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Pentecost 7 Proper 9B RCL July 8, 2018

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Psalm 48
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

In our first reading today. all the tribes of Israel gather and call David to be their king. This coronation not only makes David their king officially. It also renews the covenant between God and the people. David had many flaws, but he also had a very deep faith in God, and this was the source of his greatness as a leader.

In our epistle for today, we have a passage that is full of meaning. Paul founded the congregation in Corinth. Other teachers and leaders have followed him, and they are saying all kinds of negative things about him, including that he does not have enough mystical experiences.

So Paul tells a story. I know this man, he says, who had a profound mystical experience. He was taken up to the seventh heaven, the highest heaven, and he heard things that humans could never even think to express or repeat. The story is about himself, but he is too humble to say that.

And then, he tells this congregation that has been so difficult and so  critical of him that he has a thorn in the flesh. We have no idea what this could be. Many people have written about their theories about this, but responsible scholars make it clear that we have no way of knowing what this weakness is.

Paul makes himself vulnerable to these highly gifted and extraordinarily finicky Corinthians by sharing his greatest weakness! He tells them and us that he prayed three times for God to take this thing away, but that miracle did not happen. Instead, God told Paul something that is at the core of our faith and the center of our life in Christ, and I’m using the Revised Standard translation because  I think it makes the point even more clearly: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

What a paradox and what a mystery! We can have a weakness, a disease or a flaw or whatever it is, and through that flaw, God can show God’s power. We have this thing, whatever it is, and we pray and pray, and we do have sincere faith, and the day comes when we realize that God is showing God’s power through helping us to cope with this thorn in our flesh, and through that coping, with God’s grace, our faith deepens and our love of Christ grows stronger and our compassion for others increases.

We can only imagine how many people have read this passage and had their lives changed by it.

In our gospel for today, Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth. They marvel at his wisdom. but they cannot see who he truly is because he is the son of Jospeh and Mary. He is someone they know. He is the son of the carpenter and why is he not working in the carpenter shop? This may be a possible source of that observation that “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Their preconceptions prevent them from realizing they are meeting their Savior.

Jesus makes a comment that holds a great deal of truth: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Isn’t it interesting how we hire consultants from outside to give us guidance on what to do? Sometimes that is a good idea, but we also need to realize that we who are living in a community and are members of a parish, have much more knowledge than an outsider can possibly have.

The text tells us that Jesus “Could do no deed of power there.” He had just healed the daughter of Jairus and the woman who had a hemorrhage and many other people, but he couldn’t heal anyone in Nazareth. We have to be open to the power and love and healing of our Lord in order for him to help us.

Let us note that the rejection does not stop him from doing his ministry. He goes around the villages teaching, and he sends the disciples out do their ministry of healing and forgiveness. Many people turn their lives around, and many are healed.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This is at the heart of our faith. Jesus died on a cross. That is a position of complete and utter weakness in the world’s eyes. He did not muster an army. He did kill those who opposed him. He could have. He had all the power in the world. He took all that hatred and contempt and, as Barbara Brown Taylor says, he “took all the man-made wreckage of the world inside himself and labored with it for almost three days—and he did not let go of it until he could transform it and return it to us as life.” (Taylor, Teaching Sermons on Suffering: God in Pain, p. 118.)

And that is what he can do with our weaknesses and our defeats. He can take the things that make us feel ashamed and discouraged and unworthy and transform them into sources of a faith deeper than we could have imagined. He can turn those weaknesses into strengths that help us to carry out our ministries to others and spread his love.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Loving and gracious Lord, thank you for your grace. Thank you for your power, the power to make us and the creation whole. May we use the gift of your grace to help you build your kingdom.  Amen.

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