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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Why Myrtle Trees?

On Monday night of the Shaw University Minister's Conference, the conference preacher, Rev. Dr. William H. Curtis of Mt. Ararat Baptist Church, Pittsburgh, PA, chose as his text the first vision of Zechariah, chapter 1, verses 7-17.  In particular, he focused on the first part of verse 8:
I saw at night, and behold, a man was riding on a red horse, and he was standing among the myrtle trees which were in the ravine (NASB).
Curtis took note that the description of the vision included only a few details before an extensive interpretation.  At the heart of the vision is a rider on a horse, and there are other riders on horses in the background.  Most of what follows pertains to the message, including questions and answers to the other riders and to God, delivered by the primary rider to Zechariah.

But Curtis said that his homiletician's imagination was drawn to the details given in verse 8.  The riders and horses were in a ravine.  It was a valley, a low place.  In it was a clump of myrtle trees.  Curtis could not stop wondering, "Why myrtle trees, and why in a valley?"

His message went on to say that myrtle trees grow especially well in valleys or ravines.  Unlike our ambitions to be on the mountain heights, this detail of the story represented for him a message about those common experiences of being in a low place, in a "valley."

Curtis demonstrated a kind of "spiritual" or "allegorical" interpretation of the text.  Such visionary passages often already have an allegorical meaning deeply embedded in the texts themselves.  As Curtis developed the allegory, he linked it to the interpretation of the vision that became Zechariah's prophetic oracle.

The people of God had endured great hardship.  Their enemies had treated them far more harshly than someone might say they deserved.  In the pilgrimage of the history of Israel, they were certainly living in a valley.  They had been in exile for decades.  A few had been able to return to their homeland, and they were scrambling to build a temple and reestablish their center of faith in Jerusalem.

They might look upon their situation as hopeless.  They might think that things have been just too hard, and no one should expect much of them.  But Curtis points out that even in valleys, there are trees that grow especially well.  These myrtle trees signify that the hard times the Israelites have faced can still be a time for growth.  They can still find the water and nourishment they need.  In fact, the valley may be the only setting in which some people can grow.

When they are on the mountaintop, God's work seems small from up so high.  They begin to imagine they are the the reason for their own success.  But in the valley, we can come to see how great God's work in our lives may be.  We become eager to find those things we need to rise from our struggles.

I give a very brief and weak synopsis of the message.  As you might imagine, in this valley of my life, wondering how to move on after Everly's death, it was a message that spoke to me.  For even in the valley of the shadow of death (and that is the shadow in which I walk), God is with me.  It was an encouraging word.  Even in my deep valley, there is growth that can and must happen.  I shed tears, but they were tears of hope.  So I am relieved to be standing among the myrtle trees.

1 comment:

lbaklc said...

I've heard The Rev. Curtis preach--he can "bring it" with remarkable creativity. Sounds like he didn't disappoint there. Good work for life in the valley.

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