Pentecost 6, Dealing with Stereotypes

Title:Pentecost 6, Dealing with Stereotypes

 Pentecost 6, Year B (full size gallery)

A wonderful July 4 Sunday with great weather, partly cloudy with low humidity. We had 29 – 22 in the church and 7 online.

The flowers were donated by John and Toni Faibisy in memory of John’s mother, Mrs. Marion Faibisy, born on July 4, in Nova Scotia. Brad announced that he had a niece born earlier today on July 4. There are several people, including his later mother born on July 4.

The music was in keeping with the holiday – “How Firm a Foundation”, “America the Beautiful” (offertory), “Faith of Our Fathers”. This was in the bulletin – The Rev. Daniel Crane Roberts, who served a small rural parish in Brandon, Vermont, wrote the stirring words of today’s closing hymn, “God, of our fathers” for a celebration in his small town to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the signing of The Declaration of Independence. Later, the hymn was used in a national celebration of the centennial of the adoption of the United States Constitution. It has appeared in Episcopal hymnals since 1892.

Mission work continues. We are now collecting hand sanitizer for Caroline’s Promise. The goal is 250 containers but should be small that students can carry with them.

After the service we had our first coffee hour since March, 2020. 16 months is a long time! We made up for it thanks to Ken, Andrea, Cookie and Johnny who provided all the food, setup and decorations. Wonderful! The link to the story with a photo gallery.

The sermon focused on Paul’s Epistle – God said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Catherine recounted that after the pandemic St. Peter’s is smaller. “Six people have chosen not to return to St Peter’s as participants. Two people have moved away. And one person has died. So we have nine less people. Meanwhile, Linda, Jan and Larry have come to us. And Lydia is worshiping with us on line”

“God has given us the grace to accomplish in just a few short months the huge task of raising money and collecting school supplies for an entire elementary school in Jamaica. We did not manage this feat through our own power. This generosity and hard work have happened because God’s grace is at work in our midst.

“So I am going to boast of our “weakness.” Because even though in the eyes are the world we are tiny and insignificant, God is doing great things for God’s work in the world in us and through us. ”

“Because today is July 4th, and we are celebrating the anniversary of the signing of our Declaration of Independence, I want to consider how today’s passages apply to our nation.

“As we have lived through the pandemic, some of our national weaknesses have become more obvious.

“A visible national weakness is our ongoing division, often along political lines, and our continuing unwillingness to work together, to seek consensus or to compromise. Division weakens us. But God’s power can go to work when people open themselves to God, rather than to worship division, separation, and their own arrogant certainties. God will not force God’s healing on people who don’t want to be healed or unified. Only through God’s grace can we become united.”

The message in today’s scripture readings is that God works through the flesh, all human frailty and weakness notwithstanding. Today’s readings remind us of the cost that always accompanies the call to a prophetic mission. In the reading from Ezekiel God commissions Ezekiel as a prophet to the exiled and rebellious kingdom of Judah. Paul speaks to the Corinthians of revelations and thorns in the flesh. In the gospel, Jesus is rejected by his own townspeople. The prophets who became spokespersons for God all felt inadequate to the call and protested their incompetence before God. In one way or another, God stood them on their feet. Ezekiel said, “The spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet.” Paul’s very weakness served the purpose of allowing the Holy Spirit to be the power that made him God’s messenger.

Ezekiel was a priest (1:3) who was taken away to Babylon at the time of the first capture of Jerusalem in 597 BCE. In exile, he was cut off from the presence of God in the temple and from his priestly role as mediator between God and God’s people. In today’s reading, however, after a vision of God’s glory appearing on a movable throne outside of the temple, Ezekiel is commissioned as a prophet and given a set of instructions (1:28b–3:27). He is to announce the Lord’s will to “the people of Israel” (meaning the exiles of Judah not those in the former northern kingdom which no longer existed) whether they listen or not.

The “spirit” (v. 2) who entered Ezekiel is the Spirit of the Lord. In the times of the early prophets, the action of the Spirit was associated with ecstatic prophesy among the bands of prophets (1 Samuel 10:5, 19:20-24). This style of prophecy became associated with the cult of Baal, and thus, mention of the Spirit seems to have been avoided by the eighth-century prophets who speak instead of hearing the word of the Lord. Ezekiel (11:5, 37:1) and later writings of the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1) reintroduce the role of the Spirit to prophetic literature. Ezekiel’s success is not dependent upon the response of the people. The words of the Lord have an independent existence that will provide a framework of interpretation so that coming events will be seen as the acts of the Lord.

In the Epistle, in chapters 10–13, Paul defends himself with bitter irony against certain “super-apostles” (11:5) who ridicule his unimpressive physical appearance and speaking style (10:10) and his refusal to take money (11:7-11, 12:13-18). They prove their authority by their Jewish descent (11:22), their signs (12:12), and their “visions and revelations” (12:1). For them, authority equals power (11:20).

Although Paul can and does make equivalent claims, as in today’s reading, to do so is to speak “as a fool” (11:21, 12:11). By describing his revelation in the third person, Paul distances himself from this experience—it is a personal matter, not the basis for his apostolic authority. Instead, as a counterpart, he is afflicted with “a thorn…in the flesh” (v. 7). The exact nature of the thorn is not specified. It may have been a physical or emotional illness or an external affliction such as the opposition of his fellow Jews. But Paul’s authority as a true apostle is revealed through such weakness. The end Paul seeks, that is, the evidence of his authority, is revealed by the Lord paradoxically by means Paul does not at first recognize.

The Gospel account of Jesus’ rejection by his relatives and townspeople comes near the end of the Galilean ministry, and signals an extension of his kingdom ministry beyond the narrow confines of Galilee. The story echoes the Markan pattern found earlier in Capernaum where Jesus’ teaching first evokes astonishment (1:22) and ends on a note of hostility (3:6) because he does not conform to their limited stereotypes of who he is and what he can and ought to be. This pattern will later appear in Jerusalem and his rejection there will end in his death (chaps. 12–14).

Verse 4 expresses a common idea in the literature of the time and occurs in several non-biblical writings. Mark has not yet explicitly identified Jesus as a prophet, but it certainly would have been a popular way to identify him and his teaching, as it was of John the Baptist (6:15, 8:27-28). The hometown people’s narrow view of Jesus and inability to see him in this prophetic role cuts them off from the new way of salvation that Jesus offers. Mighty deeds, which serve as pointers revealing the power with which this new way changes lives, are irrelevant when faith is absent.

For the early Church this story helped explain the mystery of Jesus’ rejection by his people, the Jews, and his acceptance by the Gentiles. The refusal to recognize the Messiah because he did not conform to their narrowly constructed stereotypes blinds them to the awareness that God is doing something new here in the person and ministry of Jesus.

The commissioning and instruction of the Twelve is paralleled by Matthew (Matthew 10:1, 9-14) and Luke (Luke 9:1-5). But each account is adapted in a way reflecting each evangelist’s particular emphasis. Mark uses the account of the commission of the Twelve to bracket the story of John the Baptist’s death. The disciples, so often negatively portrayed by Mark, here are shown as participating in Jesus’ own mission as set forth in 1:14-15, 32-39. The warnings about what should be taken indicate the urgency and sacred nature of their work. Jesus “began to send them out” as heralds, in word and deed, of the coming kingdom. In Mark, instead of taking nothing, the disciples are allowed staff and sandals. Perhaps he has modified the list for the more arduous non-Palestinian terrain familiar to his audience.

Verses 10-11 reflect the importance of hospitality in the mission of the early Church, for which Jesus’ words set the standard. Pious Jews, when returning to the Holy Land, shook off alien dust before entering, lest they defile the land. Thus the ‘shaking off of dust’ symbolically marks a place as heathen, not part of the true Israel. It is acted out, not as a curse against, but as a solemn warning for, those who reject the disciples. The “apostles” report on their mission in 6:30. As Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth (6:1-6) foreshadows the final repudiation in Jerusalem, so the sending forth of the disciples points toward the later mission of the Church.

Jesus, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt, emptied himself to become fully human. As faithful people of God, we have also found that as we empty ourselves, the Holy Spirit fills us and dwells in us. Our lives become channels of God’s grace and power. However, self-emptying is neither a popular nor a well-understood idea. The buzzwords of our time are self-fulfillment and self-attainment, and self-seeking impulses often dominate our activities. Few realize that the spiritual world also abhors a vacuum, and that God, bidden to do so, will fill any offered space with the heavenly grace, life and power to work miracles of redemption in our lives.