Strength in Weakness

Year B
 Ezekiel 2:1-5
 Psalm 123
 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
 Mark 6:1-13

May the words of my mouth O God…  speak your truth…

Joel and I spent our vacation in Plymouth, Massachusetts…  at a family reunion… with his seven brothers and sisters…  and their spouses…  and two nephews…  and of course…  mom…

One of Joel’s brothers-in-law…  is a genealogist…  and Bill suggested…  months ago…  that the reunion take place there…  because unbeknownst to us…  he planned a special event…  a special reveal of sorts…  something that would surprise the whole family…

Bill had been able to confirm… that the Flint family…  through Joel’s dad Jay…  are descendants of those Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower…  there’s a replica of that ship…  moored in Plymouth harbor…  in close proximity to Plymouth Rock…  on which is chiseled 1620…  the year the ship landed there…  though maybe not in that exact spot…  and whether it’s the actual rock on which they first set foot…  is subject to some doubt as well…  but there’s no doubt about the family’s ancestry…

Genealogists estimate that there are approximately 3.1 million descendants of those original Pilgrims…  that’s a lot of fourth cousins seven times removed…  but those descendants do include Ulysses S. Grant…  Henry David Thoreau…  Laura Ingalls Wilder…  Franklin Roosevelt…  Elvis Presley…  and my favorite…  Taylor Swift…  yes…  Joel is related to Taylor Swift…  though I don’t think free tickets for her ERAS tour are anywhere in our future…

Now sometimes…  people say that a person “came over on the Mayflower” to indicate that he or she is a member of a very old American family…  an established American family…  perhaps in a slightly boastful way…  but indigenous peoples…  which included the Wampanoag…  lived in that region for about 12,000 years before the Mayflower’s arrival…  they fished the waters…  hunted the shores…  and planted crops in the sheltered inland fields…  ]  and the Wampanoag name means…  People of the First Light…

But the passengers on the Mayflower weren’t the first Europeans in this part of the country…  earlier explorers brought various kinds of trade…  but they also brought various kinds of disease…  and by the time the Mayflower landed…  there were no Wampanoag left in the village known as Patuxet…  the empty village was a sign of tragedy and loss…  but for the Pilgrims…  finding already-tilled fields was taken as a sign of God’s favor…  and they gave little thought to those whose land they were taking over…

Now our reading from Ezekiel talks about ancestors and descendants…  about a nation of impudent and stubborn rebels who transgressed against God…  and about whether they would heed the words of a prophet who spoke God’s words…  in this morning’s Epistle…  Paul refers to someone who has heard things that no mortal is permitted to repeat…  something about which someone might tend to boast…  but Paul says that if he boasts about it…  it won’t be to lift himself up…  but to lift up the truth of what was heard…  ]  so Paul was able to get out of his own way…  to become vulnerable…  so that this truth may be proclaimed through him…  and therein lies his strength…

When Jesus came to his hometown…  those who heard him teach…  took offense…  they couldn’t believe that this man who they knew as Mary’s son…  and a brother to his siblings…  could speak with such authority…  this hometown crowd couldn’t see that the Lord of Hosts was with him…  and all he could do…  was cure a few sick people…  and Jesus is stunned… because if God can work through him…  then God can work through them…  so how could they turn away from what he’s offering…  but maybe they took offense because they were confronted with their own doubts…  they thought they knew who Jesus was…  but familiarity turned into contempt…

Fr. John Shea writes that we believe other people to be exactly as we perceive them to be… but that we believe ourselves to always be more than they think we are…  that the boxes we put others in are just the right size… but the boxes that other people put us in are always too small… but our faith tells us we are inexorably related to Ultimate Mystery… we are descended from it…  the mistake we make… is thinking that God won’t be found…  in those we dislike…

And it may be exactly because of that realization… that Jesus tells the disciples… if any place will not welcome you… if they refuse to hear you… leave… and as you leave… shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them…  similarly…  many of us hear these words as words of contempt…  and there seems to be a certain aspect of righteous indignation in them… I mean… you were sent to evangelize… you’ve got God’s wonderful truth to share… how can the people NOT listen… how can they NOT see in it… what you’ve seen in it…  well…  maybe they can’t… or won’t… or don’t want to…  because then they’d need to change…

But perhaps what Jesus is saying… is don’t be mad… don’t be angry… not everyone will be open to what you have to say… so don’t waste time… cut your losses… there will be others who are open to this truth… move on to greener pastures… they’re just exercising the free will they have… to say no…  Ezekiel and Jesus both knew… that whether people hear… or refuse to hear the words that God has given them to speak… that it’s not about them…  but about those who hear them… it’s about those who are unwilling to believe…  or unable to accept…  the great things that God can do… which is why Jesus could do so few deeds of power in his hometown…

On June 9th…  we heard in Mark’s Gospel (3:20-35)…  that a house divided against itself cannot stand…  in the speech Abraham Lincoln gave on June 16, 1858…  he cited this same passage…  and went on to say…  I believe this government cannot permanently endure…  half slave and half free…  I do not expect the Union to be dissolved…  and I do not expect the house to fall…  but I do expect it will cease to be divided…  that it will become all one thing or all the other…  in his speech…  Lincoln was addressing the deepening divide between the states…  and the unsustainable nature…  of a nation split by such a fundamental issue…  we just celebrated July 4…  Independence Day…  and like the Israelites who were freed after 400 or so years of slavery in Egypt…  we may ask who has been freed in the 400 or so years since the Mayflower landed…  and who has not been…  and from what we have been freed…  and what still binds us…  in a world…  and a nation…  that is divided…  perhaps more so than ever before…  by several fundamental issues…  how can we experience how interconnected…  and interdependent…  we really are…  because whether we understand Adam and Eve as our literal… or metaphorical ancestors…  if we embrace Paul’s analogy about how we are all essential members of the Body of Christ…  and whether we learn of our connections through ancestral records or the science of DNA …  the divisions we face…  are in opposition to God’s will for us…

So can we consider that we’re the ones to whom Ezekiel has been sent…  and that we’re also the Ezekiels into whose ears God is speaking…  how can we learn to rely on God’s Word instead of on our own words…  how can we find strength in weakness…  so that whether we choose to hear…  or refuse to hear the prophet’s voice…  we can at least know that there have been prophetic voices among us… 

Let us pray… Lord God Almighty…  in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us…  and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn…  Grant that we…  and all the people of this land…  those who were here before us…  like the Wampanoag…  and those yet to come…  may have grace to maintain and share our liberties in righteousness and peace…  through Jesus Christ our Lord…  who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit…  one God…  for ever and ever…  and the People of Light said…  Amen…

About the author: The Rev. Mike Wernick

The Rev. Mike Wernick is a second-career Episcopal priest who grew up in a Reform Jewish family. He relishes his role as the Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Officer for two dioceses and affirms all faith traditions (he has this idea that diversity was never intended to be divisive). He serves on several diocesan and synod committees, including the ELCA N/W Lower Michigan Synod’s Task Force on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity; and in July 2020, he finished a two-year practicum to become a Spiritual Director.