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A Priestly Word — 13 Jul 18

A Priestly Word

We begin on Sunday a journey through St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, the great epistle about the worldwide church whose head is Jesus Christ. This journey continues through August 26.

Certain early manuscripts omit the phrase in Ephesus from the first verse, and this omission raises the question of whether the epistle was addressed to a particular community of believers, where Paul ministered for well over two years, or was written for a broader, if not universal, audience. Certainly we believe that whenever we read any of the Scriptures in church that the reading applies to us as well as to all Christians.

A major theme of the epistle concerns the purpose of the worldwide church which is to be the instrument for making God’s plan of salvation known throughout the universe. God’s plan of salvation, shown most especially in Jesus Christ, flows from God’s saving love for all whom God created.

The portion of the epistle appointed for Sunday (1:3-14) refers repeatedly to God’s plan of salvation: “[h]e destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ” (1:5) and “[w]ith all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (1:8c-10) are prime examples of Paul’s emphasis on God’s plan of salvation.

Paul concludes Sunday’s portion, the opening of the epistle, by specifying that his readers, too, specifically were targeted in God’s sweeping plan of salvation: “In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance twoard redemption as God’s people, to the praise of his glory (1:13-14).

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Pentecost 7, 2018 — 8 Jul 18

Pentecost 7, 2018

RCL Year B Proper 9
Ezekiel 2:1-5, Psalm 123, II Corinthians 12:2-10, Saint Mark 6:1-13

For thirty-one years of Ordination as a Deacon and as a Priest, I have been getting ready for the sermon today. More about that later.

Last Sunday, we heard Jesus declare to the woman he unknowingly cures, “your faith has made you well.”[1] And also I said that Jesus could well have said to Jairus, “your faith has brought your daughter back to life.” Against that background, we hear today Saint Mark comment in the Gospel today, “And [Jesus] could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”[2]

One Bible I use for study glosses that verse thus: “[a]ccording to Mark, Jesus’ power could not take effect because of a person’s lack of faith.” And I say to you that our coöperation is important, if not necessary, to the coming of the kingdom, as in “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”[3]

The thought first crossed my mind many years ago. But I have hesitated to say it in a sermon until today. Then I was in college and a member of a group called Young Life. We had Bible Studies often, and we used J. B. Phillips’ translation of the New Testament. I read it fervently and carried it with me wherever I went.

The lesson I learned then and suggest to you today is this. Our prayer, our faith, is an ingredient God uses to work his will. Every prayer we offer, however formal, however informal, has an effect upon the coming of the kingdom. Every prayer we offer brings a substantial consequentiality, perhaps unseen and perhaps unknown, but consequential nonetheless.

It seems, then, that being made in the image of God involves this coöperation. Our faith is an ingredient to God’s will being done on our behalf. An assent of our will, as in praying, the Our Father, opens the door to God’s complete and perfect will being accomplished in us. We must never discount this possibility until the Day he tells us one way or the other.

And so what we are doing today is important. Worship may indeed be the most important thing we do, for when we express our faith, when we place our faith in the hands of the true and living God, wonderful things come to be.

[1] Saint Mark 5:34.

[2] Saint Mark 6:5.

[3] The Book of Common Prayer, page 364.

A Priestly Word — 6 Jul 18

A Priestly Word

Our course reading of II Corinthians ends on Sunday (12:2-10) in a section of the Epistle where St Paul defends his ministry with the revelation that he has had an ecstatic experience of God and of things heavenly.

He does not wish to boast about his experience, and so he refers to himself in the third person: “I know a person in Christ” (12:2) and “[o]n behalf of such a one I will boast” (12:5). In other words, St Paul boasts not about himself but the experience he has had.

The experience takes him “up to the third heaven” (12:2), to “Paradise” where he “heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat” (12:4). Ancient cosmologies told of a multilayered universe. Seven was a popular number for the heavens, but so was three. In the “Testament of Levi,” part of Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, God lives in the third heaven. Without specifying any particular structure of the universe, Paul claims a spiritual journey to God’s dwelling place where secrets (“the exceptional character of the revelations” [12:7]) were revealed to him.

And, to keep him humble (“to keep me from being too elated” [12:7]), “a thorn was given me in the flesh” (12:7). The exact nature of the “thorn” is not known. It may be a sickness, or physical disability, or temptation, or hindrance associated with his apostolic ministry. It even may be an opponent who was persistent or obnoxious.

We learn that Paul appealed to the Lord to be relieved of the “thorn,” and, instead of removing it, the Lord reveals to Paul that his “grace is sufficient for you,” (!2:9). Paul possesses his soul in patience to endure “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (12:10), because “whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (12:10).

Just as Christ is King even when nailed to the Cross, St Paul is strong even when he faces adversity. He is strongest when he appears to be weakest.

The next course reading is of the Epistle to the Ephesians.

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