of a living thing, of divine mercy and providence, and this includes when the green grass is all burned up. God’s providence is gone, dry, the land parched of God’s life-giving mercy.
The other symbol to place in your mind this day is tree of life. The term tree of life occurs ten times in Scripture, seven times in the Old Testament and three times in the New Testament; every New Testament mention of the tree of life is in the book of Revelation. We first see the tree of life in Genesis 2:9 “And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” After the fall God curses the tree of knowledge, but he drove Adam from the garden and from the tree of life, and he placed Cherubims to guard over it. Like the color green, everywhere we see the tree of life in Scripture, we see God’s merciful and unmerited providence, and a particular providence, like the color green, which is life-giving and life sustaining.
These two themes, the color green and the tree of life culminate in two important verses: the only verse in the New Testament where our Lord says “green” and the only verse in the New Testament where our Lord says “tree of life.”
- Luk_23:31 For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
- Rev_2:7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
In the passage in Luke, Jesus is in the middle of the passion narrative. He has just passed the cross to Simon, and the women among them are weeping and lamenting for Jesus. And it so happens then that he provides a warning for Israel and likens himself to a green tree, something we ought to see each time we see the color green in Scripture and each time we see the symbol of the tree of life.
In the Revelation 2:7 passage, John is at the beginning of his account of Jesus’ revelation to him on the island of Patmos. These words are among the first of Jesus’ in the book of Revelation. This verse comes at the end of Jesus’ promise to the church in Ephesus.
Rev 2:5-7 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.'
There are three important ways our ordinary time ought to be green. When I ask the question “How green is your ordinary time?” I am asking three questions in one:
- How green are you? To assess one’s greenness, we assess the health of one’s relationship with our Triune God and our neighbor. The loud, exhilarating, and high seasons of our Church calendar are a ways off, both looking back and looking forward. We are now in something of what we call a mezzo or piano in music, average or soft segments of the music. In literature we call it a denouement. It is a time when the action has dropped to something of a steady but distant thunder. It is the release of tension in the plot, quite literally the “untying of the knots in the plot,” when a sense of normality is created among the characters. So when I ask us “How green is your ordinary time?” I am asking how full of life are you in this quite normal and ordinary season of the year?
- Secondly, when I ask “How green is your ordinary time?” I am asking “How green are your surroundings?” How well have you surrounded yourselves with life-giving things? That popular verse in Psalm 23 should come to mind: “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” Green pastures are indeed God’s intention for those in his Church. Providing a context of life is precisely the work Jesus Christ came to do, temporal life and eternal life
- Thirdly, how we answer the first two questions about your own greenness and the greenness around us may be summed up in how we answer yet a third question: how engrossed in Jesus Christ is your ordinary time? The only greenness which is authentic, the only life which is life-giving, is the life which is firmly rooted and build up in Christ, as we read in our passage today.
“Green” is the color of vitality and growth. Jesus Christ is our vitality and growth. The “tree of life” is indeed life-giving salvation in Jesus Christ. So, what should our Ordinary time of the church calendar look like? What should our imaginations be doing during this time of the Church’s calendar? It is the same thing it should be doing at this time of the Gospel’s story. It is the kind of thing we should be teaching to and modeling for our children, our unbelieving neighbors, and one another.
We should be living into our lives as new creations, standing alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ, the harvest of Christ’s ministry.
We should be surrounding ourselves with those things which point us to holiness, those things which encourage greenness; and we should put on the Lord Jesus Christ, the green and living branch into which we have all been grafted.
And we should be basking in the Son’s life-giving rays, rising heavenward, fed with the pure water of the Word, participating with great joy in the Sacraments.
So how green is your ordinary time? Do you await the more thrilling season of the Church calendar to experience spiritual growth? Do you await the second coming of Christ to vigorously pursue holiness? Do not wait. Do not prolong and put off what God has made yours in Christ. To put it bluntly, we are to be growing in the greenness of Christ now, not just when the holiday seasons kick in and each seat in here is filled with family and friends. Ordinary time is when we enact and ensure those life-giving habits which are so often sparked into existence during those more exhilarating holidays of the Church’s calendar. As we read in 1 John 5:12, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” So, look upon this Eucharistic table in its greenness. Approach it with new life. Just as Scripture first uses green as a symbol of God’s providence, and not just any providence but providence which is necessary to sustain our lives, the providence of food, providence we eat, so this table is life-giving providence we can eat. Let this table be for us a place into which our roots are firmly planted for the remainder of this season in the Church calendar. More than that, let the greenness of this table be for the Church the source of life it’s intended to be until our Savior comes again, in the final Advent.
Now hear, as we close our time, a poem from George Herbert titled “The Flower”
How Fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
Who would have thought my shriveled heart
Could have recovered greenness? It was gone
Quite underground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.
These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quick’ning, bringing down to hell
And up to heaven in an hour;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell,
We say amiss,
This or that is:
Thy word is all, if we could spell.
O that I once past changing were;
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
Off’ring at heav’n, growing and groaning thither:
Nor doth my flower
Want a spring-shower,
My sins and I joining together;
But while I grow to a straight line;
Still upwards bent, as if heav’n were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline:
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone,
Where all things burn,
When thou dost turn,
And the least frown of thine is shown?
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.
These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can find and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.