Thursday, July 27, 2006

Grace for the Journey

Proper 9B/Ordinary 14B/Pentecost 5/July 9, 2006

Mark 6:1, 7-13 NRSV

1 Jesus...came into his hometown; and his disciples followed him.
7 And he summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits;
8 and he instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belt—
9 but to wear sandals; and he added, "Do not put on two tunics."
11 "Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake the dust off the soles of your feet for a testimony against them."
12 They went out and preached that people should repent.
13 And they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.

Prayer:

God, sometimes as thunder rolls, we barely hear You whisper through the rain, "I'm here with you," as Your mercy and grace fall upon us. God, we'll praise You through our lives; You are with us here; You never leave our sides or leave us on our own. We praise You forevermore, in Jesus' Name, Amen!

Casting Crowns' song, "Praise you in this Storm" from their Lifesong album inspired this prayer.

Proclamation: Grace for the Journey

We just heard a narrative about us from the gospel according to Mark. Jesus summoned or called his followers and sent them out "in pairs" – not alone, but two-by-two, with each other for companionship [explain further]. And Jesus tells them to travel with only bare essentials, to trust that God will supply their needs for food and shelter—through the welcoming hospitality of people they meet along their journey. That sounds a lot like here, too. [explain further]

Mark's account mentions Jesus' hometown, and in a real sense Jesus' hometown is what we have here, because wherever God's Holy Spirit gather God's people together, God dwells among them and within them; God dwells within us and among us, right here, as well.

Jesus sends them – Jesus sends us – to share meals and sustenance with each other but amazingly relying on gracious gifts of strangers they encounter along the way. All that spells interdependence—just like here!

Jesus gives his followers authority over unclean spirit: addictions, demons, distractions, consternations—everyone has some of those! And Jesus' disciples call folks to repent, to make a 180-degree turned-around attitude and a turned-around lifestyle. Each of us needs some changes of direction away from situations and behaviors that have become negative and life-defeating.

But in plain human term, all of this does not sound possible; it goes way far beyond a tall order and moves right into the realm of human impossibility!

Let's hear some words of scripture from the apostle Paul [explain Paul: Romans, Galatians]. In this passage, Paul begins by referencing life's experiences of contentment, well-being and success, but goes beyond that to talk about some of those more difficult times that happen to all of us, and sometimes far too frequently. I'm going to read from Leslie Brandt's version of 2 Corinthians, called Epistles Now! [explain translation and version]

2 Corinthians 12:2-10 | From Leslie F. Brandt's Epistles Now! © Concordia Publishing House 1974, 1975:
Praise God for these cases of ecstasy that occasionally spice up our travels through the alleys and valleys of human suffering!

We cherish them—for ourselves and for others.

Nevertheless, our relationship to God is not dependent upon them, these mountaintop episodes in our lives, nor are the irrefutable proof of such a relationship.

God's Spirit indwells and empowers us regardless of the highs and lows of our day-by-day existence.

Over against the ecstatic high points of irrepressible joy are those balloon-puncturing experiences that flatten us in despair.

It may well be that we need both in our lives to keep us close to our Creator and Redeemer.

The remarkable thing is that the Spirit of God is often more obvious and more capable of using us during these low points of our lives.

They may actually, though indirectly, be the means by which we recognize and learn to rely on God's promised grace.

God is great; God accepts us as we are.

He can work out His purposes through us—even in spite of us.

We need only to submit to Him our whole beings—strengths, weaknesses, and all—and let Him have His way with us.
A more familiar, direct translation says, "my grace is enough for you because God's power becomes perfect in weakness." The word used for perfect literally says God's grace achieves its goal of filling and indwelling us when our human resources are so gone we have no choice whatsoever but reliance on God. Just as Pastor Leslie Brandt expresses it, God's Spirit often becomes more capable of using us for God's purpose during those times of total and near-total devastation and helplessness because they typically are the times we know we need to depend on God. So those are the times God's Holy Spirit fills us, making it possible for us to be the apparently humanly impossible presence of God in each others' lives.

The word Paul uses for grace, the free to us, unearned gift from God is charis exactly as in the word "charismatic." To be charismatic means to be a bearer of grace, to carry gracious, loving, welcoming acceptance to others wherever we go.

In the New Testament book of Romans, Paul charges us to "welcome one another as God in Christ has welcomed you!" How has God welcomed us in Christ?

In the cross of Calvary, Jesus draws all creation to himself so we live reconciled, put back together with God, each other and all creation. In the cross of Good Friday, Jesus is the supreme bearer of grace – the ultimately charismatic One – offering each of us unearned gifts of forgiveness and brand new beginnings. New beginnings? Yes! Because Jesus' God, our God, is the God who raises the dead to new life, and who would not dare trust such a God? Who would not want to follow the God who raises the dead?

Jesus calls us and draws us to himself, and in the Holy Spirit sends us out from his hometown—from here, where God has gathered us together. He sends us out with a Holy Spirit-filled measure of his authority, which is the authority of God, the power of heaven on earth, to cast out demons, to heal, to raise the dead!

How do we attain and maintain that divine nature, the nature of God? It happens when we obediently live connected to God in Christ, because then we live connected to God's power and authority, exactly like Jesus Christ himself. But how exactly? Some ways include attending bible study, participating in bible study, going to church, praying, reading the scriptures...[more]

God is here with us! Jesus Christ sends us out with his authority, the authority of the God who raises the dead, and who is with all of us wherever we go!

To God alone be glory,

Amen and amen!!!

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