Sunday July 4th 2021
A warm welcome to worship this morning. Let us worship God
Hymn 489 Come down O love divine
Prayer of Approach and Confession
We praise you for the strength you have shown across the centuries,
Working in circumstances that seemed hopeless
And through people who seemed powerless to do anything
We praise you that you are able to transform situations
In a manner that defies human logic
Giving strength to the weak
And achieving great things that look impossible.
Teach us never to measure a situation by the way things seem
And never to avoid a challenge because we feel unable to meet it
Help us to look to you
And to trust in your strength that is stronger than any earthly power,
Recognising that whatever you set out to accomplish,
You will do through Jesus Christ our Lord who taught us to pray together saying:
Hymn 490 Jesus lover of my soul
Readings: Mark 6:1-13,
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
1 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
2 Corinthians 12:7-10
7 But to keep me from being puffed up with pride because of the many wonderful things I saw, I was given a painful physical ailment, which acts as Satan's messenger to beat me and keep me from being proud. 8 Three times I prayed to the Lord about this and asked him to take it away. 9 But his answer was: “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” I am most happy, then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ's power over me. 10 I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Hymn 739 The Church’s one foundation
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
I remember when I was a divinity student at St Andrews various experienced ministers were invited to come one day and speak to us about what they wished they had known when they were starting out in ministry.
At one point a delightful elderly minister, who radiated a lifetime’s wisdom and experience, told us about a lesson he had learned very early on. He said that when he was looking for a charge, the congregation where he had finished his training became vacant and they were all very keen that he would come and be their full time minister. He was delighted and eagerly accepted their offer.
“BIG MISTAKE”, he told us emphatically, and added this warning: “Never go somewhere as a minister where they have known you as a child, or as a student”. The congregation will always see you as “the wee laddie”.
Well they probably wouldn’t see me as “the wee laddie” but I thought the principle was sound. Thus, a few years ago, when the clerk to the vacancy committee of the Church where I worshipped as a teenager contacted me to say “Do you know we are vacant?”, my answer, put somewhat more tactfully, was “Yes I do… and no, I’m not interested!”
And as we can see from our Gospel passage in Mark, being taken seriously as an adult in a place where you grew up isn’t just a problem for tyro ministers: Jesus faced that problem too.
This reading from Mark’s gospel about a prophet being honoured everywhere except in his own home town is so well-known that even non-believers quote it. We sometimes forget the second part of the quote, that it is not just your home town where you are without honour but also among your own family.
And I think the reason for it is the same – it is very difficult when you have known someone as a child to realise that they have grown up. I know that after almost 20 years in Gatehouse, when I meet a delightful young man or women in their 20s who came through Sunday School in my early days, it is still hard not to see them as the little kid who acted up during the nativity play. So it is hard to establish yourself as an adult, in a place where you have been known as a child.
And it was no different for Jesus. In Nazareth, Jesus gave the same proofs of his mission and ministry as he did in other places, and it seems from our Gospel passage that people saw this and recognised it---but that wasn’t enough. Nothing Jesus said or did could overcome the prejudice against him because of his background---he remained always the local boy who had worked in his father’s carpentry shop.
The result was that everything Jesus would have liked to do in Nazareth was severely curtailed because of the attitude of the synagogue worshippers.
It is clear that Jesus was irked by this, and I suspect the experience may partly explain his instructions to his disciples in the next part of our reading when he sent them out to the villages round about. If people don’t listen to you, Jesus said, then shake the dust of that place from your sandals and move on.
I have always found this a very intriguing piece of advice.
On the one hand, it is perfectly sensible and reasonable: why waste your time trying to do something that simply can’t be done? Why go on banging your head against a brick wall, when you can just walk around it and get on with your work?
But on the other hand, this advice of Jesus to his disciples does raise a more difficult question about how generally we should respond to the obstacles that life throws in our path. In the case of the obstacles Jesus and his disciples faced in Nazareth the solution Jesus proposes was straightforward: just go round them and get on with taking advantage of the many broader opportunities that presented themselves elsewhere.
But what about the more difficult situation where the obstacles cannot be gone around? And indeed what about the situation where the obstacles are not “out there” in the external world but are within the individual himself? What should a person do then?
I suppose that this is a problem everybody faces in some degree or another, since nobody is perfect and everybody’s dreams may exceed their capabilities. And I suppose that in most cases most people eventually settle down to a pragmatic adjustment of dreams to reality: banging your head against a brick wall all your life just doesn’t get you anywhere.
So if you are all thumbs when you sit down to play the piano, maybe you should try something else. If you have no feel for the English language, maybe you should reconsider your desire to be a great writer.
For most people I think this sort of pragmatic adjustment is sufficient to deal with the problem: we eventually find a solution that fits our circumstances and we move on to achieve as much as our circumstances allow.
But for some of us the obstacles cannot be overcome so easily. For some of us the challenges can be far more daunting, and I think the situation of St Paul as described in 2nd Corinthians is a striking example. It seems clear from what Paul writes that the challenge for him was quite stark: either give up and admit defeat, or persist in any case and, in doing so, gain strength and resilience.
Paul makes it clear that the challenge for him was that he was afflicted with a serious physical ailment. Paul writes in his typically obscure way about this ailment, so we don’t know what it was. But it was evidently chronic and seemingly incurable, and debilitating at times, and something that required an effort of will on Paul’s part to deal with. Some hints elsewhere in Scripture have suggested to some people that it may have been some sort of eye disease, perhaps something that rendered him temporarily blind from time to time, something that many people might have found crushingly depressing and discouraging.
But Paul did not react that way. When he considered his situation he came to the remarkable conclusion that, as he says in verse 10, “when I am weak, then I am strong.” We know from all of Paul’s writings in the New Testament that he loved paradoxes, but this surely must be one of his most paradoxical statements: he is strong when he is weak.
What on earth is he getting at here? Clearly, he is not talking about his physical condition: the whole passage makes it clear that it is when his physical affliction is at its worst that he feels strongest. For him the important element of strength which he achieves is psychological and spiritual. This comes out in verse 9, where Paul says that God’s response to his prayers for a cure was to remind him that “My grace is all you need, for my power is greatest when you are weak.” Paul’s strength comes from the fact that God gives him the power of spirit that enables Paul to bear his suffering and to carry on his great work of witnessing to his Christian faith.
When you think about it, this process of being strengthened by one’s weaknesses is not actually so paradoxical as it seems at first. We know, for example, that blind people often acquire a much stronger sense of hearing and touch. We see determined and committed competitors in the Paralympic games accomplish astounding physical feats in spite of their disabilities.
For such people, as for Paul, the question is not “What am I prevented from doing?” but rather “What am I enabled to do?” Or to put it another way, the question is: “What has God given me the opportunity to do in spite of my weakness?”
And all of this points towards a larger truth: it is on our strength of spirit that our ultimate accomplishment depends. People may try to thwart our efforts. Our own weaknesses may limit us in what we think we can do. But, as Paul made clear, God didn’t call the perfect. He called the imperfect – the broken, the weak, the wounded, the tired, the disabled and said “in your own strength you cannot do this, but together we can because through your weakness I can make you strong.”
May we learn to trust in God in the areas of life where we feel we lack strength and find, like Paul, that the strength that comes from God enables us to do so much more than we ever thought or dreamt of.
Hymn 517 Fight the good fight
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
We thank you that through the death and resurrection of Jesus,
you demonstrated that weakness could be transformed into power
Today we pray for all those who feel themselves in a place of weakness
We think of those who, like St Paul, suffer from a physical ailment,
Those who suffer from mental torment
Those fighting terminal illness
Where our bodies let us down, help us to rely on you for strength.
We think also of those who feel weakened by external circumstances
Those who have lost their jobs
Those who have lost their homes
Those forced to flee from war as refugees,
You knew what it was like to be a refugee
And to be without a home
Be with those in such circumstances today
And help us all to do that we can to empower such people
We pray for those who lack confidence in their own ability
Who try to rely on their own strength and fail,
Or who have an “I can’t do it” attitude,
Help them to realise that your strength is made perfect through our weakness
We bring you our own prayers now Lord God, in the silence….
Hear these and all our prayers for they are offered in the name of Christ our Lord,
Hymn 515 Soldiers of Christ arise
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
And the blessing of God almighty,
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with you all, this day and forevermore, Amen
Closing voluntary: Handel: The arrival of the Queen of Sheba
Last week I included in Reflections two Youtube videos of church services from my colleague David Bartholomew which had been filmed around Gatehouse of Fleet. This week it is the turn of Borgue. The link is below.