The Holy Seed Is Its Stump – Mark Ditmanson reflects on God’s way of bringing life out of devastation.
Care for Creation Reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary
Thank you to the EcoFaith Network of the ELCA’s Northeastern Minnesota Synod for providing a reflection on this week’s lectionary readings. You can learn more about what they do and subscribe to their monthly newsletter here. Our regular commentary series will resume on February 27th, with the Transfiguration of Our Lord.
Readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C (2022, 2025)
Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13)
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Isaiah 6 is a visual delight. In the vision Isaiah received, the glory of God is portrayed as so overwhelming that just the hem of God’s robed filled the temple. That gets my imagination working. The picture in my heart of what the rest of the robe looked like stretches way beyond physical sight, covering all of creation and beyond. I believe that is the intent of this poetic picture, and in fact we read the corroborating testimony of the seraphs who call to one another reminding us that “the whole earth is full of his glory.” Indeed, God’s glory is overwhelming. We know this truth, and we humbly acknowledge that we will forever know only part, and even now as we send new telescopes into space, we understand that we are far from understanding the ultimate reach of glory.
But I digress, this passage is not intended to leave us gazing at the rafters or chasing the stars to see the rest of God’s garment; it is not about inspiring awe; this is a call. And a call brings the view back to earth. It is the call of Isaiah to be sure, but we certainly hear the call echo in our own sense of call. I have never been able to separate myself from the text. So anytime I read about our forebearers’ call, I hear my own. And just so as I hear Isaiah being charged to tell a people reluctant to listen to God’s teaching, I know that you and I are called to speak for God even when our testimony is unwelcomed, ignored, or challenged. We can look at the ancient context surrounding this passage and see that Isaiah was called to speak of God’s judgment against the sins of the people. And we can hear the frightening consequences of those sins. Cities in waste, devastation of the land, people cast into exile.
The sins of today are not far from those of Isaiah’s day. And so, we are called. In your sermons, will you list the sins of racial injustice, bigotry and prejudice, environmental destruction, along with more specific sins connected to your context? Might you speculate about how our current sins may leave entire peoples displaced, towns and cities either submerged, burnt to the ground, or ripped off foundations by violent weather events? I remember a teacher at the seminary warning us about trying to be prophets that point to wrongs humanity has done. He assured us that people in the pews were being assaulted by the law every day of their lives and that what they needed and what was bringing them to church was hunger for gospel. I agree in part. I still believe, however, that there is reason to remember that the minds of the people (me included) are often dull to their own sin or involvement in sin. These recent years have been eloquent in telling of my own complicity in the systemic sins humanity has conceived.
But I do agree, we need gospel. And I hear it in the last sentence of this passage. “The holy seed is its stump.” Where I live, I follow game trails through the boreal forest. One favorite trail leads past a large stump showing the char of a large fire that swept the hillside more than a generation ago. The girth of the stump is impressive, the charred portions on the outside still stand, but the center has rotted out completely. At a distance it might look like devastation. But rising out of the hollow core is a red dogwood. I choose that path when I need to feel hope again. It reminds me that creation illustrates the surprising new life God holds. The fire must have been devastating to kill such a large tree, but the forest has regrown. I know that God was not speaking to Isaiah about forest renewal, the stump and the holy seed are more particularly connected to the irrevocable covenant. But the image of the stump communicated a truth to them as it does to me. God’s ways of bringing life out of the devastations we devise are the promise and hope we are called to share.
Mark Ditmanson is pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Grand Marais, MN. In his spare time he is a hobby beekeeper, planter of trees, provider of swamp milkweed for monarchs, and a gardener. He also serves on the leadership team of the EcoFaith Network NE MN Synod.
Originally written by Mark Ditmanson in 2022.