Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 4 July 2021.
• First Reading: Ezekiel 2: 1-5 (The call of Ezekiel: ‘I am sending you … to a rebellious nation, obstinate and stubborn)
• Psalm 123
• Epistle: 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10 (‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness’)
• Gospel: Mark 6: 1-13 (Jesus in Nazareth – went out, preached, delivered and healed)
We will all remember how we ended up in our lifetime occupations. For some it may have been the result of contacts or circumstances. But for others it may have been a sense of calling, coming from a desire to heal or to build or to understand or to create. There may have been an inspiring teacher who knew how to set alight that interest in the chosen subject.
It may have been a matter of a capable and cunning hand, an inquiring mind, a vision of something better.
But with God it is different.
To start with, to serve God is not about achieving our personal life aims or to fulfil our potential. It is not about developing something within ourselves, maybe not even about finding our true selves.
Some of God’s prophets were pretty reluctant, and Jeremiah certainly comes to mind. Amos was not schooled in the ways of the prophets and Isaiah came to it because the Lord had chosen him and not the other way round. Hosea found his vocation in the very reverses of life and in the griefs and sorrows that it visited upon him.
And so Ezekiel came to a vocation that would bring him grief and rejection. There would be no place for speaking in terms acceptable to his hearers or making allowances for cultural variations. Ezekiel was going to speak to the exiles from Israel, already deported to a strange land and no longer masters of their own fate. He would speak in God’s terms, not theirs.
He would say what they did not want to hear and no amount of cultural or political fine tuning was going to change it. He would speak for the Lord and his words would fall where they may. If they rejected them, then so be it. He would feel the lash of their rejection of God and their personal contempt for him. There would be no place in his ministry for self-assertion or self-fulfilment for his ministry would be about self-giving.
For Ezekiel it would be a long, hard and grief-stricken road indeed.
For Paul, the matter was different again. He too would endure extraordinary levels of hazard and deprivation, he would be hungry, thirsty and in prison. If he was in danger of strangers, he was in even more danger form his own people and countrymen.
And in addition to this, Paul tells of both incredible visions of heaven and of personal sorrow and travail.
He says that he was given a thorn in the side. We are not told what this was and people have suggested that it could have been a physical ailment or a vulnerability to a certain kind of temptation or possibly a painful and disruptive personal relationship which had no sign of being resolved.
It is interesting that in Ezekiel (28: 24) the people of Sidon are described as a painful thorn to the House of Israel, a neighbour that refuses to dwell at peace with the people of Israel.
But for all Paul’s ministry, his preaching and church planting, his miracles and his authority in the church, he was still personally humbled by some weakness and handicap, and the Lord was not allowing him to be free of it. He needed the humility that came with it.
So much for Paul’s scope for personal promotion and self-aggrandizement. The Lord was not having it and Paul would continue in his ministry in full knowledge of that permanent sense of handicap.
But then there was Jesus’ own ministry in proclaiming the gospel message. Again, He was suffering personal rejection especially in the town where He grew up.
They thought that because they knew His family and occupation they could then pigeon-hole Jesus as well. But Jesus was not having that either and would not stay where He was not wanted, once He had proclaimed His message. He would not waste time when there were other villages that also had to hear Him.
So urgent was His task that Jesus was happy to send out His disciples to announce His coming. They would preach the gospel and they would heal the sick, including deliverance from evil presences.
So critical was the work that Jesus was not going to stand on His dignity but was willing to send out messengers to prepare the ground.
If Jesus was travelling light, then so would they. They were going to their own country folk, who had the scriptures and were expecting the Messiah. They had already heard of Him so they were being prepared to receive Him in person.
But even here the disciples were also being warned against rejection. Some would not receive them and they were not to spend time on it. There would be others to hear the word.
For us also there is a task. Not all are called to ordination, but some may be. The message is still there to be proclaimed, especially to those who reject the institution of the church.
But it is still a message of forgiveness, of unearned blessing and of fellowship with God. And as we offer ourselves to God so He will receive us and our offering.
While church buildings and structures serve their purpose in this life, the gospel message is forever. And we are specially qualified to share with others the same opportunities that are offered to us, and the same kind of unconditional love and forgiveness that we also have received.
The only relevant qualification is a willingness to receive.