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The Call to Worship
“You, my brothers...” my sisters, my family, my friends “...were called to be free”
ALL: Unhampered, liberated, unconfined, unconstrained, unobstructed, unfettered, independent, free-wheeling
“But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature” Speaker 2: Don’t spend your time thinking about yourself
ALL: Don’t spend your time running from God, “Rather, serve one another in love”
Care for one another in love, honor one another in love, Support one another in love, comfort one another in love
ALL: “The entire law is summed up in a single command” Just to make it easy To wrap it up with a nice little bow
“Love your neighbor as yourself” As Jesus did So do we
All: Love your neighbor as yourself, Serve one another in love
Audrey Hollenberg, National Youth Conference Coordinator, Unit #284
Eternal Presence, you call us into freedom and into service.
But, isn't a servant bound, and not free?
You call us into freedom and into love.
But, doesn't love bind us, and strap us down? Eternal One, your call is often hard to make out.
We are usually unsure what, exactly, you mean. Teach us, how to be free, how to serve, how to love; Amen
The Wisdom of the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12.7b-10)
I had a thorn in the flesh that tormented me…8Three times I prayed about this, that it would leave me, 9but the answer that came to me was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
The Gospel According to Mark (6.1-6)
Jesus…came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.
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The Gifts of Imperfection
Our readings today show us vignettes of two human beings, two leaders, two teachers, trying to share the good news of love with the world, who find themselves affected by the expectations of others.
Paul speaks of his “thorn in the flesh.” We don’t know what this might have been. Perhaps he was unable to refrain from sex with men or women or both. Perhaps he was ill and his endurance was reduced making him unable to travel and teach with the stamina that others had. Perhaps he was judgmental in his heart and struggled with trying to show love to everyone. Whatever his “thorn in the flesh” was he struggled with it. He wanted to be free of it. He wanted to transcend it.
The story tells us that he came to understand that he did not need to be perfect to be effective. We sometimes tend to reduce whatever is going on in our lives to a binary view of “good” and “bad.” Age and wisdom teaches us that we often learn the most important lessons not from our successes but from our failures.
“Wholeness is not perfection,” said my friend and colleague Rev Dr. Mona West. Trying to be perfect is exhausting. Paul did not need be without illness to be whole. He did not need to be flawless to show forth the perfection of love. In fact, he came to realize that his weakness allowed other people to understand that we do not need to be perfect to be beloved and valuable. We are beloved just the way we are in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.
All is not lost when we fail…Failure is not a way out but can be a way forward. Cleophus J. LaRue shares “When we compare ourselves to great people, they often seem more like us in their failures than in their successes. So we derive encouragement from their setbacks.”
Societal, familial, and friends’ expectations can weigh heavily on us if we allow that to happen. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to live up to a view that we think others have of us. Paul meditated on his “thorn in the flesh” trying to rid himself of what he considered a weakness. But he realized that his own weakness might give those around him permission accept themselves.
“We are called to live lives of authenticity and not expectation,” says Dr. West. When we let go of expectations of ourselves, we often find it easier to let go of expectations of others. And this can lead us to a happier and more productive life.
Our gospel story of Jesus going home to the people who knew him as a child. He was in his home town, among his family, a story that is a familiar one to many of us. As was his custom he went to synagogue on the Sabbath and there he began to teach the scriptures just as he did in any other place he visited. But unlike every other place where Jesus traveled these people looked at him with judgment and disdain. “Who does he think he is?” they said. “Isn’t this the carpenter whose mother is Mary. We saw this kid grow up! We know who he is!”
These people think know who Jesus is because they had experiences of him growing up in Nazareth. The people in our gospel reading today are stuck in the past and unwilling to move beyond what they think they know. How often we do the same. It’s hard to let go of our past experience of people or institutions. Who do we discount based on old information? What wisdom might we be missing because of our preconceived notions?
Many of us have had difficult experiences with the church. Some of us have even been condemned by our own family. And because of our past painful experiences we sometimes discount what we call “organized religion” or check out of our family. Just as often those of us who consider ourselves progressive theologically tend to discount anything a “right winger” says based on our experience of people in our past. Rev. Anne Atwell reminded me this week, “When we relegate the appearance of God to what we deem to be holy or divine we may be missing out on the wisdom that is right under our noses.” We can often hear the most important things from the most unlikely people if we have an open mind.
In twelve step rooms I learned one of the most important lessons of life, “Expectations are resentments in training.” When I consciously decide to let go of my expectations and preconceived notions I am a much happier and peaceful person. And often I hear just what I need from the most unlikely people and in the most unlikely places!
All of this sounds good. But in practice it’s much more difficult to enact. Even Jesus was affected by the expectations others had of him. Their doubts were holding him back. He was unable to live into his true potential while he was bathed in their judgmental close-mindedness. So it’s important for us to understand that sometimes we will be distracted by the expectations and judgments of others. What do we do then?
In later verses of our reading today Jesus tells his friends, “ if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” The voices of doubt affect even Jesus. But Jesus understands that we can’t dwell on these things we can shake the dust from our feet, let go of the disappointment and regret, and move on into abundant life.
This is how we continue to grow spiritually by understanding that in whatever circumstances we find ourselves we always have the potential to affect the lives of other positively… sometimes in our strength, and sometimes in our weakness. All that is asked of us is to live authentically and do our best to act ethically.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, “If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” Keep moving forward, keep living, keep an open mind, remain available to the grace that flows through the universe in the love we share together. Miracles happen when we love and support one another. Love heals old wounds and moves us beyond the limits of our expectations.
May we be open to receiving the grace that Paul refers to in our first reading today and may we continue to move forward in spiritual maturity that allows us to “take what we need and leave the rest.” I don’t buy into every notion that every other Christian minister expresses and I can learn something from just about everyone I meet.
And when we come into relationship with people who are emotionally or spiritually toxic for us, all we need to do is move on without allowing that person, place, or thing to live in our minds. Hold on to what is useful, let go of what is not. Pretty simple to say, sometimes not so simple to do, but always worth the effort to try.
May we all be willing to receive the blessing of goodness and wholeness as we go forth this week. May we enjoy freedom from expectations of ourselves and others. Amen.