3 February 2019

posted 2 Feb 2019, 04:02 by C S Paul

3 February 2019

Scripture reading and Sermon

Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church 

Fourth Sunday after Denho (Baptism of our Lord)

Reading from the Scripture for this Sunday

Mark 6:1-16 New King James Version (NKJV)

Jesus Rejected at Nazareth

6:1 Then He went out from there and came to His own country, and His disciples followed Him. 

And when the Sabbath had come, He began to teach in the synagogue. And many hearing Him were astonished, saying, “Where didthis Man get these things? And what wisdom is this which is given to Him, that such mighty works are performed by His hands! 

Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” So they were offended at Him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” 

Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 

And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching.

Sending Out the Twelve

And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. 

He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bag, no bread, no copper in theirmoney belts— but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.

10 Also He said to them, “In whatever place you enter a house, stay there till you depart from that place. 

11 And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!”

12 So they went out and preached that people should repent. 

13 And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them.

John the Baptist Beheaded

14 Now King Herod heard of Him, for His name had become well known. And he said, “John the Baptist is risen from the dead, and therefore these powers are at work in him.”

15 Others said, “It is Elijah.”

And others said, “It is the Prophet, or like one of the prophets.”

16 But when Herod heard, he said, “This is John, whom I beheaded; he has been raised from the dead!”

Strength Through Weakness - A Lesson on Humility

by Rev. John Duncan

Humility can be a source of tremendous strength. There's a kind of sobriety and restraint in so many people of my dad's generation, a kind of wisdom about how to move forward in life. Dad couldn't get too full of himself because he'd seen the evil people can do. He frequently said, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

If you can get your heart around that, you stop kidding yourself about human nature. But you want to do right, to be constructive, even in the face of opposition. You keep doing what is right and good though others may disappoint, betray their values, be selfish or wicked. You know it's all you can do.

If you are full of yourself, you get too wounded – too angry when things go wrong. But it doesn't have to be that way. If you know how people can be, then you plan more wisely, and you aren't shocked when things go wrong or people disappoint, but you stay open to being delighted, to being proud of people when they come through, when they live up to their ideals, when they show good faith and great commitment.

St. Paul struggled with this. Here he was a great apostle, starting churches in quite a number of cities around the empire, nurturing them. A man who had incredible visions, and through whom wonderful things were done. Paul found that he was vulnerable to inflation. He was tormented when he couldn't soar. And yet he discovered that his high times were not the best times. The good times were the ones when, in spite of his every error, in spite of all opposition, Christ shone through.

Paul matured enough to discover that it wasn't the greatness of Paul he wanted, it was to be a disciple, a part of the wonder of Christ. The love that entered ordinary lives when Paul was able to let it – that was his greatest joy. "Whenever I am weak, then I am strong." We have to learn to get over ourselves, get out of God's way.

That is only possible when the focus in on God and not ourselves. That is humility.

Humility is a practice, a kind of realism, a wisdom that knows that for all we'd like to do, and all we'd like to say, there is a greater power at work. It works in us a kind of sobriety and restraint.

Jesus began to gather disciples, to preach and to heal and to form communities of people who loved and forgave one another and expected God to act. And he came to his hometown, to Nazareth, to the synagogue. I'll bet he had some hopes for what would happen there in his hometown. But instead he was met with stubborn opposition. What could this kid teach us – God isn't up to anything – this is the carpenter's kid. Who does he think he is? And they wouldn't listen.

Jesus was astonished by their disbelief. Why would they close their hearts? I wonder what that felt like? Another part of our humanity he wasn't afraid to share. But he doesn't recoil: Instead he turns and says to the disciples, "You need to experience this, too. Go out, two by two, not like we usually do as a traveling event, just two by two with nothing to insulate you, and preach and heal and where you are welcomed, enjoy, but where you are not, just face up to it, you were not welcomed."

You can't discover what you stand for until you speak justice, listen to the response, think it over and respond some more. Until you speak forgiveness, listen to the response, think it over and speak again. You can't be a disciple unless you get rejected once in a while and get received with joy once in a while. If they are going to learn wisdom, they need to know something of human nature. They've got to get used to being received with joy and not take it personally – to be opposed with malice and not take it personally. And not be destroyed by it. It isn't about them, it's about God at work, and when you know that you have strength to carry on.

I've been thinking about what makes this nation great, and how to strengthen and preserve that. And I recently heard a program about Reinhold Niebuhr, pastor and theologian of 20th century America, one of the great public intellectuals of that time. Liberals and conservatives alike claim Niebuhr. He was an original. A pastor of the German Evangelical Church, then a professor at Union Theological Seminary, he started out a pacifist, a socialist, an opponent of the factories exploiting workers and of the Klu Klux Klan which was strong in Detroit when he began to preach there. He came to condemn communism, and became a strong influence on Martin Luther King, Jr. He opposed Vietnam but argued that nuclear weapons were a necessary deterrent for his time.

What Niebuhr became known for was what he called "Christian Realism". Holding to Christian ideals in public policy, working hard to do what was just and right – but without naivety. Knowing how frail is human nature, and planning policy with that in mind. Wanting all the best things, but working toward them with a certain sobriety. He quipped, "I think there ought to be a club in which preachers and journalists could come together and have the sentimentalism of the one matched with the cynicism of the other. That ought to bring them pretty close to the truth." And another, "Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted; and pure love without power is destroyed." Some of you have been waiting for his most famous lines:

God, grant me the serenity to 
Accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Niebuhr captures for me in his engagement with so many public intellectuals that humility I saw in my dad, a sadness that human nature is frail, a delight that love is possible, and a willingness to move forward into the future steadily, without too many illusions, but with trust that God will find a way.

The arc of justice is long, and any good thing takes much time, and much love and faith.

But there is tremendous staying-power in humility. If you keep your eyes on Christ, you can know the world is a difficult place, and yet invest yourself in goodness.