by Rev. John Duncan
O Lord, make us have perpetual love and reverence for your holy Name, for you never fail to help and govern those whom you have set upon the sure foundation of your loving-kindness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven-- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person-- whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows-- was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.
On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations.
Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."
So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
Gospel: Mark 6:1-13
Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them." So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
Humility can be a source of tremendous strength. There's a kind of sobriety and restraint in so many people of my dad's generation, a kind of wisdom about how to move forward in life. Dad couldn't get too full of himself because he'd seen the evil people can do. He frequently said, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."
If you can get your heart around that, you stop kidding yourself about human nature. But you want to do right, to be constructive, even in the face of opposition. You keep doing what is right and good though others may disappoint, betray their values, be selfish or wicked. You know it's all you can do.
If you are full of yourself, you get too wounded – too angry when things go wrong. But it doesn't have to be that way. If you know how people can be, then you plan more wisely, and you aren't shocked when things go wrong or people disappoint, but you stay open to being delighted, to being proud of people when they come through, when they live up to their ideals, when they show good faith and great commitment.
St. Paul struggled with this. Here he was a great apostle, starting churches in quite a number of cities around the empire, nurturing them. A man who had incredible visions, and through whom wonderful things were done. Paul found that he was vulnerable to inflation. He was tormented when he couldn't soar. And yet he discovered that his high times were not the best times. The good times were the ones when, in spite of his every error, in spite of all opposition, Christ shone through.
Paul matured enough to discover that it wasn't the greatness of Paul he wanted, it was to be a disciple, a part of the wonder of Christ. The love that entered ordinary lives when Paul was able to let it – that was his greatest joy. "Whenever I am weak, then I am strong." We have to learn to get over ourselves, get out of God's way.
That is only possible when the focus in on God and not ourselves. That is humility.
Humility is a practice, a kind of realism, a wisdom that knows that for all we'd like to do, and all we'd like to say, there is a greater power at work. It works in us a kind of sobriety and restraint.
Jesus began to gather disciples, to preach and to heal and to form communities of people who loved and forgave one another and expected God to act. And he came to his hometown, to Nazareth, to the synagogue. I'll bet he had some hopes for what would happen there in his hometown. But instead he was met with stubborn opposition. What could this kid teach us – God isn't up to anything – this is the carpenter's kid. Who does he think he is? And they wouldn't listen.
Jesus was astonished by their disbelief. Why would they close their hearts? I wonder what that felt like? Another part of our humanity he wasn't afraid to share. But he doesn't recoil: Instead he turns and says to the disciples, "You need to experience this, too. Go out, two by two, not like we usually do as a traveling event, just two by two with nothing to insulate you, and preach and heal and where you are welcomed, enjoy, but where you are not, just face up to it, you were not welcomed."
You can't discover what you stand for until you speak justice, listen to the response, think it over and respond some more. Until you speak forgiveness, listen to the response, think it over and speak again. You can't be a disciple unless you get rejected once in a while and get received with joy once in a while. If they are going to learn wisdom, they need to know something of human nature. They've got to get used to being received with joy and not take it personally – to be opposed with malice and not take it personally. And not be destroyed by it. It isn't about them, it's about God at work, and when you know that you have strength to carry on.
I've been thinking about what makes this nation great, and how to strengthen and preserve that. And I recently heard a program about Reinhold Niebuhr, pastor and theologian of 20th century America, one of the great public intellectuals of that time. Liberals and conservatives alike claim Niebuhr. He was an original. A pastor of the German Evangelical Church, then a professor at Union Theological Seminary, he started out a pacifist, a socialist, an opponent of the factories exploiting workers and of the Klu Klux Klan which was strong in Detroit when he began to preach there. He came to condemn communism, and became a strong influence on Martin Luther King, Jr. He opposed Vietnam but argued that nuclear weapons were a necessary deterrent for his time.
What Niebuhr became known for was what he called "Christian Realism". Holding to Christian ideals in public policy, working hard to do what was just and right – but without naivety. Knowing how frail is human nature, and planning policy with that in mind. Wanting all the best things, but working toward them with a certain sobriety. He quipped, "I think there ought to be a club in which preachers and journalists could come together and have the sentimentalism of the one matched with the cynicism of the other. That ought to bring them pretty close to the truth." And another, "Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted; and pure love without power is destroyed." Some of you have been waiting for his most famous lines:
God, grant me the serenity to
Accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Niebuhr captures for me in his engagement with so many public intellectuals that humility I saw in my dad, a sadness that human nature is frail, a delight that love is possible, and a willingness to move forward into the future steadily, without too many illusions, but with trust that God will find a way.
The arc of justice is long, and any good thing takes much time, and much love and faith.
But there is tremendous staying-power in humility. If you keep your eyes on Christ, you can know the world is a difficult place, and yet invest yourself in goodness.
Offended by the Nice Little Kid from Nazareth
by Edward F. Markquart, Seattle, Washington
God Wants You to Walk by Faith
by Pete Benson
I Know That Boy
by The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
by Larry Broding
First Thoughts on Mark 6:1-13
by William Loader, Murdoch University, Australia
You Cannot Go Home Again
by Alan Carr
Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the 4th Sunday after Denaha (Baptism of our Lord)
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