Date: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost ~ July 4, 2021
Texts: Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Mark 6:1-13
Context: It remains my longstanding tradition not to preach sermons for secular holidays. I don’t preach about dads on Father’s Day, or love on Valentine’s Day, or our nation on July 4th. As such, I will refuse to submit the Old Testament reading or the Gospel to the lens of nationalism. Not just because it’s not my habit, but because it’s completely wrong. I’m sure there are those who will use these texts to decry the other in our country, where the other could be just about anyone that disagrees with them. It’s always a temptation to read Scripture as vindicating our personal preferences, and to force it into political condemnations or exaltations. These temptations must be resisted. God’s Word calls us to glorify and worship him for his mercy and grace to our sinfulness. That sinfulness is all encompassing – no one is immune to it. And our hope lies completely and always in God, not in the political comings and goings of the day. This is, in part, the point of these passages (particularly the Gospel, I think). It is those we would think would least need correction, or are closest in their understanding to God who, ironically, need God every bit as much as those we would consider far away. These texts speak to the other, of course, but they also speak to you and me as well.
Ezekiel 2:1-5 – This is part of Ezekiel’s call from God, which begins in Chapter 1 (and explains why Ezekiel is face down on the ground and must be invited to stand!). People get all excited about trying to interpret Ezekiel’s vision descriptions in Chapter 1, but I suspect we’d be better off paying a bit more attention to these verses in Chapter 2. God is sending Ezekiel to God’s own people – not to a strange group of people who don’t know God. While the words are certainly specific and historical, they are also true in all times and all places. The people of God are rebels, we do transgress against our God. And tragically, we are all prone to picking and choosing what we allow the Word of God to say to us and what we ignore. Yet God is merciful! He continues to reach out to us through his Word, and continually offers opportunities and invitations for self-examination, repentance, and reconciliation through the death and resurrection of his Incarnate Son, Jesus the Christ. This passage should remind us that God’s people are not just historically willful and in constant need of God’s saving Word, his people today are often in the same boat!
Psalm 123 – This is one of the Psalms of Ascent. We presume these psalms were specifically recited by pilgrims en route to Jerusalem, and that at least some of these psalms may have had a specific point on the journey when they were recited. This psalm emphasizes our total dependence on our God. This is certainly an apt theme for the traveler, who is often more prone to the whims and unexpected changes of being in transit, but it is equally true for all of us at all times. Sometimes our routines and the predictability of daily life obscure our dependence on God. But even our ability to plan out our days and know what to expect is a gift of our Lord. The final verse really jumps out in this respect. Those who are at ease and proud are juxtaposed to the humble dependence of servants and maidservants in verse 2. One wonders what the context of this psalm might be! Is it a jab at the residents of Jerusalem who sit in wealthy arrogance and scorn the road-weary pilgrims that flood the city for the High Holy Days? Is it the officials who no doubt must permit access and assess taxes and fees to the travelers? Is it a more generic condemnation of those who presume their ease and power allow them to play by different rules than ordinary people? Regardless, the proper emphasis falls at the end of verse 2 – what we wait for is God’s mercy to fall upon us, and the psalmist implies that it will indeed come to those who wait and rely upon it faithfully.
2 Corinthians 12:1-10 – This section continues Paul’s defense of his ministry and role as an apostle. The Corinthians have apparently been impressed by other men who moved through their midst, and have begun to suspect Paul is not nearly as impressive as they first found him. But contrary to how we might expect someone to justify themselves and assert their authority – in recitations and demonstration of power and overcoming, of good leadership principles – Paul instead enters the end of his defense not with an appeal to his power but an appeal to his weakness. It is in his weakness that God can be seen most clearly. Do the Corinthians find Paul unimpressive? Perhaps they should look between and behind his alleged deficiencies to see God supporting him and enabling him to travel and preach the good news of Christ crucified and resurrected, by which the Holy Spirit draws people – like the Corinthians – from darkness to light, from death to life, from ignorance to faith. The very reasons the Corinthians might be inclined to dismiss Paul are, by the marvelous and inscrutable plans and workings of our God, the very reason they might want to pay more attention to him!
Mark 6:1-13 – This is a fascinating passage on many levels, but one of them is less obvious than the others. Consider how the townspeople of Nazareth describe Jesus in verse 3. Jesus is a local boy. He’s spent most of his life growing up in this place. Nazareth is still a small town today, I can only imagine how small it was in Jesus’ time! The details of his life are well-known by everyone in the town, just as gossip travels quickly through the grapevines of a congregation. They describe Jesus as a carpenter. This is the only place where we get an idea of what Jesus was doing prior to his baptism and the start of his public ministry. He was a carpenter in Nazareth. Which means, as per the norm of his time, that his father was probably a carpenter as well. Jewish culture was paternalistic, and sons followed in the trades of their fathers unless their fathers were wealthy enough to provide them with an alternate education and career path. And sons were generally known by their father’s name. Rather than last names, men would be referred to as so-and-so, the son of so-and-so. But that’s not how they refer to Jesus here. There is no mention of Joseph, only of Mary. That’s a curious thing! Joseph has apparently died by now, but his paternity is called into questioned. The townsfolk no doubt could easily recall that Mary became pregnant before she and Joseph completed the final stages of their betrothal. They could be insulting Jesus by calling him illegitimate. But their words could also reflect something Joseph himself likely maintained steadfastly until his death – that he was not Jesus’ biological father. We also know from Matthew’s gospel (1:18-25) that Joseph had no wish to damage Mary’s reputation or expose her to possible punishment for adultery. He trusted the angel’s words, so he certainly would not have insinuated after the fact that Mary had been unfaithful to him or with him! He and Mary had remained faithful and pure prior to their final marriage rites, but rather Jesus was, as we confess in the creeds, conceived by the Holy Spirit. This passage may reveal that the virgin birth was not – as many critics contend – an imagined afterthought tacked on to Jesus’ backstory in order to make him more impressive, but rather a conundrum known to the people who knew Jesus as closely as any, the people (and extended family) of Nazareth