Year B — The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 9)

Commentary for July 8, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-1
There’s something to be said for biding your time. Well, for biding God’s time, I suppose.

David has waited patiently while the drama that was Saul’s life played out. He has known for some time that he was the “anointed” of the Lord — chosen by God and sealed by the prophet/judge/priest Samuel. It would have been easy for him to have “got the big head,” as my grandma used to say.

But, he did what was set before him — no more, no less. In God’s time, it came to pass. And, it was good (well, for the most part.) Forty years of rule were built out of patient days, weeks, and months of quiet service. 

One never knows just exactly what one is being prepared for when God’s call to service comes.

Psalm 48
The psalm provides fitting accompaniment to the first lesson’s closing line: “David became greater…for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.”

It is God’s greatness that is to be praised.

Ezekiel 2:1-5
‘Zekiel got the call of the Lord…the same one that many of us as preachers get. 

“You go tell them what I tell you to tell them,” says God, “no matter whether they listen or not.” That’s not always an easy commission to fulfill. But they cannot say that there was no one to give them the words of the Lord!

Psalm 123
Servants and handmaids never had much hope for grace, unless it came from the master or mistress of the house that they served. God’s mercy is much keener than that of an earthly master; it is the perfect antidote for contempt.

2 Corinthians 12:2-10
“Thank you, Lord; could you heap a few more weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities onto my life?”

I doubt that any of us are lining up to pray that prayer. I also doubt that Paul wrote this portion of the letter to glorify his suffering. The incomparable goodness of Christ that strengthens us in the midst of difficulty is one of the more quizzical components of discipleship — something that is awfully hard to explain to those who have never experienced it.

In what ways have you experienced the grace of God in times of weakness? Has it been sufficient for you? How?

Mark 6:1-13
Sometimes, we are just bound and determined NOT to believe our eyes.

It strikes me that the residents of Jesus’ hometown were perfectly willing to admit that when he spoke, his words reflected wisdom. They had no doubt that he was able to perform deeds of power with his own hands (and evidently sans smoke and mirrors.)

Yet, they still decided to “take offense” at him — because, after all, he was JUST the carpenter’s son. He really had “got too big for his britches” (which is somewhat akin to gettin’ the big head — see above.)

I have never quite figured out how one cuts off one’s nose to spite one’s face — sounds like a painful proposition — but the folks in Nazareth evidently had it perfected to an art. Sadly, even Jesus Christ himself couldn’t be a successful pastor in his own hometown. Some folks are just too hard-headed to help!

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

“When is a Loss a Win?”

I learned my most important lesson as a “sports Dad” when my younger son was playing coach pitch baseball. They weren’t a very good team, losing a lot more often than they won. 

They were seven years old, and most of them had the attention span of a gnat. They spent more time jostling and picking on each other than paying attention to what was happening on the field. 

After the game was over, as they lined up to shake hands with the other team, I would hear the boys ask the coach, “Did we win? Did we win?” 

If the coach said “yes,” they would cheer, if the coach said “no,” they would kick the ground. And after that they would ask, “What’s for snack?”

Adult winning and losing is often much more complicated than that. But it is important for all of us to learn to deal with losing, with failure, with disappointment, because long experience shows that most of us, most of the time, lose more than we win. And when we lose, it takes more than a snack to cheer us up and make us better.

Each of the lessons we read from the Bible deals with someone in the midst of a losing situation. We encounter these people at a time of very real and painful failure in their lives.

And their losses, their failures, go beyond competition and games and what’s for snack.
Their failures are failures at life, failures at vocation, failures in health, and failures in faith.

Ezekiel: the prophet to whom no one would listen.
Paul the Apostle: the healer who could not heal himself.
Jesus: Downhome Miracle Man who could work no miracles at home.
Each of them learned a valuable lesson from their failure.

Each of them learned how to know when a loss is a win.

Ezekiel’s story begins like all good prophet stories; the people are acting like total pagans. They have turned their backs on God and Godly ways. God decides to send a prophet to straighten them out. In Chapter 1 Ezekiel has a vision. In Chapter 2 God begins to speak to Ezekiel. In verses 1 and 2 God says, “Listen up, I want to talk to you,” and in verses 3 and 4, God complains, “My people are rebellious, I want you to tell them.”

So far, so good and so normal. This is how it works with God and prophets and the people of Israel in the Bible. 

Then, in verse 5, God says a strange thing: “Whether you succeed or not, win or lose, is not the issue. The important thing is that they hear the truth; that they know that “there has been a prophet among them.”

As it happens, the people didn’t listen, and God sent them into exile, and the people rewarded Ezekiel for this preaching by treating him very shabbily.

By all external measures, Ezekiel failed and failed miserably. But Ezekiel’s loss was a win; because he a faithful to the truth. When Ezekiel was finished, the people knew there had been a prophet among them.
Nobody knows what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” but that is not important. What really matters is that Paul prayed very hard and very long and very faithfully for this thorn to be removed and it wasn’t.

Paul lost the struggle for victory over a physical problem, and this loss created for him a spiritual problem, a crisis of faith.

This failure to pray himself out of this physical problem led him to question his faith. It was an experience that could have shattered his trust in God, but instead it humbled him and strengthened his faith in God. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a loss that turned into a win.

The story of Jesus returning home to preach occurs early in his ministry. Up until now, Jesus’ version of Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show and Tent Revival had been a roaring success. The first five chapters of Mark are filled with healing stories and reports of huge crowds of people coming to hear Jesus preach. Immediately before this he had raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead and healed the woman with the flow of blood.

So, he takes it on home to Nazareth; and falls flat on his face.

In verse 3 we read that they “took offense at him.”  And in verse 5 we learn that, somehow, their resentment resulted in his inability to perform miracles and other healings.

Verse 6 contains one of the most human portraits of Jesus in the gospels; “He was amazed at their unbelief.” Jesus just couldn’t believe their lack of belief. He was stunned, left with his mouth hanging open. Jesus learned a hard lesson; that there was a limit to his power;

it was limited by the people’s willingness to receive it.

That day in Nazareth, Jesus had a loss that was a win. From it he learned the limits to his power.

He learned you can control what you say,

you cannot control what people hear.
He learned you can control what you do,
you cannot control how people respond.
He learned you can control how you show your love,
you cannot control how people receive it.

I think when we get to “heaven,” most of us will be like the seven year old baseball players. “Did we win?” we will cry out, because we really won’t know. And the coach will smile and say, “Who wants snack?”

Amen and amen.

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