July 08, 2018*
By John Partridge
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 Mark 6:1-13
What is it that makes a human being weak or strong?
Weak people tend to be forgotten by history so let’s think about people in history that we would describe as strong. Abraham Lincoln was often attacked from both sides as he guided our wounded nation through the Civil War. Winston Churchill held the British Empire together during the darkest days of the blitz. George Patton demanded nothing less than excellence from every person under his command and they rose to his expectations and did things that many believed to be impossible. Often, the parents that watch over a sick child demonstrate an incredible strength. Athletes can demonstrate incredible strength of will.
We say that these people are different because they have character, or strength of will, or unusual determination, or stubbornness applied in the right direction.
But what about the people who have done great things for the kingdom of God?
What is it that makes the heroes of scripture notable? Why was David a great king and Saul a bad one? Why was Paul great after he meet Jesus on the Damascus road but evil and misguided before that? And why was Jesus reliably wonderful everywhere, but nearly unable to do anything at all when he visited Nazareth?
Let’s take these examples in historical order and begin with David. We begin this morning with 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 where we hear a simple summary of his coronation and his life:
5:1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. 2 In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”
3 When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.
4 David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.
9 David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.
First, David was a shepherd. Then he was anointed by God’s prophet as the king of Israel, but it took many years before God’s anointing could be recognized. In the meantime, he was a musician to the king, a warrior, a soldier, a military leader, and then he was on the run from the king, even when he was keeping the borders of Israel safe with his own militia. Finally, David was made king over the tribes of Judah, and even later, united the twelve tribes when he was also anointed as king over the tribes of Israel. During all that time, he remained faithful to God and grew in power. But our scripture is clear in saying that David “became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.
David didn’t become powerful because he was handsome, or virtuous, or a great warrior, or personable, or likeable, or charismatic, or determined, or stubborn, although I am certain that he was all those things. Scripture tells us that David became powerful and did the things that he did because God was with him.
Last week we were reminded that it is God who does the doing, and we see that same theme in these scriptures today. David wasn’t great because of chance, and David wasn’t great because of David. David was great because… God was with him.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” But sometimes we feel paralyzed by the situations in which we find ourselves. Other times, we allow our fear to be an excuse for our inaction. In “The English Wife”, author Lauren Willig, says, “I don’t believe anything’s really inevitable until it happens. We just call it inevitable to make ourselves feel better about it, to excuse ourselves for not having done anything.” And Mehmet Murat ildan distills that idea further by saying, “Inaction is the worst action of human beings.”
But when we read the story of Mark 6:1-13, sorting out who is doing what, and who is doing nothing is not at all what we expect.
6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Although Jesus had been going throughout Israel healing the sick and performing great miracles, when he arrives in his hometown of Nazareth, he really doesn’t do much of anything. But the reason that Jesus doesn’t do much is that the people have no faith. They have fallen for the great lit. They have fallen for the lie that “people like me can’t.” That lie is just as common today as it was then. They were thinking this way: “Since we know Jesus’ parents, and his siblings, since we watched him grow up, since we watched him learn his trade, since we grew up with him, since he is like us, and we know that people like me can’t, people like me can’t be great, then we know that he can’t be the Messiah.” So deeply have they bought into this lie, that they were offended at him and Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.
But that didn’t stop Jesus. It didn’t even slow him down. He continued to preach from village to village and then he also sends out his disciples, two by two, and they go from village to village teaching, and preaching, and healing, and casting out demons. When Jesus is faced with the lie that “people like me can’t” he turns the lie on it’s head and sends out even more ordinary people, even more “people like me,” to do the extraordinary work that he was doing.
Not because these guys were well bred, or because they had a great education from an ivy league school, and not because they had mad skills. They didn’t have any of those things.
So, why could they do what they did?
Because God… was with them.
The Apostle Paul was an amazing preacher. And Paul did come from the right kind of family, and he did have all the right connections, and he did go to all the right schools. But when God decided to use him, God left some imperfection in him that haunted him for his entire life.
Reading from 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, we hear these words:
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul was that blue-blood, ivy league, know the right people, kind of guy. But when God called him, he made sure that Paul would always remember that it wasn’t any of those things, and it wasn’t Paul, that made Paul great. Even though a lot of ink has been spilled by theologians arguing about it, we don’t know what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. But what we do know, is that it was enough. Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, for him, a constant reminder that he had been sent by God, was being empowered by God, and all his success had to be attributed to God. Whatever Paul accomplished through his own strength was pointless, but everything that he accomplished because of his weakness pointed to God.
God relishes our weaknesses because it is in our weakness that his strength becomes obvious and the world can see Jesus most clearly. That’s why Paul said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” God seems to delight in using fishermen, and carpenters, and farmers. He uses demon possessed people, and prostitutes, tax collectors, enemy collaborators, foreigners, lepers, and yes, God has even been known to use dead people from time to time.
Don’t ever believe the lie that people like us can’t. Or that God can’t use people like us.
David was a shepherd. Jesus was a Carpenter. Paul had a thorn in the flesh. And all of them remembered that the things they did weren’t because of them but because… God was with them.
The truth is, God delights in using people like us. People like me. People like you.
All we need to do, is to have faith.
Remember, people don’t do great things because they’re great. People do great things for God’s kingdom because…
…God is with them.
We are called by God. This church is called by God. And every one of us needs to remember that we can do great things for the kingdom of God because…
…God is with us.
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