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Today in the Spirit: Proper 9B

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The common theme found in the assigned readings for Proper 9B is the dangers of speaking up for the Lord in answer to a prophetic calling. The church moves us forward in Mark’s narrative of Jesus’ ministry to Mark 6:1-6, the brief account (paralleled in Matthew 13:54-58) of a ministry stop of our Lord in his hometown of Nazareth. Here, Jesus speaks what appears to be a prophet of his own making, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household” (4). 

To complement the Mark reading, the church selects Ezekiel 2:1-7 (the only appearance of this passage in the three-year lectionary). Here, YHWH makes his call to Ezekiel to take up the ministry of a prophet:

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Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God .

Ezek. 2:3-4

By reciting the assigned Psalm 123, the worshiper is afforded the opportunity to place themself in the place of Jesus or Ezekiel or Paul in their prophetic ministries, praying in exasperation, “Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us, for we have suffered more than enough contempt” (4, New Coverdale, BCP).

The church finishes its series in Paul’s letter 2 Corinthians this week with the selection of 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. In keeping with the theme, it should be noted that that the apostle’s famous thorn in my flesh could refer to the opposition he has received proclaiming the gospel and planting churches in Asia Minor and Greece. Whatever the case, the response of God to him in the Spirit is, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (9).

The Collect for the week is a prayer (much like the Collect for Proper 6) for the grace to “think and do always those things that are right.” In context with the readings, we make this petition in our own prophetic ministry before family, friends and work colleagues. 

The Collect

Grant us, O Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who can do no good thing apart from you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

And You Shall Speak My Words to Them (Ezekiel 2:1-7)

1 And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2 And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them. 6 And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7 And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house .

Ezekiel 2:1-7

The reading gives us little more than the wording of YHWH’s call to Ezekiel. To get a sense of how God has prepared the prophet to hear this word and obey his commands we need to consider the whole section of the narrative (1:28-3:15): Ezekiel receives the vision of a man seated on a throne who will deliver the word (1:28); the Spirit enters the prophet and braces him to hear what is spoken (2:2); and the prophet must consume the word for application to his own life as an Israelite in exile before he delivers it to his countrymen (3:1-3). From the whole narrative, we take in not merely the work of God in a man but but a larger movement of God through a man directed to a whole nation.

In our devotional application of this passage, and all the passages this week, we must consider our willingness as people of the church of Jesus Christ to stand under and receive the declarations of those set apart by God in the church to read the Holy Scripture and impart truth from them to God’s people. You will have noted in many of my devotions a resistance to our natural tendency to detach ourselves from the characters of the Bible we consider to be special. Here, perhaps, we need to detach and recognize the authority of God behind those ordained (set apart, designated) by the Church. Why do we form ourselves into a community of faithful people? Why do we attend worship services on Sunday? We do so in no small part to hear the word of God both read in the Scriptures and expounded by those appointed, like Ezekiel, to persuade obedience to them.

Today, in the Spirit, hearing first this word from Ezekiel on this Sunday, I ready myself to stand under the ministry of the word in worship.    

To You I Lift Up My Eyes (Psalm 123)

1 To you I lift up my eyes,
    O you who are enthroned in the heavens!

2 Behold, as the eyes of servants
    look to the hand of their master,
    as the eyes of a maidservant
    to the hand of her mistress,
    so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
    till he has mercy upon us.

3 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
  for we have had more than enough of contempt.

4 Our soul has had more than enough
    of the scorn of those who are at ease,
    of the contempt of the proud.

Psalm 123:1-4

The psalmist begins with a word of personal devotion (1) and then, as good worship leaders do, identifies his own sentiments as those belonging to the whole community. We observe two compelling forces of the Holy Spirit at work in the heart of the singer and coming out in his song: 1) Inclination to dependence on God on high (vv. 1-2); and 2) desire for relief from the contempt (humiliation, NET) of arrogant enemies (vv. 3-4). The two feed on each other, dependence on God provoking the open hostility of non-believers, and the scorn of the faithless provoking reliance on YHWH enthroned in the heavens. Which of the two comes first might be a classic chicken-and-egg dilemma.

Devotionally, we need to admit and seek to repent of our own dullness on both counts. We fail to depend on God wholeheartedly, often mouthing our prayers and relying on ourselves or others to solve our problems; and we fail to recognize the extent of the opposition set against us, too frequently dismissing adversity as nothing more than human fallibility to be addressed with our skills in personal relations. Does this psalm have something to teach us about the way the world really works? And where do we begin reorienting ourselves to a worldview of faith? Perhaps it is best to begin where the psalmist begins.

Today, through the Holy Spirit making us ever more aware of the sovereignty of the Father and mercy through the Son, we pray for the psalmist’s vision of God enthroned and of ourselves ably protected from the arrogance of enemies set against when we set out to carry out your purposes.     

My Power Is Made Perfect in Weakness (2 Corinthians 12:2-10)

2 I know a man 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. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— 6 though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 7 So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Cor. 12:2-10

It is important to see here that Paul is not giving a theology of personal weakness in the abstract but very much in the context of his relationship with the Corinthians. Though, according to Titus’ report, the apostle’s relationship with the church of Corinth has improved since the delivery of 1 Corinthians and the sorrowful letter (see 7:3-9), Paul is anticipating another hard visit with them during which time he may have to endure insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.

The devotional question arises: How do you deal with a weakness you know is soon coming? It is one thing to walk blindly into a difficult situation in the Lord’s name, find trouble, deal with it, and give thanks to God for his help when it is done. But how are you working through calamities you know are on the horizon? Can you, like Paul in faith, go forward expecting the favor of God’s strength arising through your weakness? Can you hear the word of the Lord to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” spoken to you in anticipation of hardship–as if he is teaching you in advance, “My power is made perfect in your weakness.”

Today, Holy Spirit, steel my heart, as you did Paul’s, for weakness I know I must soon endure.  

[He] Came to His Hometown (Mark 6:1-6)

He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 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 offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching.

Mk. 6:1-6

Or, “A prophet is not dishonored except in his hometown…”(4, NASB). Mark specifies that our Lord’s disciples were with them in this instance. This proverb then is likely addressed as much to the disciples as a teaching point as to the crowd as a rebuke. The use of prophet as opposed to “rabbi” or “teacher” is important. Hometown folks may be proud of a religious dignitary coming home for a visit, but the minute he preaches “repent and believe” (1:15) as he would to anyone else, the instinct to detach and characterize the messenger as impertinent comes quickly to the surface. In all the Gospel accounts of Jesus going to Nazareth, it is striking to see how the people are at first astonished, only to turn against him in an instant. So quickly does honor turn to dishonor among family and friends.

The lesson for all of us as his disciples in these passages is to understand the hometown dynamic of proclaiming the good news to family and friends and then persist. It appears from the Gospels that Jesus returned to Nazareth more than once in his three years of ministry and never missed an opportunity to do ministry. He was almost killed the first time (Luke 4), but he returned. We need to pray for our family and friends, thinking of them (I like to say) as our special prayer assignments for life. But we must not shy away from taking our chances to be a prophet before them, absorbing our lumps as they come.

Today, Lord, through the Spirit, give me persistence in praying for my hometown family and friends and strength to proclaim the good news as you give me opportunities.

Today in the Spirit

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Published on

June 30, 2024

Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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