Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, 4th July 2021
Readings: Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6
# It’s coming home
# It’s coming home
# It’s coming
# Football’s coming home
This was the chant of pubgoers across the country this week, as England played first Germany and then Ukraine in the Euro 2020 tournament. This year the song is a little more true – whatever the results may be – because England has been hosting so much of the tournament. So when I walked through town the other day, there was a buzz on the streets that I haven’t seen in a long time.
And you might expect a similar reaction to Jesus in the gospel – after growing up in his home town, and then going off to begin his ministry: you might expect people to be happy to see him.
But their reaction to Jesus is more like this: “Who does he think he is? We remember him when he was a boy, now he thinks he’s all that.”
I wonder if perhaps any of you have had that experience – coming to the place you grew up after a long time away, or the like – and finding that people only remembered the version of you who went away?
It can make it quite difficult, establishing your “credentials” as a mature adult, if those around you keep thinking of you as knee high to a grasshopper.
It must have been especially difficult for Jesus, who had come to know and love these people, and who longed to bring them the good news about the Kingdom of Heaven. And yet these were the people who rejected him, who had no faith. We hear that he was amazed at this, and so his time isn’t especially productive there.
This is a rejection similar to the one Ezekiel expected in our first reading. Ezekiel who, like Jesus, was sent to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” – to bring them the word of God and to restore them to following him. The warning is clear: the Israelites might listen, or they might not, but either way, they couldn’t say nobody had been sent to them.
Of course, the important thing for Ezekiel especially is that he is not bringing his own words but God’s. “I am sending you,” God tells him, “to say, ‘The Lord says this.’” Ezekiel is not going in his own strength, on his own authority, or for his own agenda – the strength, the authority, and the agenda are all God’s.
And this was an important lesson for St. Paul in our second reading, too. St. Paul in this passage has been talking about his qualifications as an apostle: his Israelite heritage, his tenacity as a preacher, enduring shipwrecks and persecutions and all manner of other things, and culminating with his out-of-body experience when he was taken briefly into heaven.
As a result of this, St. Paul might have had reason for considering himself a more important apostle than the others – after all many of Jesus’s disciples had been common fishermen or other working-class trades, while he was a Roman citizen and a rabbi trained at the feet of Gamaliel, one of the leading figures of his day.
Quite what this thorn in the flesh nobody has ever been quite sure: some suggest it was a physical pain or ailment; others some kind of impiety; or a spiritual or mental affliction; while others suggest it was a reference to his opponents, or to his agony over Jewish rejection of the gospel. Whatever it was, it served as a reminder to St. Paul that his work was done purely in the power of Christ and in the authority of Christ – and that by comparison, his other gifts were so much dross. Only by considering himself weak could St. Paul be secure in the strength of God.
This time of year is full of people being baptised, confirmed, and ordained. Whatever our individual vocations, we all have the common vocation to be a follower of Christ. This is not something we can do in our own strength or for our own ends, but only in the strength of Christ and to the greater glory of God. And if we live our lives in that strength, and for that purpose, we need not be ashamed or defeated, even when we are rejected or looked down on – because we will have our approval from God.