Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sixth Sunday of Pentecost
Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Mark 6:1-13

And he hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

I can't completely ignore the elephant in the room, as much as I would prefer to do so. This week has been difficult for many Christians, for many Americans, as decisions made seem to them to be leading us on a dangerous path. Sadly, for many, the recent decisions of the Supreme Court have left many Christians without hope, with fear and with sadness. I try not to deal with the mundane issues that we as American Christians face because this writing reaches well beyond our shores to the Church around the world, and quite frankly our problems are not theirs. While they would probably disagree with the ruling, it seems self-indulgent to think the world is coming to an end because of a human ruling when the children in foreign lands are being kidnapped and used as sex slaves or their neighbors are being beheaded for their faith. If they have hope, we should, too.

It is impossible to ignore the elephant in the room, but I'm addressing it only because we must hold on to the hope we have in Jesus Christ. A friend recently asked why I don't speak out about this issues in "my ministry." I used quotes because this friend has repeatedly demeaned what I do online, particularly because I do not preach about this one issue. That is not the purpose of this devotional; this writing is given to help Christians dwell in this world. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. We can't pick and choose one sin and suppose that the establishment or celebration of that sin is the one that will end the world.

It is up to us to speak God's truth. My friend might be right; perhaps I shouldn't avoid the topic. I suppose one day God could choose me and my writing to boldly proclaim the truth of His good and perfect Law. Today is not that day. I have read countless articles and statements, from both sides, which gave clear and compassionate words about how to go forward from this point. Many people have said what needs to be said better than I ever could. They understand the legal jargon, are more educated in the theology and scriptures. They come at it from a place of experience. I've seen a lot of words from Christians and non-Christians on both sides of the issue that are angry, hard-hearted and cruel, too.

Many people are hurting, afraid, confused and uncertain. They are lashing out because our natural human tendency is self-preservation. The texts for today make us question that direction; all the characters in today's stories faced a call from God that would lead to rejection and pain. The world didn't end for them; they learned how to trust in God through their experiences. I suppose that's where this writing needs to go.

One article said it well for me. Though the writer made several excellent points, this section stood out: "Given the reality of our created nature, Christians should not lose heart. Our culture has been on this trajectory for many decades. They are not just warring against God, but against their own nature (see Romans 1). What did we really expect would happen? Even so, remember the truth of God's Word stands firm. This is His world. He rules it. He knows what is best for us. We will continue to proclaim his life-giving prescription for human happiness and freedom. That is part of our calling: to let the world know that true human fulfillment and joy comes in keeping his commandments. They are not burdensome, but life-giving! Living in rebellion against God's law does not bring happiness, freedom, or human flourishing. Quite the opposite." From "After Obergfell - A Pastoral Letter" by Jeff Meyers

We speak because we love. We speak because we want our neighbors to experience the best life that God has for them. Following our 'hearts' leads us astray, down dangerous paths away from God. I don't talk about any one sin because all sin separates us from our Father and Creator. We have ignored the reality of sin for too long, even in the Church. We focus on love and think the Gospel is enough, but we forget that we are also called to preach the Law which calls us to repentance. As Pastor Meyers said, the Law is God's life-giving prescription for human happiness and freedom. Sin might seem good and right in the present, but it always leads us to death.

There is something more important to accomplish with the texts this week. We need to remember that when it seems like our world is falling apart, God will always hold it together. He knows what He is doing, even though it seems like His people are suffering. These are the very moments when we must turn to Him in prayer, in trust and in hope. And if, or when, He calls us to speak, He will give us the words, as He did for Elijah.

Sadly, even when we do speak for God, many will not hear. The people didn't hear Ezekiel. They didn't believe the message because it wasn't the message they wanted to hear. They wanted acceptance, peace and love, not a call to repentance. They wanted to do things their own way. Other prophets promised them good things; Ezekiel warned them what would happen if they continued to reject God. Which message would you rather hear? In the end, they did know that a prophet had spoken because his warnings came true. We might like to think that we are better at hearing God's voice than those Israelites, but are we? Do we hear His voice or are we following the voices of the false prophets? Are we chasing after peace and love when we need to turn to God?

This world has always been counter to that which God intends. This world will always battle against Christian faith, even to the point of putting us on a cross beside our Lord Jesus. He told us that we would be hated as He was hated. He told us not to be afraid, for He has overcome the world. Even when we are overwhelmed by what is happening in our world, whether words on a piece of paper or the blade of a sword, we must always have hope. God is in control; He won the war even though we are still fighting the battles. What we need to do is learn how to fight that battle with grace and mercy.

Pastor Meyers also wrote, "Christians have always understood that we have a prophetic vocation that compels us to speak the truth to our neighbor and fellow citizen. We do that because we love them. When a Christian culture is established and the law reflects the Law of God, then everyone benefits from the peace, prosperity, and freedom that results. Christian governments have always enacted legislation against homosexual behavior, not because we hate homosexuals or hate freedom, any more than we hate thieves or hate sex when we call for laws banning fornication and pornography. No, we believe that God's law brings happiness and freedom and prosperity, etc. We love our neighbor as ourselves, so we want to guard and protect him from himself and from others. Of course, we must exercise this prophetic calling lovingly, winsomely, and with humility. So if I admonish you to be courageous, that does not mean I want you to get on Facebook or Twitter and start screaming about this. Watch your language. Be careful how you phrase things. Our position alone is enough to enrage people. There's no need to add to that offense the offense of being snarky, obnoxious, and caustic in our communication of the truth."

I'm walking on eggshells as I write this, knowing that some will find offense despite my love for every person who reads it, whether they are a brother or sister in Christ or someone who has yet to embrace the Gospel. I expect to even lose a few readers. I certainly don't count myself equal to those we hear in today's passages: Ezekiel, the psalmist Paul, the disciples, or Jesus. However, I know I can't expect the world to embrace my words any more than it has embraced theirs. The word I speak today is one we should all hear: trust God, no matter where you stand. He will be faithful. If you are wrong, He will forgive your failure and guide you into truth. If you are right, He will keep you from arrogance and haughtiness so that you will be a help to those who need His grace.

The psalmist must have known what it was like to face difficult times. He seeks mercy from God, for the people endured much ridicule from the proud and contempt from the arrogant. Yet, he sings a song of praise, looking toward God for mercy from the response of those who refuse to hear. We are not promised an easy life when we live in faith. We are called to speak God's Word into the world and it is likely we will face rejection and ridicule.

Imagine what it must have been like to be Paul. He was pretty incredible, a specially chosen man called to do an extraordinary task. He would have been right to hold his leadership and authority over the members of the congregations he established. He could have demanded payment for the work he did. He could have insisted that the Christians do as he said. He had the authority based on his experience. It was obvious that he was chosen by God. He was gifted and God's grace was manifest in his life and work. He even had some remarkable things happen to him that serve as proof of God's hand in his life.

The conversion on the road to Damascus was more than enough to establish Paul as God's helper, but in today's passage Paul tells another story. This was probably an important moment in Paul's ministry because in it he was given a vision of Paradise and given a message from God that he could not share. Now, for many modern day prophets, this type of experience is the center of their ministry. They demand respect, attention and obedience because they can make a claim of God's blessing.

However, Paul was humble. He refused to be the center of the story, claiming it was about someone else. Then Paul reminded the congregation about his imperfection. He talked about his thorn, whatever that might be. Paul was gifted and blessed, called by God through the most incredible spiritual experiences, but he insisted that his authority was not founded on those mountain top experiences. He didn't take credit for his gifts. He knew his authority was based only on God's grace. And so it is with us. There might be visions or revelations we've received that could prove to the world that we are chosen and called by God. We may truly believe that what we say is from God Himself. "Thus says the Lordů" sounds really good coming out of our own mouths. However, we are reminded by Paul that we too should be humbled by our own failures and remember that we are nothing without God's grace.

Jesus faced roadblocks, too. Those who knew Him best, especially those who knew Him best, could not believe that He had the power or authority to speak God's Word and do God's Work. "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house," Jesus said. The greatest rejections often come from those who are closest to us. Jesus could barely even heal in His hometown because they did not believe. Not only that, but they took offense at Him, wondering how someone so ordinary with relatives right down their own street could even think of speaking for God.

After this experience, Jesus sent the disciples into the world, two by two with nothing but the cloaks on their backs and the sandals on their feet. "Take nothing for the journey, save a staff only; no bread, no wallet, no money in your purse." They were sent into the world with nothing so that they would learn to trust God. They would learn another lesson, too. Some of those they meet will reject them. They went in faith and preached repentance. They healed the sick and cast out demons. They did what God called them to do, and they did so by His power. The experience must have been overwhelming, to see God doing such incredible work through their ministry. Yet, even as they were sharing the Kingdom of God, John the Baptist was beheaded. Mark includes that story in the middle of the story about the sending of the disciples, perhaps as a reminder that though they had success on the road, there is always a risk to speaking the truth. We face the same risks when we speak God's Word in the world.

The stories in today's texts of Ezekiel, the psalmist, Paul, the disciples and even Jesus show us that following God is not easy. Speaking His Word is even harder. Sometimes we have to face the elephant in the room and eat the words that God gives us so that they will be available when they are needed. Even so, many will not hear what we say. They will refuse to believe the words we speak. They will reject the call to repentance and love from which it comes. They will embrace that which makes them feel good and follow their hearts, never knowing that the human heart is filled with sin and will lead us down a dangerous path away from the God of hope, peace, true freedom and love.

As for us, we are called to keep our eyes on the Lord our God who provides us with all we need. It may be overwhelming and seem like the tasks are impossible to accomplish, but we can live in hope knowing that God is here, that He has already overcome the world and He is faithful. He has won the war, even as we continue to fight the battles. Today is the day to trust in God, to live in His promises, for He is in control. He has a purpose for your life, to pray and live as He has called you to live, no matter what difficulties you face, for it is in our weakness, pain, need, persecution and distress for Christ's sake that God can do His best work. As Paul writes, "For when I am week, then am I strong." His grace is indeed sufficient for us, His power is made perfect in our weakness.

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