2 Corinthians 12:2-10 July 4, 2021

Old Testament Reading

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh.  For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The LORD said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.”  So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.  At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.  David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inward. And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.

Epistle Reading

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows.  And I know that such a person–whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows– was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “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. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

Gospel Reading

Mark 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being 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 offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered 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 to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Sermon

Seventy years ago on this day, my parents declared their dependence on one another before a judge. It was the only day they could both get off work to get married. So Happy 4th of July and for me it is happy Anniversary to my parents. I have always thought that this was a funny juxtaposition of images. One of Independence and one of mutual dependence. But maybe that fits well with today’s text in Second Corinthians..

It’s kind of interesting that the first reading speaks of Israel being united into one people and the last reading sort of bookends it with Jesus sending out the disciples to spread the gospel to others. I’m going to sit us down smack in the middle.

In the text today, Paul is addressing the church at Corinth – again. Paul had received a report that there was a group of people at the church who were teaching other things than the good news of Jesus Christ and some people in the church followed them. So Paul wrote them a letter. It was pretty bad. But some people were saying they didn’t have to listen to Paul. He was not an impressive speaker and if you looked at his life, there was a lot of hardship and suffering and so there were some who were saying that was a sign that God didn’t approve of Paul. So Paul addresses that. After the first letter some people reconciled with Paul but not everyone. There is a text that sounds as though Paul made a visit to the church and then we have this letter we know as Second Corinthians where he addresses problems with the people who are still teaching other things.  Paul talks about how being a follower of Christ does NOT mean that you will not suffer and have hardships, in fact, the opposite is true. The gospel is all about the work that Jesus did on the cross. Christ suffered and died for us.

Paul talks about having a spiritual experience and he makes light of it, as though to say, yes this happened to me and it was amazing but that he can’t boast about it, only about God who gave him that experience.  He tells them of all the things that God has put in his life. He met the resurrected Jesus, he had this spiritual experience, he is a former rabbi. But he tells them that in a community of Jesus, a leader does not use their authority to boss everyone around. A leader serves others and power is shown through weakness, and service and love.

There are some “books” that did not make it into the canon of what we now have as the bible. There were multiple reasons, often because they couldn’t be validated by more than one source. But they make for interesting reading sometimes.

One of these is The Acts of Paul and in it is a little paragraph that gives a physical description of Paul. Is it true? We don’t know. But as Paul speaks about a thorn in his side, I think of this. Because we humans respond to images. 

“At length they saw a man coming (namely Paul), of a small stature with meeting eyebrows, bald [or shaved] head, bow- legged, strongly built, hollow-eyed, with a large crooked nose; he was full of grace, for sometimes he appeared as a man, sometimes he had the countenance of an angel.”

Imagine if this short, stocky, bow-legged, big nosed guy with a unibrow showed up to preach…

We are so affected by image, and so was the church at Corinth. Paul possibly did not look the part of a great spiritual leader. His life was one hardship after another so he certainly was not like one of the preachers we see on television.He didn’t show up in a suit and tie. He didn’t wear hipster clothing or have a tattooed praise band behind him. He was not rich. He didn’t preach prosperity – live right and blessing will follow. He didn’t preach that might makes right. He didn’t even preach that if you live right God will answer your prayers in the way you want. Please understand, I am not indicting all preachers on television nor I am criticizing praise bands or people with tattoos. I sincerely don’t care what it looks like on the outside or what your preferred style of worship is as long as Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is what is being taught.

He does the opposite of what we might expect! He uses himself and his life as an example. He prayed three times and God answered and it was not what Paul wanted to hear. The New Living Translation says it like this,  “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

God responds to a prayer with “My power works best in weakness.” How many of us go about our daily lives mostly not giving a thought to God, and then something happens. An illness, a lost job, a dissolved marriage. When our need grows, so does our dependence on God.

Paul tells the church at Corinth that if you follow the way of Christ, suffering and hardship are going to happen. It’s not about what you look like on the outside. It’s WHO do you look like on the inside? Are you being transformed more and more into the image of Jesus Christ? 

Paul tells us that God’s grace is sufficient. If Paul had been the image of what the church at Corinth thought he should be, then it would have been Paul who was getting the attention instead of the gospel, and if the gospel was tied only to Paul, then it would be the good news of Paul, instead of the good news of Jesus Christ and the good news of Jesus Christ is exactly what Paul preached. By the sufficient grace of God, we no longer have to worry about whether we are sufficient. 

Paul reminds the church that it was never about what Paul was doing. It was about what God was doing. It still is. God had a plan for reconciling the world that was torn apart by sin, back to himself. That plan was Jesus Christ. You and I? We are invited by the Father to take part in that reconciliation. We are invited to pray, to have faith, to be generous with what we have, to love one another, to meditate on the Word, to serve one another, forgive one another as we have been forgiven. To reflect Christ and the kingdom of God with our lives. One example of how we can d this is explained in Colossians 3:9-10 and 15-17 which tells us:

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,  bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

We recite the pledge of allegiance sometimes forgetting we are a nation UNDER God. We love our country and that means we want what is best for it. But that starts with us. As individuals, and then as communities. How we live as a community of followers of Jesus goes out to those we come in contact with so the more we accept those invitations from God to partner with Him as the world is being healed and transformed, the more the gospel spreads, not because of what we do in the church building on Sunday morning, but because we ourselves, through how we live, declare our dependence on God who is always faithful. That my precious friends, is something to celebrate!

Have a safe and Happy Fourth of July!

Amen.

Prayer

Holy Father, we give thanks for those who have sacrificed so that we can live in peace and relative comfort. We give thanks for living in a country where we can publicly worship you without fear. We give thanks for Your Word that is available to us all. We give thanks for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Most of all, we give thanks for the mystery of Your plan, for Your Son, Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made for the sake of the whole world. Amen

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