Toorak Uniting Church

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Choosing community with God

Mark 6: 1 – 13   2 Corinthians 12: 2 – 10
Rev. Morag Thorne
5 July 2009

I think most of us would admit that unlike Paul, we find it very difficult to be content with weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties for Christ’s sake.

We are temperamentally and culturally poorly equipped to encounter failure, disappointment and frustration with true equanimity. Even if we can manage to put a good face on it, deep down it rankles when we have put time and effort into something, if we do not achieve our objective.

This inner dis-ease with weakness and difficulty betrays the pride and arrogance that makes genuine humility a rare quality.
Genuine humility is not a passive or a grudging acknowledgement of failure.
Rather, it is the realistic acceptance of the limits of one’s power.

The gospel reading this morning reveals this kind of humility in Jesus, and is a salutary reminder of the reality that even Jesus experienced failure in the sense that his community rejected his insights about God.

We live in a time and a Western culture that rejects God. This rejection might not take the form of legislated persecution, but it takes many forms that argue against the imperative of God - secularism, cynicism, materialism and deadening indifference.

Underlying all of these forms of resistance to God and the gospel of Jesus Christ are the pride and arrogance that reside within in us all, and make it so difficult for us to relinquish the ideals of self-determination and independence that our culture promotes so ubiquitously – however fallacious those concepts are!

Over the last two decades, the Western church has gone through a period of much self-examination and angst over our apparent inability to make a significant impression on the culture around us. A lot of good has resulted from this in terms of identifying the disciplines necessary for institutional integrity and focus, and new life has been breathed into what appeared for a time to be dead wood.

It is healthy to allow the winds of change and renewal to blow away the dust and cobwebs that inevitably settle on long-standing practices and beliefs, especially when the wind is the breath of the Holy Spirit. But we know that what is healthy is not always comfortable, especially in the early days of change.

Jesus was blowing the dust off the religious practices and understandings of his day, and some people found his stirring up of people and communities disturbing. Pride and arrogance had taken roots in their hearts, and they resisted the provocation of Jesus towards humility and self-acceptance, just as people today resist that push of the Holy Spirit to acknowledge the limits of our power.

And it is healthy that the church has been reminded of the limits of our power. We do not have the power to argue people into the kingdom of God by intellectual or emotional weight. We do not have the power to make people receptive to the Gospel, we do not have the power bring about changes in peoples’ lives when they are determined not to be changed. Even Jesus could not do those things.

Those things lie within God’s provenance, not ours. Our power extends only to the limits of our own capacity to trust in God, and our own capacity to be motivated to serve for love of God and love of the world.

The apostle Paul recognized the limits of his own power, and rejoiced in his inadequacy, or weakness, because it proved all the more clearly that the good that resulted from his efforts came into being through God’s power, not his own.

Such emphatic acceptance of our own limits is liberating: it frees us from the pressure of trying to justify ourselves by the results of our labour, or teaching.

It releases us into an aspect of mind that is more open to the surprise and joy of discovering and observing God in a greater range of people and circumstances than we might expect, and to a spontaneous and authentic participation in the life of God at large in the world.

These readings for today urge us to be aware of the types of circles and communities to which we belong - aware of their blessings but careful of their potential to be resistant to the things of God. If we become aware of resistance to change, we should examine ourselves for the source of that resistance. If it lies in pride, a reluctance to acknowledge the limits of our own powers, that’s a good reason for trying to move beyond our resistance, and examine it instead for the presence and influence of God within the new impulses.

We can try to keep our minds open to the possibility of the "unlikely" places, people, and communities in our midst caught up in God’s good purposes.

However, at a practical level, we are called to be disciples, stewards, and servants, and in all of those areas of activity, we must make decisions and choices that we hope and pray will be effective in laying out the gospel before the people of our generation and the next. We must acknowledge with genuine humility that the outcomes of our efforts are beyond our control. We are not accountable before God for the responses other people make to the gospel, or to Jesus Christ.

But let us rejoice that God has opened the way through Jesus for us to be in community with the full being of God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Let us seize that gift with renewed enthusiasm and look with anticipation towards the fuller revelation of God in whatever the future holds.

© Rev. Morag Thorne, 2009

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