Proper 9 (14)
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
8 July 2018
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
I changed schools for grade 11. It was about the courses offered.
My new school was not far from my old school, about a ten minute bike ride from my home. I knew a few people at my new school but not many. There was a group of students that once a week would meet to pray over the lunch hour. In all honesty, it wasn’t what I normally would have done but since I did identify as Christian and wanted to meet some people I thought I’d check it out.
It was a small group of people, way more pious than I was. They were friendly and they welcomed me but their world was pretty black and white, so it wasn’t a good fit. There are conversations I remember and one of them concerned the environment. I have been concerned about the environment ever since I was 11, at least that’s when I went on my first demonstration. My new friends were conservative and considered the environment to be a leftist issue, not understanding that it is neither, it’s all of our issue.
Anyway, the conversation I remember was that one of the girls said that since Jesus was going to come again, or since we all expected to go to heaven that the world was nothing we needed to worry about, which – if you think about it – gives you license to use as many plastic bags as you want.
So, yes, I had connected with this group but I can’t say that I made new friends for the God I knew cares about this world.
I don’t know what my Christian brothers and sisters from our prayer group thought about today’s reading from 2 Corinthians but I think they would have loved the part where Paul talks about the person caught up in third heaven, including the qualifier that he does not know whether this was in the body or out of the body, and especially that this was paradise.
They would have loved it because it fit their view of faith as disembodied, as going to a place, as heaven being our destination.
The interesting thing in our reading though is that while Paul does not dismiss such mystical experience, it is not actually the place where he locates God, at least not for his life. His talk of third heaven, and out-of-body experience, and paradise is a rhetorical device, perhaps even a mocking of his opponents who demanded credentials such as this.
I was thinking what such demand for credentials would be today. I think it would be what we define as success. A big church, a big Sunday School, lots of young families, perhaps a big salary. But as much as we may want that, it’s not easy to come by in our time in which the church has to find it’s place again.
After this introduction Paul comes to the place where he locates God’s presence, where he locates his credentials: In the thorn he bears in his flesh, whatever that may have been.
Paul locates God’s presence and glory not in a prayer that was answered as he wished but in an answer to his prayer that showed that God is not absent when we are weak, in pain, marginalized, powerless. “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
We baptized little Cameron today. And every time I see a little one like him, I think of what I thought when our children were little. “You are my beloved child with whom I am well pleased.” These are the words spoken at the baptism of Jesus and at Cameron’s baptism who is little and weak and needs your support and love and who has done nothing to earn your love, our love, or God’s love and still has us all.
God’s power is present in his life.
Our Gospel passage begins with Jesus’ rejection in his home town. Why was he rejected? Because everyone knew him, he seemed too ordinary. And yet that was precisely the point of the incarnation, for God to become human, to take on our nature and our lot. Power present and made perfect in weakness.
Following Jesus’ rejection he sends out his disciples for a third time. They go out not because it is what they choose but because they are called and sent. Their life makes sense in relationship with Jesus. Just like our life, and Cameron’s life. The disciples do not live to themselves, even though sometimes they do.
When Jesus sends out his disciples he does not tell them that they will be caught up in third heaven, he does not explain that this may be in the body or out of the body, because God’s love is always in the body, in his body on the cross, in his healing touch, in his demands and blessing, in the bread broken that becomes his body. The love of God is always embodied, that is the sign that God’s love is real.
And so Jesus does not withhold from the disciples the fact that not everyone will receive them or their message, he does not withhold the fact that the Christian life may be hard, or lead to martyrdom (the reader learns about the death of Jesus’ cousin John immediately after our passage), but in his own body Jesus shows them that God’s life is always embodied and that God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
Of course, that means that our lives matter, our bodies matter, the world matters. What the disciples do not yet know, but what Paul knows and what we know, is that God transforms our lives and the world, because in spite of all, it is not about weakness but about the love of God embodied in the church and in the world.