God’s grace is sufficient

by Joan Fanshawe

(Based on Mark 6:1-13, Ezekiel 2:1-5, 2 Cor 12:2-10)

“Hear O Mortal” — if I heard God’s voice like Ezekiel did way back then I would certainly know there were going to be some directions to follow.

A few days ago the blog on hearing God’s voice, posted on our St Francis webpage, was a good intro into the scriptures set down for this week. Also we have had a little discussion this week about how the readings might relate to each other. This week it’s easier to find links than some. First we have the prophet Ezekiel’s dramatic recounting of hearing God’s voice and being sent to the Israelites, in the fiftieth year of their Babylonian exile – a nation of rebels who have rebelled; they and their ancestors have transgressed. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. Ezekiel hears the instructions, “You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear; for they are a rebellious house. You shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord.”
Things were not going to be at all easy with these people but “they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.”
Strong stuff!

Six hundred years later we have Paul recounting his experiences with the church in Corinth, also dealing with an uncooperative group of people that he feels have ‘gone off the tracks’ since he left them – perhaps much closer to a scenario that we can understand – a world that rates success and celebrity. Corinth is a very cosmopolitan city and it seems the church has been infiltrated by ‘super-apostles’. There has been much academic debate about this but it might be easiest to think of these as sort of first century ‘tele-evangelists’. Certainly they set high store on the quality of their ‘spiritual experiences’ to justify their authority, and had an admiring following in the new Corinthian Church.

Paul, who has a poor opinion of his own speaking ability, responds almost angrily and using a rhetorical technique recounts the vision experienced by a person – commonly held to be Paul himself – who “was caught up to the third heaven … into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.” An astonishing experience, as we know from the account of Paul’s conversion on the road, but Paul goes on to say he is not going to brag about this, “so that no one will think him better than what they have heard or seen of him already.”
He’s not taking the ‘super apostles’ on head to head on ecstatic experiences; it isn’t the basis of his authority. In fact, he claims that, to keep him from being too elated, he was given a “thorn in the flesh” to torment him.  His message revolves around what he heard from God when imploring that this impediment be removed. Three times he begged God – but heard this:

My grace is enough; it’s all you need. It is sufficient for you. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.”

Paul makes it clear that he does not rely on his eloquence (he knows he isn’t eloquent) or his experience of ecstatic visions for his authority.  His power and authority are totally different from that claimed by the ‘super-apostles’.  In fact his power does not come from himself at all, but from the gospel he proclaims; and his authority does not rest on what he has experienced in an inward private way, but in the manner in which he is living the gospel in their midst.
And despite so many hardships ahead – what a mission Paul is committed to. Together with his helpers – moving around to early Christian communities, and letters going to Rome, to Corinth, Galatia and Ephesus, to Philippi, Colossae and Thessalonica.
These epistles, which are collected in the New Testament, written to the earliest Christian churches, have provided unimagined inspiration through the history of our Christian faith. Did Paul envisage this? Almost certainly not. 

But what he did know was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.

So there we have Paul and Ezekiel, Apostle and Prophet, both hearing God’s voice and being sent out to proclaim a message to people who don’t particularly want to hear what they have to say.

Which provides a good segue to our Gospel story of Jesus who meets opposition in his own home town when opening the scriptures and teaching at the local synagogue.  Their rejection gives rise to the well-known quote from the passage:

“Prophets are not without honour, …. except in their home-town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”

There’s a wealth of sermon material in this aspect but we will move on a little because we know that Jesus has heard God speaking to him (at the time of his baptism) and we know that he has already been teaching and healing; he has stilled a storm and raised a small girl from apparent death. Now he is moving about, teaching in the villages, and we hear that he’s called his disciples to go out as well. Sending them in pairs but with the clear instruction that they’re to take very little with them. Many may not have had much anyway as these were just ordinary men, as we know, fishermen and artisans. But it wasn’t going to be easy. They had instructions to move on when not received well – shaking the dust from their feet.

Maybe some were also known and hassled in their own home-towns.

As with Ezekiel and Paul there was resilience required to go out with the Good News about the coming reign of God, and living it, Mark tells us, with healings and exorcisms and setting free the oppressed. They were sent by Jesus to be bearers of good news in word and deed.

You’ll have to wait two weeks to hear how they got on because Mark interrupts his narrative at this point with a shocking story.

For us, in our own time, we need to talk about how we too hear God calling us, to be, and to share the Good News that Jesus made clear and makes clear. That blog on discerning ‘God’s voice’ on the website offers a very good opportunity to reflect more on that.

Mark’s Gospel of Jesus is very much about ‘the Way’: the way of the Lord, the way of Jesus and what it means to follow that way. We know that many desire to be on that way with Jesus. That we are each here today to worship God as part of a community is a sign of hope and faith in being on the Way. Here we can support each other in learning and encouragement. And to be equipped to carry on in spite of history showing us it’s not an easy path. We won’t be perfect and we won’t succeed in all we attempt. But when we hear that call we must step out in faith and trust in God’s grace.

Recently I came across a resource that’s being promoted in the Episcopal Church of the United States – that’s the Anglican Church there. It’s a seven step process that endlessly repeats – creating a rhythm and template for the Way of love!

It begins at 10 o’clock.

TURN   Pause, listen, and choose (to follow Jesus).
LEARN Reflect each day on Scripture, especially Jesus’s teaching.
PRAY Dwell intentionally with God each day.
WORSHIP Gather in community regularly to thank, praise, and dwell with God.
BLESS Share faith and unselfishly give and serve.
GO Cross boundaries, listen deeply and live like Jesus.
REST Receive the gift of God’s grace, peace, and restoration.

To conclude let’s recall what Paul reminds us: it‘s not about him, and it’s not about us, it’s about God; it’s about forgiveness and love and fullness of life. For Paul, God’s grace is as much a ‘given’ as the air we breathe – it’s a grace that prevails over weakness, hardship and apparent failure.

 May God call us with the same message.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”


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