Sunday July 9 2018, (7th after Pentecost)
Ezekiel 2: 1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; St Mark 6:1-13
Rev Dr John McCulloch
Minister of St Andrews Jerusalem & Tiberias
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable to you o Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
Standing, by the Grace of God
Rabbi Hillel, who was born in Babylon and died in Jerusalem just 10 years before Jesus was born, is famous for his encounter with a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. It is arguably one of the most famous stories in the Talmud. The gentile approached Rabbi Hillel and said that he would only convert if the Rabbi could explain the Torah to him whilst he stood on one leg. Rabbi Hillel accepted the challenge and said:
‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. The rest in commentary’.
About 70 years later, another Jewish Rabbi echoed a similar sentiment when he was asked which commandment was the first of all, he responded:
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind and strength. The second is this: you shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Mark 12: 29-32)
The central core of Judaism and Christianity is the command to love our neighbour. We are called to mirror the love of God by reaching out to those around us with his love and compassion.
Earlier this week I visited the Bedouin community of Khan Al Ahmar. As I sat by their school, I listened to the villagers as they spoke of their fears of the bulldozers arriving to destroy and take away the little they had.
As I left Khan Al Ahmar that night I wept. I wept at the injustice facing that community. I wept for the children, living in fear day by day, not knowing if they would be safe. And I wept for a nation, which prides itself on being the only democracy in the Middle East, whose highest court in the land passed a ruling that would forcibly evict a people from their homes and raze their village to the ground.
The very next day, as we know, the military moved in with heavy demolition vehicles. You have all seen the images, the violence that was unleashed on non-violent protesters as they tried to stop what was happening. Amongst those supporting the community were not just fellow-Bedouins, Palestinians and Internationals, but Jewish and Israeli friends. Jews and Israelis who stood up in protest at what their government was doing. Jewish friends who embodied the teaching in the Torah and NT of treating our neighbours as we would want to be treated ourselves.
Our OT reading tells of a Jewish Prophet who was also living in challenging times. The Babylonian empire had surrounded Jerusalem, and forcefully driven many of its people into exile. Ezekiel was a Hebrew prophet living in exile in Babylon (modern day Iraq). He was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, who had remained in Jerusalem at the time of the siege.
In Ezekiel 2:1 God speaks to him saying: ‘Son of man, stand upon your feet, and I will speak to you’.
One of the ways in which God moves through history is when he calls us to stand. To stand up to injustice. To stand up against violence. To stand up against that which is in opposition to God’s kingdom of justice and peace.
And his call to the church is the same today. Stand up. Stand up for what is right. Embody love, show compassion, engage in acts of mercy, love your neighbour as you love yourself.
I am sure that there is no one sitting here today who would disagree with this sentiment. We all know what we are called to live by, but many of us feel at a loss of what to do. Many of us feel that we cannot do much to change the injustice of the world around us. Many of us may feel weak and powerless.
But note what happens in verse 2, when the prophet opens his heart to listen to the voice of God:
‘And when he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me upon my feet’.
Ezekiel did not stand up in his own strength, but as he listened to what God was telling him, the Spirit entered his heart and set him upon his feet.
We too, do not come in our own strength. We do not stand upon our own merits or achievements. Like Ezekiel, we stand only by grace. We stand, because the same spirit of God dwells in us, and quickens God’s word in our hearts, enabling us to live as his representatives here on earth. We do so not in our own strength, but relying wholly on God’s grace, which is new every morning.
In our epistle reading from 2 Corinthians 12, we read of how Paul struggled with his thorn in the flesh, and how he wrestled with the powers of darkness that beset him.
What words did God speak to him in the midst of his struggle? Look again at verse 9: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’.
I don’t know how you may be feeling today, with all that is going on around you. I don’t know how are you feeling at the beginning of another week, with all its worries and challenges, or how you feel about living in a world which can be so cruel and unjust. There are times when we all feel helpless, broken, lonely and downcast, believing that nothing will ever change for the good.
God’s grace is sufficient for you, for me, for all of us. His power is perfected in weakness.
Is this not the message of the cross? That God’s power is manifested in weakness?
In our gospel reading in Mark 2, Christ is going through a difficult time, unable to do all he wanted because those around him did not accept him and many were offended by what he was saying. And yet Christ’s response was to continue with his ministry of healing. In verse 13 we read of how he and his disciples continued to cast out demons, anointing people with oil and bringing healing wherever they went.
And we are called to do the same. To live lives that cast out and dispel the dark forces of injustice and violence that take root in our hearts and our world. To walk by the Spirit of truth and love, that our lives would anoint others with the oil of compassion and gladness. To be Christ to our neighbours and those we come into contact with, that our world may be healed and restored into what it was created to be.
May it be in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, in now, and ever shall be. Amen.