Sermon Delivered to Dighton United Methodist Church
Scripture: 2nd Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-3
July 9, 2006
So does this mean that if we only have enough faith then our prayers will be answered, and we will be healed and the rains will come? No, the example of Paul is a demonstration that this isn’t true. Paul has some serious affliction that is bothering him greatly. Bible scholars have speculated about what this might have been, but no one knows for sure. It might have been a chronic disease such as malaria, or maybe migraines, epilepsy, partial paralysis, or even continual temptation. But whatever it was, he doesn’t just pray to God about it, he pleads with God to remove it, not once but three times. Well, God answers his prayer, but his answer is no. In effect God tells him, “I love you and I know your affliction is serious, but I want you to learn to deal with it. I know you have the capacity to be an effective apostle even in spite of your affliction, and in the end it will make you stronger.” So we can’t expect that our prayers will always be answered in the way we want them to be answered, no matter how much faith we have, but a hardened heart and a stiff neck makes it very difficult for divine power to operate in our lives. It occurs to me that we are like the Nazarenes in another way as well. Think about our prayer list for an average Sunday. Usually it is composed mostly of requests for healing and comfort for those suffering physical infirmities. Physical wellbeing is important and shouldn’t be overlooked, but just like in the case of the Nazarenes, Jesus wants to do much more in our lives than merely heal us physically. The unanswered question is whether we will let him.
When we hear that Jesus was amazed at their unbelief we can sense the disappointment he must have felt. But he accepts it and moves on. He organizes his disciples to go out into the surrounding towns in groups of two and spread his message. But look at how he tells them to prepare. He says take nothing but a walking staff. No food, no money, not even a spare tunic. Isn’t that strange? Why would he do that? He is setting his disciples up to be dependent on the people they will be ministering to. They have no food or money, so they are going to have to depend on strangers in the towns they visit to provide for their daily needs of food and shelter. How will that happen? They will have to make friends; they will have to develop relationships with the folks in those towns. And Jesus understands that then the townspeople will be more receptive to the disciples’ message. He understands that when the disciples are willing to humble themselves to the point of being dependent on others that they begin to form a real relationship with them. And when a relationship exists, the townspeople are more open and willing to be ministered to. Instead of self-sufficiency, Jesus wanted to emphasize and demonstrate communal dependency. Note also that by sending the disciples out in this fashion, Jesus is encouraging them to have faith as well… faith that God, working through the folks in the towns they visit, will provide for their daily needs.
We know that as Christians each of us is called to be in ministry to others. And although we sometimes like to pretend that the Great Commission, “go into the world and make disciples of all nations” applies only to pastors and missionaries, we know that Jesus was actually speaking to each of us who would call ourselves Christians. And yet we find ways to rationalize our inaction. I can’t address a crowd, we say, but Moses was a lousy public speaker. We are distracted by physical problems, but Paul persevered in spite of his afflictions. We may say we are too old, but Abraham was quite old. When we concentrate on excuses such as these we are falling into the same trap that the Nazarenes did when they overlooked the potential in Jesus. We are overlooking the potential in ourselves. But God knows it is there, and he is ready to use that potential if we will only have faith. God doesn’t see you in terms of who you are right now and where you’ve been, he sees you in terms of who you can be. Let it not be said of us that “he could no deed of power there”.