Reading Ramblings – July 5, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 5th, 2015

Texts: Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Mark 6:1-13

Context: Wow. If I could have hand-picked readings appropriate after the landmark Supreme Court case just over a week ago, these would have been perfect. Even the Epistle lesson, which during this time of the liturgical church year isn’t necessarily supposed to align with the Gospel and Old Testament themes, even the Epistle is impactful and relevant. Where is our hope, and what is our duty? Our hope is in the Lord, and our duty as the Church is to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as our hope in this life and eternity, regardless of how the message is received by those around us. It is natural to lament what we see as tragic turns of events in our country, but we not only should not lose hope, we must not.

Ezekiel 2:1-5 – Although Ezekiel’s call to prophetic ministry is in the second chapter of this book, the scene begins to unfold in chapter one, and this is just the continuation and culmination of the background laid there. Ezekiel is given a vision of God in his glory, and during this vision God calls Ezekiel to be his prophet. We might think that this is a great glory – and it is! However it is not an easy task. God describes the people to whom Ezekiel will speak – God’s own people, but hardly an obedient people. They are rebels not merely in history but currently. They are sinners not only historically but continuously. Even their children who are not yet full grown demonstrate these characteristics, modeled for them by their parents. These are the ones Ezekiel will speak to, and we can imagine the poor reception he can expect when he does. Yet Ezekiel is not to fear. It isn’t that he won’t experience suffering – he will find himself in the midst of briers and thorns and sitting on scorpions! It isn’t that he should not fear what they might do to him, he is to not fear their words or their looks. He is not to be scorned or shamed into silence by the disapproval of his recipients. This remains the calling of Christ’s Church. Regardless of the way the world views us, the scorn or shame that is heaped upon us, we are not to fear these things as real or true. We are to stand firm and speak the Word of God to the world – the fullness of God’s Word. Both the Law which convicts and the Gospel which saves.

Psalm 123 – This psalm beautifully picks up on this theme and prepares us for the theme played out again in the Gospel. Our hope is not in this world, neither its decrees or its opinions. These are transient and inherently broken and sinful things. We must have the steadfastness of a servant or slave who discounts whatever is going on around them and whatever is being said to them, focusing only on the approval of their master. No other approval matters. So God’s people in all times and all situations must fix their eyes on God and his Words, finding there the approval so often withheld by the world, finding there the assurance and strength to hold fast despite the scorn and contempt of the world. We should expect such scorn and contempt! We do not seek it and it is never enjoyable or easy and it may indeed be as deadly to us as sitting on a nest of scorpions. But our hope is in the Lord who frees the prisoner and raises the dead and promises us that the suffering and scorn of this world will one day be turned to joy and laughter forever.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10 – Many scholars believe that Paul is referring to himself in the first four verses of this section. In other words, Paul has just recounted the sufferings he has endured for the sake of the Gospel, highlighting his humility in all situations. But lest his hearers/readers assume that anyone so persecuted and afflicted is deserving of such treatment, or has nothing of value to offer, Paul goes on in chapter 12 to refute such notions. He has received visions and experiences that are unparalleled. To one who has seen such amazing and wondrous things (we might think of Ezekiel’s experience in the first two chapters of that book!), Paul is afflicted. What the thorn in his flesh is scholars debate rather heatedly. Despite Paul’s repeated attempts to convince God to remove this affliction, God has not. In fact, God has assured Paul that He will not, because in Paul’s suffering and imperfection, others may more clearly see God and Paul will not mistakenly identify God’s power and sustenance as his own. We too, who have glimpsed the glory of God in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who are gathered together around the Lord’s table to taste forgiveness and grace, we must never confuse God’s power for our own, and we should never assume that suffering is contrary to the purpose of God that all might come to saving faith in his Son.

Mark 6:1-13 – Many of us have stories similar to this. Our attempts to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those closest to us, perhaps our own family, are met with scorn and derision. Rather than hearing the message they focus on the messenger (us!). Rather than evaluate the truth of the words spoken, they evaluate the worthiness of the messenger and take offense that we would take it upon ourselves to lecture or speak to them. Jesus knows this pain firsthand, rejected by the townspeople he had grown up with!

Jesus might have given up there. He might have decided that the townfolk were right, that He really didn’t have a calling or a ministry to fulfill. He might have listened to their words of derision and looks of scorn and dispersed his disciples and gone back to carpentry. We must remember that Jesus is fully human, and that this likely was not just an unpleasant experience, but an actual temptation to abandon his calling by God!

Jesus does not give in to this temptation though. Sure of his words and calling He moves on, going to other towns to share the Good News. Not only this, He commissions his disciples for their first missionary journey, sending them out to prepare the surrounding countryside for his travels and visits. Even here He fully acknowledges that not everyone will receive their words joyfully. Rather than becoming discouraged or exhausting themselves in trying to argue with people, the disciples are simply to move on. Someone else will hear or listen. The Good News will continue to go out. Some people will refuse to receive it but their refusal is not an accurate assessment either of the message or the messengers.

We should take hope in the midst of challenging times in our own country. We have praised for decades and centuries the faithfulness of Christians in other countries who endure suffering of various kinds because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Who are we to assume that we ourselves should not now learn what this means firsthand? Are we somehow better, that we should not suffer scorn and derision? Perhaps we have assumed such. We have assumed that our cultural connection was strong enough to endure indefinitely, and that Satan would not be able to turn our culture away from the Judeo-Christian values and beliefs that made this nation possible. That is our foolishness, a foolishness our forefathers didn’t share.

We take hope in the Gospel, not in the laws of our land or the acceptance of our culture. We keep our eyes fixed on Christ and we continue to proclaim the Word of God in fullness – both the Law which convicts everyone of sin and rebellion, as well as the Gospel which offers amnesty and forgiveness to those who will receive it on God’s terms rather than their own. This is our privilege and duty. We will get dirty looks and we will be scorned and ridiculed in the public square. But the Good News will continue to transform individual lives one at a time by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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