Not fitting in and weakness – two themes to ponder this morning from the readings, themes that are subtly connected – not fitting in and weakness.
Not fitting in – is something that most of us have some experience of. Whether it is starting a new school or new job or joining a new group, or even coming to church. We know that sense that we don’t fit in. We don’t know anyone. We don’t know the rules.
But eventually we adapt, we form new friendships and we do fit in. And generally in life we like to fit in. And what is true now was true in the time of Jesus. Jesus in the Gospel this morning is back in his hometown. He goes to the synagogue on the sabbath just as he always has.
But this time something changes. His teaching is different. He has an authenticity and wisdom that astounds those present. And from being someone who fitted in ‘they took offence at him.’
It’s interesting that this trip to the synagogue precedes the sending out of the disciples in the second half of our reading this morning. They, you recall have witnessed what happened in the synagogue.
And Jesus sends them out by two and the Gospel makes it clear that they will not fit in everywhere, that some will take offence at them.
As followers of Jesus today this experience of not quite fitting in is around for us sometimes. For though we generally want to fit in there are times when it can come into conflict with what we think Jesus would have us do.
It can be rather inconvenient sometimes for then we stand out from the crowd. And thinking of crowds last week I was reminded of a remarkable about Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a man who time after time showed others the way of Jesus.
On one occasion he stood out from an angry crowd about to kill a man accused of being a collaborator with the South African authorities during the Apartheid years. He argued with them and saved the man’s life.
Thankfully, we are not likely to be called into such an extreme situation but there are times when we may not fit in with the crowd because of our faith.
Of course that runs the risk of being labelled as one of those silly Christians and someone taking ‘offense’ at what we might say and do but that’s no bad thing and we are in good company as these readings remind us this morning.
Paul speaks of this in our first reading and being content with ‘insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ.’ None of us would seek these things out, but Paul recognises that there is a cost to following the way of Jesus, that we will not always fit in.
But if and when it does happen then let us be clear of our motives because history tells us that the language of our faith can be and has been used to justify all sorts of evil.
So, we are not to be offensive and difficult just for the sake of it. We speak and act and live out of love, calmly, graciously and patiently – our words and actions fashioned by our life of prayer.
And here Leah came to mind. She was very aged when I knew her but she was a beautiful Roman Catholic laywoman. A woman who saw much change in how churches related to each other in her lifetime.
Whereas once a Roman Catholic would not talk to a Methodist or an Anglican if they could help it, she showed the way, graciously, patiently and lovingly. She was prophetic in her own way, a key person in helping the churches of the island where I served my curacy sign an ecumenical agreement, one of the first of its kind.
And if we think of Archbishop Tutu again, it’s not just his words but who he is for as we think of him it won’t be long before we think of him laughing, the joy of his faith in Jesus radiating out rooted in his life of prayer. How we need more Leah’s and Desmond Tutu’s.
So sometimes we will not fit in as we try to be faithful to Jesus and the way of love which brings me to turn to the second theme of this talk, weakness as we look a little more at that first reading.
In it, Paul reminds us that embracing our weakness is a good thing for through it something of God is revealed.
Perhaps this should come as no surprise, especially as we think of Jesus’ story. Of his beginnings, born to a young unmarried woman with few prospects. Growing up in obscurity. These were not the corridors of power, wealth and security where he learned to live but a life of vulnerability and weakness.
But I wonder whether we need to keep reminding ourselves of this paradox given that as a society we often seem to place such emphasis on what we perceive as being strong leadership.
But that doesn’t seem to be the way Paul is describing, something he seems to have learned the hard way, describing it as ‘a thorn’. Perhaps this thorn helped him know that its often from a place of weakness that we learn both more about ourselves and how God draws near to us in and through it.
Perhaps that is a lesson the disciples Jesus sent out learnt too, as they embraced their fears and weakness and proclaimed the good news.
And I think the best of our leaders are those who embrace their weakness, who recognise their shortcoming and are open to seeing their weakness not as a fault but as a gift. For as Paul wrote ‘”power is made perfect in weakness.”’
And we gathered here, take comfort from the fact that God takes and uses our weaknesses and transforms them. So that we can ‘boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.’
I think our companions this week Leah and Desmond knew this and lived it, humble and holy as they were and are.
So, we ponder these readings filled with the topsy turvy paradoxes of our faith.
A faith that invites us to embrace our weakness.
A faith that challenges to not be afraid to stand out from the crowd as we follow Jesus and gently and humbly one day at a time live our lives dedicated to the way of love.
Let me close with a prayer written by Archbishop Tutu.
Disturb us, O Lord
when we are too well-pleased with ourselves
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, O Lord
when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the water of life
when, having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.
Stir us, O Lord
to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
where storms show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow.