Fifth Sunday After Trinity, 8th July 2012, St Matthias

Readings: Ezekiel 2: 1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10; Mark 6: 1-13

Preacher: Revd David Gardiner

May the words of my lips, and the meditations of all our hearts, be forever pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Our readings today follow on some of the themes that we’ve been thinking about together for a few weeks now. Especially today there’s material in here about rebellion, about getting things wrong, about things outside our control that put us down, and about the kinds of repercussions we can face and the fear those can put on us. But there’s also plenty in these readings about choice, about our God-given ability to choose how we respond to what’s happening in our lives, and perhaps even more importantly, about God’s choice to choose us in spite of everything.

There’s a lot of pain and unpleasantness in the world, but as I’ve taken pains to point out before, no matter how terrible that is, God’s grace and power for good is infinitely stronger.

But let’s look at the readings themselves.

Ezekiel 2: 1-5

The passage from Ezekiel is from early in the book, just the second chapter, and concerns the motivation behind Ezekiel’s prophetic mission. It’s right here that God is picking Ezekiel and briefing him in what he’s going to be doing, and it’s a fascinating insight for a number of reasons.

The first thing that’s really interesting is that God doesn’t just say to Ezekiel ‘go to speak to Israel and tell them my message.’ Before he sends Ezekiel out, before he even gives him his briefing, God prepares Ezekiel and enables him for the task that lies ahead by giving him his spirit.

It’s something of a standard approach through the Bible; to name three: Moses started his time with God with his experience at the burning bush; at the baptism of Jesus John saw the spirit descending on him like a dove; Paul had his incredible experience on the Damascus road. And it’s still true today: at confirmation we pray for the Holy Spirit to be present in the lives of the candidates.

This is important as we’ll see here and in the other readings, as it highlights the fact that success in God’s work does not depend on our strength, but on our reliance on God’s spirit.

Ezekiel is being sent to Israel to tell them they’ve forgotten that the point of being chosen by God is not to feel strong in their own right, but to be reliant on God’s strength. So God is sending Ezekiel to give them a wake-up call, though interestingly the free will of the people is still enshrined here. ‘Whether or not they hear you,’ God says, ’they will know they’ve had a prophet sent to them.’

Psalm 123

Our Psalm seems to exist as something of a response to the Ezekiel passage: it’s two parts first set up the relationship between God and humanity, establishing the potential for mercy to be sought and received; then in the second part is an impassioned example of just that kind of plea for mercy. It’s the model for confession in so many of our worship texts.

2 Corinthians 12: 2-10

It’s a slightly strange start to our reading from second Corinthians: Paul talks for three verses in a kind of language I just am not familiar with. I simply do not know what  Paul means when he says someone was ‘caught up into third heaven’ or someone who was ‘caught up into Paradise.’

However, from my reading of the subsequent verses, the point is not to understand exactly what is meant, but to understand that Paul considers these others to be more worthy of praise and boasting than he is. He says he has things to boast in, but that he won’t in case other people think he’s better than he is, and in case he gets big-headed.

What Paul wants to keep in his mind at all times is that he has been made into the leader that he is not on his own merit, but because of the presence of God in his life.

He even goes so far as to describe a ‘thorn in his flesh’ as something God has not healed him from so that Paul would know that God’s grace is sufficient for him. As Paul puts it, God’s ‘power is made perfect in weakness.’

Paul has found contentment in his limited nature, but that doesn’t mean he’s content to be limited in what he does in God’s name. The point of recognising his own weakness is simply to bolster his reliance on God. When he does, then when he is weak, he is strong.

Mark 6: 1-13

But we don’t just face problems from within: it’s not just self-doubt and our own weakness that we face. We can also face doubt and suspicion over our faith and motives from society. It’s the same kind of problem Jesus faced in his own ministry, and the place he found it present the most was in his home town.

He was teaching in the synagogue, and teaching surprising things to the people who were listening, but they said “don’t we know him? Isn’t he Joseph and Mary’s son? How could he know things like this?” And instead of listening they took offence at him.

Jesus himself was doubted, and he advised his disciples that they might well be doubted, but he still sent them, and he still went about teaching himself, because the message is important. The world is so often consumed with pain, and we have a message of hope and life.

Often in life and especially in our present culture, what is admired and respected is not recognition of need of help, but strength. Not reliance on others, but independence. Yet these passages, and this faith we celebrate, tell us that there is honesty and something better in relying on those God puts around us, and indeed there is power in relying on God. Our faith calls us to share in this Eucharist, this meal which nourishes us for the week ahead. So when the world tells us that we are limited, small and flawed, and that that should make us fear and doubt, we can remember that we have God behind us.

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