July 17, 2015

Ezekiel 15-17 
God’s Message came to me: “Son of man, how would you compare the wood of a vine with the branches of any tree you’d find in the forest? Is vine wood ever used to make anything?... So here’s the Message of God, the Master: Like the wood of the vine I selected from among the trees of the forest and used as fuel for the fire, just so I’ll treat those who live in Jerusalem. I am dead set against them....

“‘On the day you were born your umbilical cord was not cut, you weren’t bathed and cleaned up, you weren’t rubbed with salt, you weren’t wrapped in a baby blanket. No one cared a fig for you.... No one did one thing to care for you tenderly in these ways. You were thrown out into a vacant lot and left there, dirty and unwashed—a newborn nobody wanted.... ‘And then I came by. I saw you all miserable and bloody. Yes, I said to you, lying there helpless and filthy, “Live! Grow up like a plant in the field!” And you did. You grew up.... “‘I came by again and saw you, saw that you were ready for love and a lover. I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered the covenant of marriage with you. I, God, the Master, gave my word. You became mine....You were provided with everything precious and beautiful: with exquisite clothes and elegant food, garnished with honey and oil.  You were absolutely stunning... 

But your beauty went to your head and you became a common whore, grabbing anyone coming down the street and taking him into your bed.... and then you take off your fine jewelry and made pornographic images of them for your brothels...and then you took your children I gave you and you killed them sacrificing them to idols... not once did you remember your infancy, when you were naked  and exposed.... and then you built a brothel in every town square... and then you went international with your whoring...  he more promiscuous you became, the angrier I got. Finally, I intervened, reduced your borders and turned you over to the rapacity of your enemies.... 

“Therefore, whore, listen to God’s Message: I, God, the Master, say, Because you’ve been unrestrained in your promiscuity, stripped down for every lover, flaunting your sex, and because of your pornographic idols and all the slaughtered children you offered to them, therefore, because of all this, I’m going to get all your lovers together,...

Then I’ll sentence you to the punishment for an adulterous woman and a murderous woman. I’ll give you a taste of my wrath!.... “‘Because you didn’t remember what happened when you were young but made me angry with all this behavior, I’ll make you pay for your waywardness....

“‘God, the Master, says, I’ll do to you just as you have already done, you who have treated my oath with contempt and broken the covenant. All the same, I’ll remember the covenant I made with you when you were young and I’ll make a new covenant with you that will last forever. You’ll remember your sorry past and be properly contrite ... I’ll firmly establish my covenant with you and you’ll know that I am God. You’ll remember your past life and face the shame of it, but when I make atonement for you, make everything right after all you’ve done, it will leave you speechless.’”...

God’s Message came to me: “Son of man, make a riddle for the house of Israel. Tell them a story. Say, ‘God, the Master, says:... he took a cutting from the land and planted it in good, well-watered soil, like a willow on a riverbank. It sprouted into a flourishing vine, low to the ground. Its branches grew toward the eagle and the roots became established— A vine putting out shoots, developing branches.... 

“‘God, the Master, says, Will it thrive?  Won’t he just pull it up by the roots and leave the grapes to rot and the branches to shrivel up, a withered, dead vine?  It won’t take much strength or many hands to pull it up.  Even if it’s transplanted, will it thrive?...

‘God, the Master, says, I personally will take a shoot from the top of the towering cedar, a cutting from the crown of the tree, and plant it on a high and towering mountain, on the high mountain of Israel. It will grow, putting out branches and fruit—a majestic cedar. Birds of every sort and kind will live under it. They’ll build nests in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the field will recognize that I, God, made the great tree small and the small tree great, made the green tree turn dry and the dry tree sprout green branches. I, God, said it—and I did it.’”

Acts 15:22-15-41
Everyone agreed: apostles, leaders, all the people. They picked Judas and Silas—they both carried considerable weight in the church—and sent them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas with this letter:  From the apostles and leaders, your friends, to our friends in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:  Hello!  We heard that some men from our church went to you and said things that confused and upset you. Mind you, they had no authority from us; we didn’t send them....  

 It seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us that you should not be saddled with any crushing burden, but be responsible only for these bare necessities: Be careful not to get involved in activities connected with idols; avoid serving food offensive to Jewish Christians (blood, for instance); and guard the morality of sex and marriage.  These guidelines are sufficient to keep relations congenial between us. And God be with you!...

 And so off they went to Antioch. On arrival, they gathered the church and read the letter. The people were greatly relieved and pleased. Judas and Silas, good preachers both of them, strengthened their new friends with many words of courage and hope....

Paul and Barnabas stayed on in Antioch, teaching and preaching the Word of God. But they weren’t alone. There were a number of teachers and preachers at that time in Antioch.  After a few days of this, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit all our friends in each of the towns where we preached the Word of God. Let’s see how they’re doing.”

Barnabas wanted to take John along, the John nicknamed Mark. But Paul wouldn’t have him; he wasn’t about to take along a quitter who, as soon as the going got tough, had jumped ship on them.... Tempers flared, and they ended up going their separate ways: Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus; Paul chose Silas and, offered up by their friends to the grace of the Master, went to Syria and Cilicia to build up muscle and sinew in those congregations.