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Ecosystems and Interdependence

Ezekiel 17:22-24 NRSV

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

Ezekiel is a prophetic text. This chapter is full of riddles and allegories. Earlier in this chapter, the Lord speaks through the prophet about an eagle who takes a seed and puts it in soil so that it would become a vine. In your own devotional period, read this chapter in its entirety. Perhaps we might not talk about birds and trees here in Brooklyn (though we do have many!) How would you rewrite this passage to be more relevant to your own context? Where do you see God doing things in your own ecosystem?

Today’s lesson will focus on ecosystems and God’s desire for interdependence. Read the scripture out loud together.

What’s happening during this passage?
The writer is speaking in God’s voice. God promises to take a portion of a tree and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. God promises to put this tree in a way that it will “produce boughs and bear fruit” and it will, itself, become a “noble cedar.” In this tree, all kinds of birds will live and shade will support all kinds of “winged creatures.” The trees themselves will know that God is “The Lord.” The Lord is the one who brings the high tree low and the low tree high. God is the one who has the power to dry up the healthy trees and make the dry trees green again. The passage ends with the writer saying, in God’s voice, “I, the Lord, have spoken, I will accomplish it.”

What ways do trees facilitate life in this passage? What would happen if the trees were not around?
1. The trees regenerate themselves (verse 22). God tells about the process of cutting a snippet of a tree to make new trees. Trees grow in many ways. You can plant one as a seed, an animal can transport a seed in its fur, or you can take a cutting and replant it elsewhere.
2. The trees bear fruit as part of their life cycle (verse 23).
3. The trees house birds (verse 23). They provide shade and homes for all kinds of creatures.
Without these trees, the creatures would have less options for safe habitats. And any time you mess with one part of the food chain, you disturb others! If birds and squirrels cannot find homes here, they will overpopulate another area and feed too heavily on prey. Or they could die off completely without a place to nest and raise their young.

The tree is not just a tree. It has a relationship to the air, water, living beings, and other trees! This is a metaphor for the ecosystems present in our world. No one person or community exists in isolation. Instead, we are accountable to each other through our actions. Everything we do has an impact in the world. And whether we regenerate ourselves (leaving a mark through our work), bear fruit (raise and support families) or house birds (support other people in our world), our time on this Earth will always have consequences. It’s up to us to decide what that looks like.

How is God’s power expressed here?
God is the ultimate gardener! God can make dead trees come to life and can make lively trees brittle and weak. God can move trees that were once on high mountain tops and bring them to the low valleys, and vice versa. In other places, the word “brought down” is used to describe a divine humbling. It is the same verb used in Isaiah 40:4, “Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low.” God’s power is one that defies nature. It makes things happen that shouldn’t.

And it defies logic of human power. Jeremiah 13:18 uses this word “humble” in this context: “Say unto the king and to the queen, humble yourselves, sit down, for your principalities shall come down, even the crown of your glory.” God is invested in the world being right. That means that some people who have been elevated have to understand what it’s like to step back, and some people who have been pushed out have to understand what it’s like to be invited in.

What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?

Connection to Today’s World

In the last year, people have turned to many trends to ease the anxiety of a rapidly changing world. One of these trends is houseplants. Plant stores and home improvement stores have reported a boom of sales in the plant department. And it makes sense! Houseplants give people (especially people who live alone) a boost of energy and purpose. They’re beautiful to watch. They remind us of how fragile life is and how beautiful new life can be! If you’ve ever watched a monstera plant make new vines, you’ll know that new leaves emerge quickly and slowly. Or, have you ever watched an aloe plant provide healing for a sunburn? Nothing works like aloe! Especially in a city like New York, it can be easy to forget that we are people of the Earth. Take the time this week to notice the greenery around you. Even if it’s just a dry palm leaf from years ago.

Journal: What greenery do you notice around you? How did it get there?

Closing: Listen to “How Great Thou Art,” sung by CeCe Winans.

Oh Lord, my God
When I, in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration
And then proclaim, my God, how great Thou art

Dear God,

You have made all things on this Earth. You planned for the trees to house birds and animals, and you planned for land to house humans and animals.
We are not always the best stewards of this Earth. We can do better to extend care to all living things on this planet.
Show us how to think long-term. Open our hearts to the consequences of all our actions. In our living, working, loving, resting, give us the opportunity to see the ripple effects of all that we do.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.