Sunday, July 6, 2003

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

My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness.

They say you can't go home again. I'm sure this summer vacation a great many of us will go home again for a visit, so it is not true in the most literal sense. Yet, there is a great deal of truth to be found in the statement. Have you ever run into an old friend with whom you have been out of touch? Are they surprised to discover what has become of your life? If I asked your family to describe you today, what might they say? I think my brother still sees me as an eleven year old with pigtails, despite the fact that my youngest child is nearly eleven. Even though our family and friends have grown up and matured, they remember us as we were when we last spent time together. We are no different, expecting everything to be exactly the same in our home, neighborhood and family. Yet we too are amazed at the changes.

It is especially difficult for those who have undergone a spiritual transformation in the time apart. When people are born again, they become different. They go home to the people who had been part of their life before they were saved and those people simply do not understand the changes. How many pastors run into old high school friends who respond to their career choice with hysterical laughter. "You? A pastor? You've got to be kidding! Aren't you the guy who didů in senior year?" It is hard to imagine our rowdy, misbehaving friends to be any different than they were in those days.

So, we can't go home again, or at least we can't expect things to be as they were when we were young. It seems that things haven't changed over the years, because Jesus had exactly the same problem with his hometown. When He went to preach to the people in Nazareth, they were amazed at His teaching. "Whence hath this man these things?" Jesus was the son of a carpenter, and though this was not a job for fools, it is not likely the carpenters were well versed in the scriptures. They couldn't believe He was anything but what they expected - Mary's son, with brothers and sisters living in the town. He couldn't even do miracles, for they could not believe in Him. They were amazed at the things He said; He was amazed at their lack of faith. Jesus couldn't go home again.

When the people took offense to him, Jesus answered, "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house." New Christians often learn this lesson very quickly after they have been born again. They are quick to run home to their families to share the love of Christ, to give the gift of life to those whom they love the most. Yet, it is hardest to witness to those who knew us intimately before we knew Jesus, because they are shocked and offended by the new person we have become. They can't get past their memories of our dirty diapers or rambunctious youth.

Memories are not the only thing that might stand in the way of people hearing the message we bring to the world. Cultural biases, intellectual arrogance or contempt for anything that goes against the status quo create deaf ears for many people.

I'm sure there are few of us who would consider themselves prophets, certainly no one I know could be compared to Ezekiel, but a prophet is nothing more than a vessel through which God speaks. As Christians, we are called to be prophets, taking God's Word to the world. It is not very comforting to hear the story of Ezekiel's calling in those terms. God says to poor Ezekiel, "I am sending you out there to speak to people who aren't going to hear a word you say, people who will reject me and everything I want to give them and persecute you for trying." I'd like to answer such a calling with, "But God, why should I bother? If they aren't going to listen, what good will it do?" God always gives hope. "They'll know that a prophet has been with them."

Oh, maybe our family will laugh when we talk about our faith, and maybe they will reject what we have to say, but when we leave they will wonder about the change in our lives. It may not bring saving faith to their lives and we may face ridicule, scorn, persecution and rejection. Yet, a seed will be planted because God will not allow our suffering to be in vain. When we live our life in faith and trust, God will ensure that His presence is known in our lives when we go out into the world to share the Gospel.

The Psalmist must have known what it was like to face such 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 grace into other people's lives, and it is likely we will face rejection and ridicule.

Paul knew what it was like to face that kind of persecution. He really couldn't go home again because the persecution meant more than just a few giggles from his brothers and sisters. His relationships were in jeopardy as well as his position in the community. He even faced death for the sake of the Gospel. All this and things were still not perfect in his life, he had something about his life which bothered him so much he prayed to God repeatedly to remove it. We really do not know what Paul's thorn was, though generations of theologians have tried to guess. We fill in the blank with our own temptations, sins or imperfections, which is why God has left this question in the text. He wants us to identify with Paul in his weakness, so that we too know that God's grace is sufficient for us.

Paul realized that the power and glorious blessings that he received in faith from Christ were not his own, but were a gift from God for glorifying Him in the world. Even his vision of heaven is not something that belongs to him. Instead, Paul knows God's power is displayed in the weak things of this world. Paul refused to boast about his experiences because he knew that people would think more of him than was warranted and he would be tempted to think himself more highly than he ought. It is too easy for us to get caught up in pride when people embrace everything we do and say. God can't work through our pride, but we are humbled by rejection, persecution and ridicule. He does great things through our humility.

I wonder what it must have been like for the disciples when they were sent out on this mission to share the kingdom of God with the villages. Jesus told them to rely on God to provide; they weren't allowed to take anything along - no money or food. They only needed the clothes on their back, a staff and a pair of shoes. They were probably not far from home, might they too have come across relatives who refused to listen? Even if they were strangers, who would want to listen to a bunch of fishermen and other uneducated men who had no training in the things of God? "Where did these men get these things?"

Our power to preach the Gospel comes from God, not from our own abilities, experiences or even our own desire to do so. God word is shared best from humble human vessels that rejoice in their weaknesses so God's strength shows. The people, even if they reject, despise, persecute, insult or threaten, will see God's presence and know they have seen a prophet speaking God's Word among them. We might have to dust our feet when we leave a place we are not welcome, but it should not stop us from preaching the kingdom of God to all who will hear. When we leave, let us hope and pray that a seed was planted so that when another prophet comes their way they might listen and hear what God has to say. One day, they might know the change that comes from a life in Christ. Thanks be to God. 

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