Trinity VI

For several weeks now we have had readings from the Old Testament prophets, which focus on what it means to be a prophet, and to speak God’s word to Israel. As we have already seen, confronting people with home truths often leads to rejection, and this is the case with Amos. He has been sent from the South to the Northern kingdom, to call the people back to God, exhorting them to stop exploiting the poor. The king and the priest tell Amos to go back to where he came from. They don’t want his sort turning up, and telling them off.They are haughty, dismissive, and proud. God has sent them a prophet, but they cannot and will not listen to what he says. It is sad, tragic even, that when faced with a call to repentance, all they can do is to reply with arrogance. It will lead to their downfall, and the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians. 

Amos does not claim any special status, quite the opposite, he says: 

I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, “Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” Now therefore hear the word of the Lord.’ (Amos 7:14-16) 

Amos is not a prophet by occupation, or apprenticeship. He has not been trained, and yet God uses him to call Israel to repentance. Ours then is a not a God who calls the qualified, but who qualifies those whom He calls. We may well feel unworthy, or unable to carry out what God wants, yet God works through us, not because we are capable, but because we rely on Him. Amos tells the uncomfortable truth to the priest, Amaziah, and to the king of Israel, and reminds them that their actions have consequences. Israel has fallen short, and will be judged. Amos is fulfilling the role of the prophet by calling people back to God, urging them to walk in His ways, so that they may have life, and have it to the full.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus sends out His twelve disciples to proclaim the Good News. They are sent to call  people to repentance, and to make the Kingdom a reality. They do this through the ministries of exorcism and healing. Just like the prophet Amos in our first reading, they call people to repentance, as the Church continues to do. Our turning towards God is a constant ongoing process, the work of a lifetime. 

When we are planning a journey, even just a day trip: we prepare, we pack, we take things with us. But Jesus does not do this. He gives His disciples quite different instructions:

He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.’ (Mk 6:8-9) 

Jesus’ teaching highlights the importance of the need to be dependant upon others, and especially God: not to trust in our own strength or planning, but to rely upon the generosity and help of others. To live in this way is a daunting prospect, and that is the point. It doesn’t make sense in human terms, but the Kingdom of God turns human values upside down. The Church is meant to travel light and be fleet of foot. The disciples also need to prepared to face rejection:

And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” (Mk 6:11)

 The offer of the Kingdom is freely made, and can be rejected. God does not compel us to believe, He invites us into a relationship. We are free to accept or reject, but both actions have consequences. At a symbolic level, this verse reminds Christians to leave behind all anger, bitterness, and judgement, and instead to be a community of love and joy. 

So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. (Mk 6:12-13)

We see the reality of God’s kingdom in its proclamation and the reality of healing and freedom which it promises. The disciples continue Jesus’ work and mission, giving us a template for the Church, which serves to proclaim, to heal, and to nourish God’s people. We too are heralds of the Kingdom of God, which is still an unfolding reality in the world around us. It is a work in progress until Christ comes again and renews all things in Himself. In the meantime we can rest secure that we are a part of God’s plan for the world. This is a plan of love, which sees Jesus die upon the Cross for our sins, and rise again to give us the hope of Heaven. The redemption of the world in and through Jesus Christ is a reality. This is the hope which underpins Paul’s message, both to the Church in Ephesus, and to us today.

God loves us, has a wonderful plan for us. However, in accepting His invitation, we should be aware that there are risks involved, and things may not always be comfortable or easy. It will be a challenge.  And yet, God provides all that we could ever want or need with regard to faith, hope, and love. If we trust Him and rely upon Him alone then we too can bear witness so that the world will come to believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.

James Tissot – He sent them out two by two

Trinity V

For Ezekiel, being a prophet is frequently a thankless task. People do not really like being told home truths that make them feel uncomfortable. Yet prophets are called by God to speak discomforting truths to humanity. This often leads to them being rejected and ignored, and with the prophet Ezekiel, this is clearly the case.  He is trying to bring Israel back into a right relationship with God, but this is no easy task:

The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.’ (Ezek 2:4-5)

The prophet speaks the words of the Lord (Dyma Air yr Arglwydd) to His people, and they either listen or refuse to listen. They are an obstinate people, so they choose the latter. Their refusal to listen to God and pay heed to His words is sinful, and yet God does not abandon them, He continues to send prophets to proclaim the same message, and even sends His Son, so that Israel might listen and turn back to Him.

In the reading from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has returned home to Nazareth, where He grew up. On the Sabbath, Jesus teaches in the synagogue. Reports of His teaching and miracles have clearly spread, yet the reaction is not a positive one:

“Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 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 offence at him.’ (Mk 6:2-3)

The people of Nazareth are only able to see Christ’s humanity, to see Him as the son of Joseph and Mary. As such it is understandable that they are perplexed by Jesus’ healing miracles. They cannot understand how such mighty works are done by His hands. The answer to the question  of the Nazarenes is simple: God is working through Jesus because Jesus is God made flesh. While He has earthly family members, the power of His miracles and teaching come from the fact that Jesus is God. It is God who performs miracles, not humanity. God speaks through prophets and through His Son. The people of Nazareth saw Mary and Joseph’s son grow up, and at one level they know Him, but at a deeper, more profound level, they do not. They just see the human Jesus, and are unable, or unwilling, to see His Divinity.

Christ is unable to do a mighty work in Nazareth because of their unbelief. But He does not sit around and do nothing. Firstly, He teaches in the synagogue, and proclaims the Kingdom of God. Secondly, He makes it a reality, laying His hands on sick people and healing them. In doing these things He is proclaiming the Kingdom as a place where the healing power of God’s love is poured out upon the world. Despite being rejected and faced with a lack of faith, God is still loving and active in the world. Christ’s mission then continues, with the proclamation of the Kingdom in the surrounding villages.

What the prophets announced, Christ embodied. We hear His words, and are fed with Him. Whether our communion is physical or spiritual, we are nourished with Word and Sacrament, to experience the reality of God’s Kingdom, here and now.

In today’s epistle we hear Our Lord speaking to Paul:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2Cor 12:9) 

These are wonderful words of encouragement because, first and foremost, they remind us that it’s not about we can do, but about what God can do in and through us. This is possibly the most important lesson we can learn as a Christian. We cannot earn our way to heaven, and we do not have to. God does that for us, through His Son Jesus Christ, who dies on the Cross to give us life in and through Him. What greater demonstration could there be of weakness than in dying the death of a common criminal. God shows the world that power can paradoxically be demonstrated in abject weakness. Like Jesus and Paul, when we are weak we are strong. God’s kingdom turns human values upside down 

God enters the world in the Incarnation as a weak baby, utterly dependant upon the Holy Family of Mary and Joseph. As an adult, Christ dies rejected, and abandoned: a laughing stock, a complete failure in the eyes of the world. But this is not the end. On the third day God raises Jesus from the dead, and this sets us free, from sin and death. We are all given true life  through Christ’s Death and Resurrection: power made perfect in weakness. The example of Paul, who was once an enemy of the Church, shows us that no-one is beyond the reach of God’s love. God does wonderful things through Paul, and He can do wonderful things through us, if we let Him. Weakness here means relying upon God to be at work in us. If we listen to what God tells us through the words of Scripture, and have faith in Him, then wonderful things can and will happen.

For two thousand years the Church has proclaimed the same message: ‘Repent and believe the Good News’, and through our faith God can be at work in our lives. As Christians we are called to be holy, to live like saints here and now, and encourage others so to do. We do this so that all might sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen. 

He did no miracles but He healed them – James Tissot