OS 14B Ezekiel 2: 1-5, 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10, Mark 1: 1-13
When I was first on the West Coast and newly ordained I got the kind of call that every priest dreads. A young couple in a nearby town had lost a baby to cot death and would I come. As I went I thought how utterly sad this was, and prayed that I might know how to be with them in this terrible tragedy.
When I arrived I went in and saw that they had already set their house up as a marae, which was not uncommon on the Coast with Maori families. Eventually I was alone with these nervous young parents who told me they didn’t know what to do, and that they were not baptised but could I help them anyway? Of course I can, I said, whilst feeling very inadequate and wondering how all this was going to work out. At times like this, in ministry, the words, “My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness,” might come to mind.
To stop Paul from becoming too elated with visions of paradise, a thorn was given to him in the flesh. This thorn was a tangible weakness that caused him to have to rely daily on the grace of God rather than his own strength. People have speculated as to what the thorn was, and that doesn’t really matter. Each one of us knows what a thorn in the flesh feels like. It is something that disheartens and discourages us in our ministry and faith. The technical term is desolation.
This kind of pastoral situation is a thorn. It is very disheartening to see such grief around the coffin of a little baby, and to feel so helpless. The thing that amazed me about this situation was the ministry that emerged over these days that was sufficient. Most of us hate to feel that helpless, yet if we dare to go there the power of God will never let us down.
One of the particular thorns that many of us don’t like and try to avoid is rejection. Just like Jesus, we all have our own families and networks of friends who know about us, our past, our ups and our downs. It can be very hard to do works of power among these people, because they can’t get past their own pre-conceptions of who we are or who we were. Many of us will consciously avoid situations where we could be rejected. But in doing so we greatly limit our effectiveness as bearers of grace. After the tradition of Ezekiel, Jesus was rejected in Nazareth and they took offence at him. This foreshadowed his rejection by his own people which culminated in his crucifixion.
Instead of crawling back under his stone, Jesus expanded his ministry. He went about other villages teaching. He called the twelve and sent them out in pairs with authority to undermine evil. He told them not to carry unnecessary stuff for the journey. Something the Church, particularly in Western nations has long since forgotten. When we see what vibrant ministry happens in places overseas with so little the resources that we think are necessary, it might cause us to pause for thought.
Jesus taught his disciples to accept and honour hospitality. Indeed the deep personal relationships that come through this way of relating would be at the core of his mission strategy. This had its culmination in the Last Supper where Jesus formed a new community in his body and blood of which we continue today.
But some won’t welcome you, so then as you leave shake the dust off. Which means clearly moving away, and putting energies where they will bear fruit. It also acknowledges that perhaps someone else needs to go to that house, and that us being rejected may not be the end of the matter.
And the twelve went and proclaimed that all should repent and turn to God, and they cast out many demons and anointed many with oil who were sick and cured them. These are still the priorities for mission. Calling on people to turn to God, undermining evil by helping people to trust God’s power, and caring for and healing the sick.
Fear of rejection is very real, and most of us don’t like it. It causes us to avoid situations where if we had more courage we could mediate the power of God. We tend to justify this by thinking that we haven’t got the right equipment. We haven’t got the time. We haven’t got a good enough theological education, we haven’t done enough bible study, we aren’t good enough at prayer, we haven’t got enough experience, we aren’t important enough, we are not ordained etc.
What we are really saying by these justifications is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is not enough because we are too scared of our own weakness.
The words “My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness,” are words that were spoken to St Paul by the risen Lord. They are words that represent the heart of the gospel of Christ crucified and risen. They sustained Paul’s very challenging ministry and they are words that can sustain ours too.
“My grace is sufficient for you for power is made perfect in weakness”.