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This Sunday's reading's: 5th Sunday after Trinity

06 July 2012

Sunday's readings

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5th Sunday after Trinity

Proper 9: Ezekiel 2.1-5; Corinthians 12.2-10; Mark 6.1-13

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified: hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people, that in their vocation and ministry they may serve you in holiness and truth to the glory of your name; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

THIS week, we hear of visions, but neither Ezekiel's nor Paul's visions alleviate their troubles. One minute Ezekiel was with fellow exiles by the river in Babylon (Ezekiel 1.1); the next, he was having extraordinary visions, and hearing that he was being sent to impudent and stubborn rebels.

Psalm 137 expresses the exiles' despair and yearning for revenge on their captors and betrayers; speaking to them about the ways of God would be very hard work.

A few centuries later, another man committed to serving God, whatever the cost, had to make sense of indescribable visions. To boast or not to boast? He settled for boasting of his weakness, which was brought into sharp focus by the power of God seen in the visions.

A thorn in the flesh, from which the God who could give these immense visions did not act to free him - despite three appeals - was an unwelcome aid to keeping his perspective. Instead, Paul learned that God's power was sufficient, and was made perfect in the weakness that he experienced through his trials and persecutions.

Jesus, too, had a vision from God at the beginning of his public ministry (Mark 1.10-11), followed by trials in the wilderness, from which he emerged to proclaim the reign of God in word and in action. Now, after some extraordinary and exhausting events, he had made the long walk to see his family, and was worshipping with his neighbours.

There were no overt visions; instead, the power of his teaching and actions - which should have been vision enough - raised questions, and provoked doubts as well as faith. When the miraculous hits the familiar, belief can be difficult.

The neighbours knew too much of Jesus's family to reconcile this with the authority they saw in him. We can be sympathetic to their perplexity: few of us would do better in their shoes. On the other hand, we can be sympathetic to Jesus: being rejected, or at the very least doubted, by your friends and family is hard (John 7.5). Life was lonely back at home.

There is a poignant irony to the comment: "He could do no deeds of power there except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he was amazed at their unbelief." "Except that . . .": healing even a few sick people is some exception, yet the contrast of Jesus's limited ministry with the many miracles performed by the Twelve when he sent them out (Mark 6.13) is notable.

Jesus risked sending the disciples out, despite this uncertain response. They had seen miracles, and they had seen people refuse to believe. Like Ezekiel, they were going to stubborn people as well as receptive people. Like Paul, they were going in weakness, with no basic necessities for travel, placed in total dependence on the people they met. If they were rejected, all they could do was to move on to another uncertain reception, and remain faithful.

This week's collect prays for all faithful people in their vocation and ministry to serve God in holiness and truth. Mercifully, with God, holiness is manifest in the middle of the muddle of life, as well as in its glorious moments; holiness is not circumstantial, but the fruit of intentional faithfulness to God, whatever our situation.

Ezekiel, Paul, Jesus, and the disciples all experienced God's holiness in the midst of their tribulations, their tangles and struggles. To have visions or see miracles is not enough: if they are granted, they may encourage us (and perhaps unsettle us), but what matters is how we live as a result, especially in the midst of people who do not have faith in God.

Ezekiel, Paul, and the disciples all struggled - the Bible is honest about that - but kept going. Our example is Jesus, who, despite disappointing, astounding unbelief, still performed a few miracles, and transformed a few lives.

Come, holy God, refine your Church,
hallow to us our poverty:
we would be rich in holiness,
servants of him who sets us free.
Our listlessness transform with power,
our meagre love with love divine,
come, Holy Spirit, breath of God,
as wind disturb, as fire refine.

Rosalind Brown

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