Speaking Of Life 3037 | Under the Broom Tree
Speaking Of Life 3037 | Under the Broom Tree Greg Williams This is a broom tree. Solitary shrubs like this grew all over the desert in biblical times—rugged, resourceful plants that shot their roots deep into the unforgiving dry soil. 1 King 19 tells the story of Elijah, who—after defeating the prophets of Baal and prophesying rain after a drought—had his life threatened by the corrupt queen Jezebel. Exhausted and on the run, Elijah collapses under a broom tree to rest. Broom trees or similar desert shrubs show up at pivotal moments throughout the Old Testament. Job describes the broom tree as a place of desolation and ruin. The psalmist connects the broom tree with punishment. Hagar leaves her son under a shrub to die in Genesis 21— after being exiled by Abraham. The broom tree, like the desert where it’s found, is associated with loss, emptiness, and being exhausted of our resources, and… with hearing the voice of God Elijah slept on the uncomfortable rocks and woke up to the smell of bread cooking. Notice the passage: And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” 1 Kings 19:5-7 (ESV) Under the broom tree—a place associated with waste and desolation, when he was at the end of his rope—Elijah gets the sustenance he needs. How often has God met you at the end of your rope? How often has God met us in the shade of the broom tree? Sometimes it is when we’re stripped of the strength of our defense mechanisms, that God leads and guides us the most clearly. It was when Elijah had virtually given up that God spoke to him with a “still, small voice?” He often speaks to us in a similar fashion. We expect the booming voice, but he often comes with that still small voice—that often sounds like the voice of a spouse, friend, or confidante. Are you in the desert today? Are you taking shade wherever you can, even under a scrubby rough broom tree because that’s all that’s there? Look for the messengers of God who bring you sustenance in this time. God fed Elijah with ravens and angels. Who are your angels and ravens today? Maybe that old friend who calls you out of nowhere. Maybe kids or grandkids who bring their own oblivious joy. Maybe a verse from scripture that reminds you of God’s love and plan. God is sending you sustenance. He knows what you need. And he sees you, even under the broom tree. I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.
Psalm 130:1-8 • 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 • Ephesians 4:25-5:2 • John 6:25, 41-51
The theme for this week is the God who restores. The call to worship Psalm is a cry out to God, waiting for his restoration. 2 Samuel 18 tells us about how David is brought back to kindness and mercy, even while mourning for his rebellious son. John 6 is about Jesus, who steps into the metaphor of the bread of life who sustains and restored Israel, and now restores us. Our sermon is on Ephesians 4. Paul gives us part of what it means to live as people being restored into the image of Christ.
Listening to That Other Voice
Ephesians 4:25-5:2 ESV
We’ve all been through transitions. Some of them were scary, some exciting, some disappointing, but all of us went through them. Think about that moment—the first time you put on your Army fatigues and crawled into that creaky bunk. That first job when you learned the sales pitch, how your feet ached when you stood at the register for eight hours that first day. How it sounds in a dorm room on the first night, all the other freshman there just as scared as you.
This is a good moment to share a life transition story of your own.
“Change is the only constant,” said the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Maybe he overstated the case, but transition is everywhere in life. You have to get used to new landscapes, new habits, languages, even new smells. We all know the rough feeling of unfamiliar clothing and (hopefully) the rush of confidence when you’re able to navigate that new space.
Paul writes about that period of transition in our lives as God’s people. He talks about dropping the old self and putting on the new self. The old is corrupted by sin—its perspectives and motives are stained. The new is being shaped into the image of Christ, showing the buds of the fruits of the Spirit.
This is a huge theme for Paul, appearing throughout his writing. Be who you are. Be how you are now in Christ. It hinges on identity—not on trying to buy God off with good behavior, not in trying to be good because you “just should,” but in acting out of who you are as a person in Christ.
He’s fully aware that the transition is a process. Paul isn’t under the illusion that you flip a switch and become Christlike. He just presents us with the tools and coordinates of what it is like to live in the new country.
The common critique we hear in the modern world is that the Bible is full of “dos and don’ts,” or that the Bible is just fancy moralizing and as tiring as any other motivational speech. With even a short study, this assessment is obviously untrue, and the only time Paul gets close is in a passage like this.
His object and his approach are more three-dimensional than simple moralizing. He gives not just what but why, and not just behaviors but the logic behind them.
We can orient ourselves a little before our passage today when Paul addresses the Ephesians directly.
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. (Ephesians 4:17 ESV)
There’s a subtle detail here that we can miss easily. The Ephesians were decidedly a Gentile (non-Jewish) audience. Why would Paul address them this way?
He seems to be calling them no longer Gentiles, and they aren’t Israelites; they are something different; we are something different. We are God’s people, and our identity has shifted.
Our passage begins with a discussion of this resurrection identity in more detail.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)
Members of one another. This is discussion of a new identity. Paul doesn’t just come out wagging his finger—he tells them the reason behind it.
We are family now—dependent on one another, connected in relationship. We don’t lie to each other because of that connection. This is part of what means to be in Christ.
Paul is not just saying, “You’re a Christian now, this is what you do.” He is saying: “This is who you are.”
He lays this out as our new identity as we go through the transition to Christlikeness. We don’t earn our way there—it’s true from the beginning. He calls us to live out of that reality.
Think of that transition in your own life. In the American military, your name is changed as soon as you come in. You’re called by your rank and then, even more generally, you’re called “soldier,” “airman,” or “sailor,” depending on which branch you’re in.
It’s an identity given that you grow into—through rugged training, intensive education and just plain time, you become who you are as a soldier. In the same way, we are given our status as Christ’s family members and we grow into it from there.
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:28-29 ESV)
Paul also goes from resurrection identity into what we might call resurrection action. The two concepts build on each other.
First though, it’s important to note that Paul doesn’t just tell them a blanket “don’t.” Aiming simply to not do something often doesn’t work—our psychology has nothing to wrap itself around.
Ask anyone in recovery from addiction. If an alcoholic sits around the house just trying not to drink, failure is usually close at hand. In 12-step recovery, going to Alcoholics Anonymous or other meetings is a replacement behavior for the bad habits and hangouts that used to lead to drinking.
Early in the program, a participant might even do “90 in 90”—ninety AA meetings over as many days to give structure and alternative activity to their life. We need something to aim at, not simply to aim away from.
So Paul sets out this ideal, based on kingdom logic. The thief will become the giver; gossip and insult will turn to encouragement. Because the “we” are one family and connected, we no longer steal from each other because it is like stealing from the self. Because we are part of bringing in God’s kingdom, we use our words to build up rather than tear down; we don’t waste words in crassness and blasphemy.
Sometime later in a 12-step program, participants will get involved in “service work.” This involves volunteering time and work for the joy of giving without any thought of compensation. In giving freely, the addict participates in joy and spontaneity rather than in the gloomy self-focus of indulging an addiction.
Instead of focusing just on what we shouldn’t do, Paul focuses on what we should do. He talks about resurrection action, which is possible only when the resurrected Lord is in charge.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (Ephesians 4:30 ESV)
The conversation here goes back to identity. In ancient times, royalty would put their seal or stamp on something that was theirs. In their physical absence, their seal symbolized their presence, and the penalty for breaking or ignoring a seal was severe.
God’s seal on us is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit in our hearts, shaping us into his image and changing us, is the seal that we are his, no matter what. We are in the “time between the times” waiting for that day of redemption. This arrangement is temporary, but our future is sealed, taken care of, guaranteed.
C.S. Lewis describes well this intermediate moment where we find ourselves as children of God who are learning to act like it by the power of the Spirit. He writes:
It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind. (Mere Christianity)
Listening to that other voice—that inner voice that calls us to resurrection identity and action.
Experienced saints can attest to this. Allowing God into those spaces of our lives that are desolate and gloomy has some uncanny results. You find yourself with sudden patience for that difficult coworker. You find strength to resist old temptations and awareness of your own self-centeredness and distraction. You find echoes of an inner peace in the noisiness of modern life.
I say “allowing” only as a placeholder. Hang around Jesus and you’ll find he quits asking permission. He starts to change you and awaken you where you didn’t even know you were sleeping.
Ignatius of Loyola is an interesting example. A decorated 16th century Spanish soldier, he was once severely injured by a cannonball. After a brutal process of setting bones without anesthetic, his leg finally healed, but at a strange angle that didn’t allow him to look as good he wanted in his ornamental outfits.
He ordered his leg re-broken and reset so he could walk without a limp and look striking in his soldier’s boots. As he recuperated, he started reading the sacred books at the hospital because that was all they had. He found that reading about the lives of the saints and about Jesus gave him a joy and satisfaction that his own dreams of fame and glory never gave.
Slowly, he began “listening to that other voice.” As his leg healed from the break, his spirit began to heal from its vanity. He finally left the place he was convalescing, still walking with a limp, and went on to become one of the greatest saints in European history.
The absurd insatiably of his ego led him to literally break bones and risk his own life in medical procedures. It was only in that dark place that he began to finally hear that other voice calling him away from the cruelest god of all: the self.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV)
This section from Paul ends where it began. Why do all these things? Why join in the struggle to listen to that other voice? Because you are beloved children.
You don’t do this and that to become beloved children, to someday obtain this coveted status. You act like children of God because you are children of God in Christ. Your royal status is where it starts. The next step, as Paul says, is to be who you are and imitate the one who made you who you are.
Conversion is a lifelong process. In our modern emphasis on just the initial decision to “get saved,” we miss out on this journey sometimes. The truth is it takes a lifetime to soften hearts, shed favorite habits and embrace our resurrection identity. But Jesus is that “other voice” that calls us, not with bland moralizing but with invitation, to the best life, the freest life and life as it was meant to be.
Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view. Listen to our host, Anthony Mullins and Geordie Ziegler unpack this week’s pericope.
Time’s A Wastin’ w/ Geordie Ziegler
August 8 – Proper 14
Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2 (NRSV) “Living the New Life”
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Small Group Discussion Questions
Questions for sermon:
- We talked about the reality of transitions in life—coming of age, getting married, become a parent, getting older. Do you have a transition you’ve been through that you remember vividly? Was it anything like your transition from the old life into life in Christ?
- Do you believe that conversion is a lifelong process? What does that look like in your life?
- We are “sealed” by God as his royal children. We learn to live that way after being sealed; we don’t earn our way there. Have you ever thought about that? How might that change your perspective?
Questions for Speaking of Life: “Under the Broom Tree”
- We talked about Elijah being exhausted and collapsing under the broom tree in 1 Kings 19. This desolate place became the platform where he met with God and was prepared to hear the still, small voice. Can desolate circumstances become a place where we meet with God and hear his voice?
- Why is it that God often meets us at the end of our rope or in the “shade of the broom tree”?
Quote to ponder:
“When you take your cues from the Holy Spirit, you’ll do some things that will make people think you’re crazy. So be it. Obey the whisper and see what God does.” ~Mark Batterson