Are we too self-sufficient these days? It is a popular saying that God helps those who help themselves. To a certain extent I would agree that God gave us brains and abilities and intended us to use them, but there is a danger in thinking that we will accomplish anything of eternal value through our own strength.
Prof Brian Cox often smiles when speaking of the end of the universe, and is often asked why – his answer is that he thinks it is funny. He particularly thinks it is funny when we create what we like to think is a permanent memorial to a person or happening, when he is aware that ultimately the universe will disperse to the extent that our world will not even leave the faintest echo of what has happened during all the time that it existed. It makes you feel rather small and insignificant!
And yet God says: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’.
Confusing passage, and may have been a part of an ongoing conversation with the Corinthians, of which we only have Paul’s half. There is a hint in earlier chapters that the Corinthian church is very excited by some new teaching that has been brought to them by people that Paul refers to as ‘super-apostles’, and Paul is trying to bring them back to the basics of the gospel that he taught them. He does so by pointing out that if he chose to, he has more to boast about than they, but choses not to rather he speaks of some kind of affliction that he wished to be rid of, but whenever he asked God, he received the same answer. It is a challenge to each of us when we are asked to do something that our immediate, almost instinctive response is ‘I couldn’t possibly do that’. God’s grace is sufficient for us, for power is made perfect in our weakness.
In our gospel reading, we find Jesus returning to his home. No reason is given for this, but the preceding chapter gives an idea of how busy he had been, and my own experience is that adult children often return to the family home when they need a rest. From what we read, Nazareth does not seem to have provided him with that, as his taking part in the regular worship at the synagogue, and his miracles of healing seem to have stirred up a feeling that he has got above himself – it could be paraphrased as ‘who does he think he is?’. It is interesting to note that referring to him as the son of Mary rather than of Joseph implies a suggestion that they believe him to be illegitimate. The reception of the synagogue in Nazareth is sharply contrasted with that in the village in the previous chapter, where Jesus had been previously and where he raised the daughter of Jairus, a synagogue official from serious illness, possibly even death.
And so, after a seemingly not very fruitful return home, Jesus goes out again to the surrounding villages and commences teaching again. This time, however, he decides that the disciples have heard and seen enough of his teaching for the time, being, and now need to continue their learning by taking his message out themselves. And so, we read that they are sent out in pairs with fairly strict instructions. They are to take nothing apart from the basics. They are to take no supplies, but to rely on the welcome they receive for hospitality. The instruction not to move to another house probably refers to a common practice amongst travelling preachers at the time of going from house to house – effectively begging. As Paul was told, ‘God’s grace is sufficient for us, for power is made perfect in our weakness.’ If a place does not welcome them or their message, they are to simply move on making sure they take nothing from that place – not even the dust that their shoes have picked up on the journey. This shaking off of the dust was a routine act for a Jew as he left gentile territory, but to do it to a fellow Jew shows how seriously the rejection of God’s teaching was to be taken.
On Wednesday the PCC heard a report on the most recent meeting of Deanery Synod, and a report that we looked at called ‘Discerning Ministries’. I have a copy of it with me as I think that we shall be hearing more about it during the year. The underlying thinking behind it is that we are spreading our clergy to thinly, and being human, they will only stretch so far before they snap. At the same time we may be frustrating gifted and talented lay people by not using them as they believe God wishes to use them. Under the heading ‘What is Church?’, it says this:
Our model of church has sometimes been based on having a vicar and expecting then to do or lead on most things – including the things that don’t need to be done by a priest. The days of ‘one vicar one parish’ are increasingly gone and the current way in which multi-parish benefices are configured often puts a strain on everyone – clergy and laity. This was apparent before Covid 19, and is even clearer now with additional financial pressures and many people feeling weary. The role of the clergy as spiritual leaders is still central, but the desire is to release them from the unreasonably broad burdens that many are carrying, alongside releasing the varied gifts of the laity so that together we can find a more joyful and sustainable model.’