THE OPPORTUNITY OF THE POINT
July 5, 2015 by Ken Dale
It is, I would think, easy for us to tap into the two readings we have just heard.? Jesus is preaching to his own people in his home town.? Mark doesn?t say what he was preaching about but he was rejected.? Even those who were close to him rejected him.? Perhaps to them he was just an unimpressive hometown boy but his message invoked resistance and provoked controversy.? I wonder if what he said touched a nerve – if the point he was making stung in some way ? maybe pushed their buttons as he addressed something within them that needed challenging.? How often when we gather to listen in worship or in any setting, do we gather with our wants in mind ? hoping to hear what we want to hear.? When we don?t ? how do we respond?
In a similar vein our lesson from speaks of a ?thorn in the flesh? ? which he actually says was God given to keep him from being too elated.? He says he appealed to the Lord three times about it but the response he heard was, ?My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.?? Is not that ?power made perfect? the love of God ? the grace of God itself?? There has been much speculation about what that thorn was ? a variety of illnesses, conditions, and the like ? but we don?t know what it is.? The point of the thorn was that it was opportunity for Paul to grow, to experience a deeper faith ? to be challenged to trust God?s different ways such as strength in weakness.? It was opportunity to know by faith that God?s grace was sufficient.
The message this morning is simply this ? we have our thorns, we have those aspects of life that challenge us, cause us some kind of pain ? spiritual or physical, we have our ways of tuning out as did the folks in Jesus? hometown when he preached there ? tune out what we don?t want to hear but very well may need to hear.? Could it be they are all opportunities for us to learn, to be challenged, to believe and trust that God?s grace is sufficient.
Henri Nouwen tells of his teaching academic courses on the spiritual life and how he would draw a long straight line from the left edge to the right on the black board.? And he would explain to his class, ?This is our eternal life in God.? You belong to God from eternity to eternity.? You were loved by God before you were born; you will be loved by God long after you die.?? Then he would mark off a small part of the line and say these words:? This is your human lifetime.? It is only a part of your total life in God.? You are here for just a short time ? for twenty, forty, sixty, or eighty years ? to discover and believe that you are a beloved child of God.? The length of time doesn?t matter.? Life is just a short opportunity for you during a few years to say to God, ?I love you too.?? (Spiritual Direction p. 38)
God?s grace is sufficient ? trust that.? And may you experience that grace as we celebrate and participate in the mystery of this sacrament of Holy Communion.? This past week the perfect illustration came to me via an e-mail from Jim O?Brien ? that I think speaks of that grace that sometimes challenges us but also gives opportunity for us to grow in a deeper faith.? I think Jim got it on Facebook ? and I don?t know the author ? but the person is right on.? How uncomfortably powerful is that gift of grace!
This congregation practices what we call open Communion. That means that anyone and everyone is welcome to take Communion. There are no prerequisites and no spiritual litmus tests. The table is open to all. That sounds good on paper, but is much harder to put into practice, because every single one of us has limitations on the definition of ?all.? In our heart of hearts, there are some people we believe don?t belong at the table. And yet, it?s not our table. It?s Christ table, and it is open. Open to people who want to take flags down and open to people who want to fly them with pride. Open to people who define sin and marriage in very different ways. Open to people who are filled with hate and open to people who love without boundaries. Open to people who judge others by their color and open to people who embrace God?s rainbow of creation. This table is open to all. Every time we come to it, we are reminded of that, a fact that both confronts us and comforts us. It confronts us because it means someone we disagree with is welcome to the table. It comforts us because it means we also are welcome at this table, even if someone else believes we don?t belong. There are many things in our world about which we disagree, and these last few weeks have been painful reminders of how divided we can be. But at this table, we are united once again through Jesus Christ; we are made whole by this bread and this cup. And we are called to live out what we receive here: love?grace?welcome. We welcome and accept all people at this open table. We may not practice this perfectly, but we strive to practice it faithfully. And that means you are welcome here.?????? ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????Amen.