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, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Almighty God, send down upon your Church the riches of your Spirit, and kindle in all who minister the gospel your countless gifts of grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Grant, O Lord, we beseech you, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by your governance, that your Church may joyfully serve you in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I will speak with you. And when he spoke to me, a spirit entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to me. He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.
1 To you I lift up my eyes,
to you that are enthroned in the heavens.
2 As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
or the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
3 So our eyes wait upon the Lord our God,
until he have mercy upon us.
4 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
5 Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of the arrogant,
and of the contempt of the proud.
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 to 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.
II Corinthians 12:2–10
He left that place and came to his home town, 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 offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, 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 on Sunday, Trinity 6
“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.” Why could Jesus do “no deed of power”? After all, he was now where he grew up and two weeks ago we heard about Jesus commanding the storm to cease on the water, didn’t we? What do you think happened in the intervening two weeks?
I think there is a “willful unknowing” amongst the people in his hometown. Surely they have heard of Jesus’ reputation for miracles – those “deeds of power”? So why don’t they allow those deeds of power to happen amongst them? I think the power of the crowd is at work, just as it is at work amongst us. They wanted everything to be just as it was, no change in anything.
After all, a “deed of power” is something that changes everything – forever. A miracle in your life demands that you make a fundamental change in your life. If your withered hand was made whole, wouldn’t you shout about it? If you were on a boat and the storm ceased at the words of Jesus, wouldn’t you want to let everyone know? When you love someone with all your heart, mind and strength, hasn’t there been an essential and existential change in your life?
I was watching one of those crime dramas of which I am so fond, and the bereaved father said, “We must not let revenge or vengeance determine our course of action. We must let hope provide the way we should move forward.” One of the cops who heard that said, “I don’t know whether I could forgive if my child had been killed.” That father had experienced the miracle of a loving child and so his life had changed.
No one can understand that in the everyday world, can they? We all want that “justice”, don’t we? We all want the perpetrators of crimes to pay, don’t we? We all want our justice to be complete and swift for those who would carry out heinous crimes, don’t we? How can anyone cry out for calm and understanding or plea for forgiveness, when a loved one is killed so barbarously? However, in this drama, this is exactly what happened, but this is not what anyone would expect in the normal course of events.
But I think this is exactly what should happen in these situations. After all, didn’t Jesus say as he was being tortured to death, “Father forgive them – they really don’t know what they are doing”? Maybe the words of that bereaved father reflected those last and more well-known words of Jesus.
Why did Jesus say this? If we remain in the mind-set of the crowd, we can never understand it, can we? The crowd has never forgiven anyone anything. Vengeance, which is the Lord’s alone, is what the crowd seeks, and that crowd wants to mete it out. We see this in films all the time – in the cowboy films there is the lynch mob, in the gritty urban dramas there is the crowd protesting and rioting on the street in front of the police station. The police try to defuse the situation so that justice may work itself out by arresting and bringing the guilty to court for judgement. The guy in the white hat rides into the situation and stands tall against the unthinking mob baying for the blood of the accused.
Would we dare stand with them as they called for calm and peace, as Jesus did when he was woken from his sleep on that stormy sea? Would we dare raise our voice for justice as the crowd calls for revenge at crimes committed.
I experienced exactly this on 9/11. I was at a conference near Boston when the news was broadcast. The talking heads on the television were calling for total war against all those people who could possibly do such awful things. Even though no one knew anything about the events, just that the twin towers were burning, destroyed by something unimaginable at that moment. I was the only one wanting to remain calm – I questioned the crowd’s call for blood. The crowd and I were at odds. Who was right? If this had been a vote, there was no question I was the only vote against the motion. Was I right or wrong? What should we have done? Investigate and determine the truth – or – strike hard and swift with the might of the American, military-industrial complex? I will always think the former, but, alas, it seems the crowd always takes the latter alternative – the automatic, unthinking reaction to events.
Sometimes a harsh response is required, but need it be immediate and without reflection? Why don’t we all require of ourselves a moral reaction to events rather than merely thoughtless activity? Can we stand up against the faceless crowd in times of fear? Can we be calm and peaceful?
Like the wind and the sea in the miracle story, our minds are racing and not under control. Our timidity comes to the fore and we do not want to stand up against the crowd – all our erstwhile friends who are letting their passions control their deeds.
“Take courage” says Jesus to us. We need to have “the courage to be” as the preacher once wrote as the title of a collection of sermons. The preacher exhorts all to a thoughtful life, a life that values faith, hope and love.
Today is the Fourth of July, Independence Day, significant for those with close connections with the United States. The Episcopal Church in the USA, a sister church in the Anglican communion for whom we pray through the year prays this collect today for the country:
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
To act “in righteousness and peace” – is what Jesus and the preacher want us to do, to have the courage to be what we can be.
All too often that aspiration is not what the crowd wants. The mob bays for blood in fiction and in fact. How can we withstand that crowd? I say with courage.
With courage deeds of power can be accomplished. We can do miraculous things, just as Jesus did. We may not be able to still the storm, but we can act in righteousness and peace as in that collect – we can take away the terror of being in a whirlwind, we can nurse the sick, we can be with others in a profound way – and those, I suggest, are the miracles we can and should do. Love is the one thing which is always within our capacity. With love we can overcome the unbelief of the uncomprehending crowd. Love is the deed of power, that miracle we can all accomplish. Love is a deed of power for that another person’s life. And that is a miracle.