Sixth Sunday After Pentecost Study

6TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST   07-04-2021

FIRST READING:   Ezekiel 2:1-5

[We were also in Ezekiel three Sundays ago. Scholars in the past thought that this prophet was one of a second wave of exiles that were hauled off to Babylon when the nation of Judah was conquered, the city of Jerusalem  destroyed, and the Temple looted, burned, and leveled to the ground. But we wrote then that more recent scholars now believe that he was still in the devastated homeland, and that his “trips” to Babylon were spiritual flights of prophetic insight.]

The prophet had some wild visions in troubled times! Chapters 1-3 of Ezekiel are an extended description of his call to become a prophet of God. He received a vision of God appearing majestically on a chariot throne. Then he received a commission to speak God’s word to the people of Israel – both those in exile in Babylon and those who remained in Jerusalem. This would be a difficult and frustrating task, because God already told him that very few people would actually listen or even honor his authority. Even though God equipped him for this ministry by actually feeding him the words he was to speak (see 2:8 – 3:3), the mission was already seemingly doomed.

Have you ever felt like God was calling and sending you to do an overwhelming task? If we’re going to encounter so much frustration and failure in trying, then why bother? How important is it to you to be faithful and obedient toward God? How does your steadfastness in turn become a witness of God’s power or God’s glory or God’s love… but also a personal testimony of the worthy life you tried to live?  

Following God’s instructions, Ezekiel dramatized God’s message in bizarre ways: eating a book, shaving his head, cooking with cow manure, laying outside in public for months with his hands bound beside a clay model of the city of Jerusalem. Other times, Ezekiel described unearthly visions. Sometimes it takes some wild actions and words to try to wake the people up to God’s anger and God’s mercy. Keep at it.

 

 SECOND READING:   2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Opponents have suggested that both Paul and his message amount to little (see 10:1, 10). The last 4 chapters of 2 Corinthians are Paul’s defense of his ministry. He seeks to respond to the self-promoting boasting of his opponents (see 10:12) by offering what he calls the boasting of a fool (see 11:1 – 12:13). “As a fool” he speaks of his own noble Hebrew heritage and Israelite lineage… his hard work and persevering courage as a missionary… the extensive human opposition and punishment he faced from Romans, Jews, Gentiles, and contrary Christians… and the dangers from nature, weather, hunger, and thirst. Baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean once quipped, “It’s not bragging if you can do it.” Paul is sharing all that he actually went through, but more as a testament to his faithfulness than pride over all that he is and all that he did and all that he endured. He is, remember speaking “as a fool”.

In today’s reading Paul then mentions a man who once received such a powerful vision that he actually experienced Paradise, saw God. But Paul will not say whether it was him… remember, he seeks to “boast only of his weaknesses”. This is more than a clever writing tactic. It fits the heart of his theology. For Paul holds onto that promise he has received from Christ: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (12:9)

What was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” that he also refers to? Some have wondered if it was a physical disability, a chronic condition, malaria, some sort of addiction, maybe even moments of depression. He admits that it tormented him, and he shares that he prayed to be delivered from it. But he wasn’t delivered. Instead, he was transformed by it. He believes that this “thorn” not only humbled him but taught him much about God’s power, how to depend on God’s grace.

Have you, like Paul, tried hard to serve the Lord… then prayed a request to God asking for some sort of deliverance or aid… and thought that you did not get the answer you asked for or expected? Do you have a “thorn”? What is it doing to your daily living and to your faith?  

Wasn’t it Jesus, dying on a cross, who delivered us from the power of sin and the power of death? 

 

GOSPEL READING:  Mark 6:1-13

After the previous scenes in Mark – power over stormy seas, power over sickness and power over death in just the last two Sundays plus other stories of healing throughout the first five chapters of Mark – now Jesus “could do no deed of power there” (verse 5). The reason is skepticism, distrust and unfaith. His hometown of Nazareth certainly senses his wisdom, they don’t doubt his miracles. But they can’t shake the notion of him as just the ordinary kid who had lived up the street. So they rather quickly transition from shocked wonder at his authoritative teaching to being offended by his words and deeds. And Jesus couldn’t do much “kingdom work” there. He marveled at their unbelief, then moved on to other villages.

Have you ever been in a context of witness or ministry where you felt that you were already being rejected and beaten down before you even got started? Remember that your pain is a pain that Jesus himself felt. Remember that even Jesus experienced failure sometimes. And, like Jesus, sometimes you just move on to the next village, ready and willing to try again. Recognize that there is a relationship between the power of Christ and faith. Remember that God created humanity with the freedom to choose or to reject God… the divine seed of choice was planted inside of us… we have the ability to love God in return, or NOT. Sometimes it’s on to the next village.

In today’s reading, Jesus then sends his disciples – “the twelve” – on the mission for which he has trained them. They are to be his representatives, extensions of his own ministry – announcing God’s kingdom, casting out demons, anointing the sick. They are going forth with authority and power given them by Jesus. They are to travel light, almost empty-handed. They are to keep their focus on their ministry. And they are to anticipate that they might encounter disinterest and rejection.

Have you ever realized that you have lost your focus in going forth to “show and tell” the good news that Jesus entrusted to you? Maybe you got distracted by all the “stuff” you tried to drag with you on the journey. Or maybe you sought to be “treated nice” – with great respect and soft comfort – as you arrived somewhere. Or maybe a negative reaction to your ministry effort almost made you lose your mind and “go off” with your nastiest temper and worst curses.

Keep your focus. Preach, teach, heal, invite, and love. Each of us… all of us… are missionaries. Jesus calls us and sends us, gives us authority and power, commands us to be witnesses of God’s kingdom and God’s love.  

 

A MEDITATION

    These lessons tell the truth. Ministry is not always easy, pleasant, safe, satisfying, or successful. Sometimes we are called to go faithfully and speak courageously into the shadows of national defeat, plunder, and death like the prophet Ezekiel, saying what nobody wants to hear. Sometimes we must endure the critical putdowns of others and an occasional “thorn in the flesh” like the missionary Paul, trusting in the strength of God in our own weak moments. Sometimes we are challenged to face the skepticism, disinterest, and unbelief of neighbors, friends, and family members like Jesus… or to travel light, humbly, and intentionally like the twelve disciples of Jesus. What matters is that we go, understanding now that resistance, rejection, and even worse are real possibilities for us, just as they were the reality for Jesus. LORD, HELP ME TO LIVE BY FAITH… HELP ME TO TRAVEL LIGHT AND LOYAL AND LOVING!


 

 

  

 

 

 

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