What is saving your life right now?   

What is saving your life right now?

Pastor Mitch Coggin July 7, 2024 Pentecost 7B

In her book, Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor tells this story. She writes, Many years ago now, a wise old priest invited me to come speak at his church in Alabama. ‘What do you want me to talk about?” I asked him. “Come tell us what is saving your life now,” he answered. It was as if he had swept his arm across a dusty table and brushed all the formal china to the ground. I did not have to try to say correct things that were true for everyone. I did not have to use theological language that conformed to the historical teachings of the church. All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves. What is saving your life right now? If you asked me that, I could tell you what I do in my job as a minister. I’m usually focused on a task. That’s why every morning I get up and unload the dishwasher. It gives me a sense that I’ve finished something. It is measurable and I can see the results. But what I do at home or in my job doesn’t answer that question of what is saving my life. Each of us must answer that question for ourselves. Perhaps, we can look for that again in Jesus’ life and ministry.

In Mark 6, Jesus goes back to Nazareth, his home town, and preaches in the temple. The hometown crowd was initially impressed with Jesus’ fame. “Where did this man get these things? What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter?” How could this man they knew as a boy say and do these unconventional things?

But the more Jesus talked, the locals took offence with what he said and did. “Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”

Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. This ties back to the stories we heard the last few weeks. When Jesus, in the back of the boat, asked his disciples why they were afraid and why they were not using their faith. And now, again, Jesus turns his focus to his disciples; teaching them what was most important. They were with him as he met the needs of people at a basic human level and what he was teaching them about life and ministry and God’s presence in the lives of people in the worst of times.

After that day in Nazareth, Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Jesus sends the disciples into the villages two by two, and he gives them their first instructions. This is the beginning of the church. This is how the church was organized and what the church is to do and be. Here is what you take, this is what you don’t take. “He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.”

The disciples might have thought they needed two tunics and money for the journey. He ordered them to take nothing with them but a staff. The staff was to help them walk but also to ward off animals. When they entered a house, they were to stay there until they left the place. Here is how you respond to people who aren’t receptive to you. If no one would welcome them, they were to shake the dust off their feet and move on.

Part of Jesus’ challenge to the disciples is not to take more than they needed. As humans, we want to be prepared. We need things in our hands that we think are visible signs of preparation. Our caution moving forward is not to fill our backpacks with what we feel we need because it is what we needed before. Jesus is saying the most definitive tools of ministry are what you have in your hearts. Jesus would have us focus on his ability and power to use our weakness to show his strength.

Throughout 2 Corinthians, Paul balances his struggles with God’s sufficiency. In almost every chapter, Paul describes his despair: “We are afflicted in every way but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed.” Paul has been able to endure; he’s been able to sustain persecution and hardship. God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” is what this sermon is about. Paul is strengthened by what he says is his “thorn in the flesh,” whatever that may be. Three times he asked that God remove the thorn but that never happened. Perhaps it was important that Paul learn that God’s strength was present even in the midst of his weakness.

What is saving your life right now? Do we still believe we need to fill our backpacks with our own resources? Is that what will save us from ourselves?

Frederick Buechner tells about meeting Agnes Stanford, a layperson who was well known for her prayer practices. He recalls, The most vivid image she presented was of Jesus standing in church services all over Christendom with his hands tied behind his back and unable to do any mighty works there because the ministers who led the services either didn’t expect him to do them or didn’t dare ask him to do them for fear that he wouldn’t or couldn’t and that their own faith and the faith of their congregations would be threatened as the result. I recognized immediately my kinship with those ministers. It takes faith to believe in God’s power in my weakness and to not live my life trying to disprove that.

In the Gospel reading the crowd that knew Jesus too well and couldn’t understand his authority, tied Jesus’ hands behind his back. Jesus prepared his disciples for the rejection that they were sure to receive because he knew that their hands would be tied just like his hands were tied by unbelief. Jesus cautioned the disciples about tying their own hands by filling their backpacks with things that were comfortable and familiar that they thought would give them confidence and assurance when they needed it.

It’s not our own resources that will prepare us, it’s the things that happen in our hearts on our day-to-day journey. Trust your own perceived weakness, trust your own insignificance because as Paul taught throughout 2 Corinthians, it is our weakness and our struggle that makes perfect God’s strength and power working in us to do what needs to be done.

Using our faith does not depend on our own abilities and talents. Paul prays in Ephesians, “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.