Pentecost 6

July 5, 2015


Text: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13


          To someone who has never encountered the writings of the Apostle Paul before, today’s passage from 2 Corinthians must sound downright weird. I mean, seriously, who brags about their weaknesses? People brag about their strengths all the time. But weakness? In our world, many people regard their weaknesses with embarrassment or shame. Even those who are not embarrassed or ashamed by their weaknesses definitely don’t go around bragging about them. The very idea of doing so sounds totally absurd.

          The world we live in values self-reliance. This attitude is ingrained very early in our lives, even in the toddler who dresses herself for the first time and proudly announces, “I do’d it myself!” People speak of how hard they worked to get where they are. The attitude that often lies behind this kind of statement is one of feeling entitled to the good things they have. And those who are not self-reliant, who are dependent on others for their needs, are often looked upon with disdain if they are judged to be lazy or otherwise undeserving.

          Now in this section of 2 Corinthians Paul was defending himself against other apostles who were coming into Corinth and bragging about themselves, claiming to be greater than Paul. So Paul mentions in passing that he knew a man who fourteen years earlier had been caught up into the third heaven, hearing things no one is allowed to repeat. Paul was of course talking about himself. But instead of using this experience as grounds for bragging, he started talking about a weakness that he describes as a “thorn in the flesh”, a messenger from Satan to torment him to keep him from getting conceited. He never says what the “thorn in the flesh” actually is, although many have speculated about it—a speech impediment, a physical ailment, the opposition he experienced, some sort of temptation have all been suggested as possibilities. Whatever it was, it was a real irritant to Paul, so much so that three times he asked God to take it away. Instead, God’s answer to him was, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul decided to brag about his weaknesses so Christ’s power could rest in him. He wanted it to be clear to people that what he was doing in sharing God’s love in Jesus Christ was not merely a matter of his own initiative. It was God’s power working through him even in his weaknesses and shortcomings.

          We also read about Jesus’ visit to his hometown of Nazareth where he taught in the synagogue. However, instead of being received with open arms, he met with disbelief: “Where did he get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? How does he do all these powerful acts? Isn’t he just a carpenter, Mary’s boy, whose brothers and sisters all live here among us?” It looks to me like they thought Jesus had gotten way too big for his britches.

          Jesus discovered that this disbelief weakened his power to minister to the people in Nazareth. Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was unable to do any miracles there, except for placing his hands on a few sick people and healing them. Jesus commented, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” I get that. I have always said I could never serve as pastor of the congregation in which I grew up. In fact, pastors seldom become pastor of the congregation in which they grew up—the hometown folks just are not very likely to take a person seriously in that circumstance. It is hard to speak God’s truth, especially when it is a challenging truth, among people who have known you since you were a child. Jesus in effect made it known that whether or not he accomplished God’s purposes through his ministry did not depend on whether or not the hometown folks approved. Although their disbelief prevented him from doing much in Nazareth, it certainly did not stop him from doing God’s work elsewhere.

          Our Gospel lesson continues by telling of Jesus sending out the Twelve in pairs to preach repentance, cast out demons, and heal the sick. Notice his instructions to them: don’t take anything but your walking stick—no food, no luggage, no money, no extra clothes. When you enter a house, stay there until you leave that place and accept their hospitality. If they don’t welcome you, shake the dust from your feet when you leave as a witness against them. Jesus was telling them not to depend on their own stuff, but rather to live in the position of the vulnerable and weak who are dependent on others and ultimately on the power of God. Mark tells us that, as they depended on God’s power, they cast out many demons and healed many sick people.

          How tempting it is to try to do ministry in Jesus’ name by depending on our own resources. We often depend on our money, our abilities, our intelligence, our reputation, and the programs and techniques we have developed to do the work of the church, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Many times we find ourselves frustrated when these things don’t work as well as we thought they would. I confess that many times I depend too much on my own resources and too little on God. And I believe this is often true of the church as well.

          I wonder: What would it look like for us to depend on God rather than trying to be self-reliant in our ministry? Would we worry less about money? Would we be more interested in prayerfully seeking God’s guidance through the Holy Spirit and less interested in doing things the way we have always done them? Would we be more willing to admit that we don’t have all the answers and thus be more open to the questions? Would we be less interested in controlling outcomes and more willing to let God surprise us? Those are a few of my ideas—perhaps you have others.

          Jesus invites and encourages us to Fully Rely On God. An easy way to remember this is to use the word FROG as an acronym (as you will observe on the artwork inside your bulletin). To Fully Rely On God means we depend on him completely, and not on our resources, our expertise, and our wits. While God may choose to use those things, Fully Relying On God means we place these things at God’s disposal to use as God sees fit, which may or may not be the same as how we might choose to use them when left to our own devices.

          When we are weak, we are strong. When we depend on God’s power instead of relying on ourselves, we are able to do far more in Jesus’ name to love and serve others and to bring hope and healing in our broken world. God uses us, even in our brokenness, our stumbling uncertainty, our not having it all together, to accomplish his purposes in the world. My prayer is that, by Fully Relying on God, you and I will be open to God’s surprising work in and through our lives.


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