Monday, July 6, 2009

Pentecost 5 (proper 9), Year B, Sunday July 5, 2009

2 Sam 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Cor 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

Preached by The Rev. Ellen Francis, OSH

Jesus had just begun his public ministry, and all was going so very well. He was gathering disciples. He was teaching and healing. He was casting out demons and cleansing lepers. He had quieted a storm at sea, and most recently he had raised a little girl from the dead!

After all this, wouldn’t he be right to expect a triumphal welcome in his hometown of Nazareth? When he spoke there in the synagogue, his friends and family were astonished and dismayed. We hear some of the comments: “We knew him growing up; he’s not a rabbi; he’s just one of us – he’s just a carpenter; how come he’s talking like this?”

We can only imagine the rest of the comments: “You’re the eldest son and your family needs you here at home!” “Your brothers need you in the carpentry shop.” “Why weren’t you here when we got that big order for new tables?” “Why can’t you just come home and settle down like everyone else?” They could only see him as their son, brother, cousin, neighbor, as one of their own. They were offended and scandalized by him, and perhaps even a little afraid of his words and strange power.

We can imagine that in his full humanity he was deeply hurt by their rejection. Jesus would experience rejection again and again, from his own family and from the religious authorities. Ultimately he would be rejected by the crowds on Good Friday and even deserted by his closest companions.

Rejection really hurts, and can be completely debilitating, especially when it comes from those we love and trust and whose opinion we value the most. King David experienced weakness and rejection, later in his reign, as a result of the disarray in his own family. The early Christian community for whom Mark wrote the first Gospel also knew rejection by their synagogues and by their families. Many of them were even martyred for their faith.

Saint Paul speaks of “weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ.” Paul was able to heal others, but he didn’t have the power to cure his own “thorn in the flesh”, in spite of intense prayer. And so Paul wrote of the “power that is made perfect in weakness”.

Jesus’ power, also, was made perfect in weakness. He experienced weakness when he “came to his own home, and his own people did not accept him.” (John 1:11) He “was amazed at their unbelief” and was unable to do “deeds of power there”. The only thing he could do was to keep going. While he was feeling the weakness of rejection, and the sting of their unbelief, he could only “lay his hands on a few sick people and cure them”. But the work must go on, and so immediately he began to send out others, two by two. He sent them in greatest simplicity and humility, with no money, no extras of any kind, nothing to rely on. He taught them what to do, and “gave them authority over the unclean spirits”. Although in his hometown he could heal only “a few”, the disciples went out and were able to heal “many”.

In surrendering to grace-filled weakness, Christ sent the others to carry on his mission. Christ sends us also, in our weakness. This is not a weakness that is broken, discouraged, resigned, or helpless. It is weakness that surrenders willingly and gracefully to the greater power of God. It is weakness that shares in the strength of community and of prayer. It is weakness that is self-aware and self-accepting. It is weakness that gives to God the glory, in times of success as well as in times of failure. (We learned of this in the movie that some of us watched here at the church on Wednesday evening. We saw “Facing the Giants” about a losing high-school football team who learn that “if we lose, we praise God; if we win, we praise God.”)

This past summer, someone very close to me admitted that he is an alcoholic. After many years of struggle, denial, and covering up, he admitted that he couldn’t stay sober on his own, without help. And then the next thing he said was that he was so ashamed. This summer, he started on his road to recovery and to self-awareness. He has discovered a new community of people who have been through the same struggle. He has also discovered that only it was only at the point of complete weakness and surrender that he could accept the power of God to be his guide and anchor and strength.

Jesus shows us that it is the innate nature of God to raise up those who have fallen, to heal those who are sick, to lift up the poor and oppressed. This may not happen in the ways that we want, but in God’s own time all will be accomplished. The God and Father of Jesus is present and compassionate with all of the world’s suffering. The Father of Jesus embraces especially the weak and most vulnerable, and asks us to join together in gentle ministry to the most humble and outcast, by harnessing the full power of God to do Christ’s work in this world.

What we ask for and what we get may seem to be completely different, yet in making us weaker than we want to be, God opens to us the richest blessings, as expressed in this poem by an anonymous soldier:

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;

I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things;

I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy;

I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;

I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;

I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing I asked for – but everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.

We are blessed by a parish family, rich in prayer and in rich Spirit. We are called here to learn to love God and to minister to one another, and in our weakness we may receive the full power of God to teach us to live and enjoy and to bless God at all times and in all that we do.

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