Sunday, July 8, 2012

Who Speaks For God?

Sunday: 8 July, 2012 –– 14th Week of Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
Ezekiel 2:2–5 / 2 Corinthians 12:7–10 / Mark 6:1–6a
Who Speaks For God?
We live in a world of noise, and noise –– with the confusion it usually brings –– is often a major block to the voice of God. Our society is filled with voices shouting out to us. There are advertisers. There are political pitches. There are multitudes of opinions on the hot-button issues of our time. Talk Radio can provide more “voices” than you ever need to hear. There is also the (sometimes unsolicited) advice of family and friends. Mixed into all of it is the voice of the Church trying to give witness to Christian Truth.  How do we recognize what is true? Who speaks for God?
It seems there is a tolerable acceptance of “God-talk” if it’s in a context of “love” –– at least how we define love. We want God to love us not only just as we are (and he does), but also to “love” us by leaving us alone (at least in terms of asking us to do anything unpleasant, inconvenient, uncomfortable or unpopular).  We are mostly open to hear about grace that forgives our sins, but it’s not easy to get people to understand that grace is always directed at obliterating sin.
If we want to understand what God says, and if we truly want to follow Jesus, we need to know that being a Christian brings an inherent conflict with many (if not most) of the other voices vying for our attention. To hear and understand what God says, we must embrace an attitude of mind and heart that questions the popular voices.  The closer we live according to God’s Truth –– the more we have the boldness to speak Christian Truth into our social settings –– the more likely we are to experience hostility.... and even hate.... and possibly “crucifixion.”  As we follow Jesus, we should not be surprised to draw some of the same responses he received.
It has always been this way for those who speak for God. This was the root reason that Cain killed Abel. It is why we find the Lord telling Ezekiel: I am sending you to [those] who have rebelled against me.... Hard of face and obstinate of heart.... But you shall say to them: Thus says the Lord God!  And whether they heed or resist –– for they are a rebellious house –– they shall know that a prophet has been among them.
In today’s Gospel, Mark lets us see that Jesus himself was rejected by his own “house.” Up to this point in Mark's story people have noticed that Jesus had power and Jesus had authority. , and many believed. Here, though, Jesus is met with unbelief and ridicule. In the verses that follow these, Jesus sends the Twelve out to give the message and do the ministries he has been doing,  just as God spoke through  Ezekiel, and he prepares them for rejection –– just as he had been rejected.
A big part of being a Christian is to be like Jesus so that his very life –– even his character –– is working through those who belong to him.  Christians are meant to be people who live in such ways that when others look on, they see something of God's truth –– whether they accept it or not.  The warning here is that many will not believe prophets from God who speak his truth.
What does a person who follows Jesus look like? Who speaks for God? This is Paul’s point in today’s selection from Second Corinthians, but his emphasis is hard for us to comprehend because it so goes against our broken human nature. And even if we see it, it is not easy to accept. What do we look for if someone claims to speak for God? Paul alludes earlier to the “surface things” people first see (11:22–28).  Paul was aware of the poor assessment he often received, and Jesus identifies our tendency to disdain the overly familiar: A prophet it not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.  People grab any excuse not to hear God’s prophets if the message is hard. It seems even worse in our day; we don’t want anyone telling us what to do!
What does a person who follows Jesus look like? Paul has previously listed some of the most unappealing things about his life that repelled people: beaten, stoned, whipped, shipwrecked, attacked by bandits, hungry, thirsty and cold....  Who finds things like that appealing?!  But then, Paul comes to a main emphasis in this second letter to the Corinthians: he says that a person who follows Jesus is best seen in the context of weakness! That’s not what we want to hear.
Think about the Gospel story. Isn’t there something in us that wants Jesus to overwhelm the hometown bunch and then say, “There! Wha’cha think of that!?”  In contrast, Paul says that one of the best ways he has entered into the life of Christ has been through a weakness that was so awful (humanly speaking) that he asked the Lord three times to take it away, but the Lord said no.
We want life to be safe and easy. We want to be comfortable. We like to belong –– to fit in. On the other hand, God wants to prepare us for a forever existence in his new kingdom. God wants us to enter into the intimacies of knowing him. We want to be happy; God wants us to be holy. In the paradox of God’s ways, holiness happens when, in our weaknesses, we find God’s strength.
What does a person who follows Jesus look like? Who speaks for God? This question goes beyond our personal circumstances and preferences. It’s not often the popular voice.  It’s not always the person who is smooth and polished –– the person who seems to have it all with health, wealth and popularity. Those things may be temporary gifts Jesus gives to some of his people, but those are not the outward verifications of God’s voice. God’s Word breaks into our world and often causes discomfort and contention.  The result can be ridicule and rejection and even persecution.  
What does a person who follows Jesus look like?  Who speaks for God? If you are learning to be honest and invite God into your weaknesses, then a person who follows Jesus looks like you. If you are learning that embracing God’s Truth does not mean being comfortable in this world, especially with its conflicting voices and self-serving opinions, then you –– in contrast to those who rejected the prophets and Jesus himself –– are hearing the voice God.

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