Adapted from a sermon

Delivered July 6, 2003

First Congregational Church

 

II Samuel 5:1-5

Mark 6:1-13

II Corinthians 12:2-10

 

God's Flawed, but Valiant Warriors

            Good Morning! Thank you so much for inviting me.  The scripture readings for today involve the Israelites’ acceptance of David as their King, Paul's ministry to the Corinthians, and the ministry of Jesus in his hometown, Nazareth. 

            In the Old Testament reading the tribes of Israel approach David and ask that he be their king. David was thirty years old, a seasoned warrior, but a young man with a lot of living yet to do. God favored David, we are told time after time. We can almost feel an Overly Indulgent Parent and Child relationship between God and his valiant warrior. God loved his son David.

            David was king for forty years.  David’s flaws were mightily apparent, such as when he arranged for the death of the beautiful Bathsheba's husband so that he might marry her himself.  God was displeased, but forgave David.  Later, the couple became the parents of the great King Solomon.

            Another one of God’s flawed, but valiant warriors was Paul.  Folks at Corinth had been criticizing Paul and his skill for ministry for some time. Paul went Corinth to address the growing disunity in the congregation and their disloyalty to him personally. After he left, the place was still in turmoil.  When he returned to Ephesus he wrote a bitter letter back to the Corinthians, later regretting that he had sent it.  As it turned out, the Corinthians took his words to heart and the situation became much better and Paul sent off a letter of reconciliation.

            I recommend that you read chapters 10, 11, 12, and 13 of II Corinthians for a more cohesive understanding of Paul, including his "catalogue of hardships." The story reveals a deeply committed, deeply hurt, and deeply emotional human being.

            It also reveals Paul's sense of being “flawed” and his description of his spiritual experience.

            Our knowledge of Paul's "visions and revelations" begins with his blinding experience on the Road to Damascus. He continued to experience visions throughout his life. Commentators believe Paul's reference to some other "man in Christ" who was "caught up in the third heaven," is really a veiled reference to himself.  Paul does not know whether this was an "out of body experience,” but he does know this man visited Paradise.

            We don't talk much about "third heavens" in our churches today - although many of us speak of being in "seventh heaven" - being supremely happy.

            You might be interested to know that both Muslim and Jewish mystics had a seven-tiered concept of paradise -- with the Seventh Heaven said to be "beyond the power of description." In this belief system, a deceased person goes to the heaven he or she has earned on earth, and the Seventh Heaven, ruled by Abraham, is the ultimate one, a region of pure light lying above the other six, the Heaven of Heavens. Anyone in Seventh Heaven is in a state of indescribable bliss.

            When Paul spoke of visiting the Third Heaven, he wasn't claiming perfection. The "third heaven" was a common stopping-point on an individual's spiritual journey and it was here where Paul -- or his friend -- "heard words so secret that human lips may not repeat them."

            Paul knows that he most probably has attained a higher level of understanding of God and God's universe than most of his contemporaries. But he is no elitist. We are reminded of 1 Corinthians chapter 13, where Paul argues that all such visions and revelations mean nothing without something more fundamental: love.

            Paul knows that he is fallible and flawed. He diligently prayed that God might remove one such weakness, a mysterious "thorn in the flesh,” but God refused saying, “It's there for a purpose, Paul." God doesn't even suggest that Paul overcome this thorn. In fact, just the opposite. He says,

            "Accept it, Paul, you aren't perfect and you never will be."

            "My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in weakness."  Chosen of God, like David before him, Paul was one of God's flawed, but valiant warriors.

            Our third valiant warrior this morning is the Son of God himself.  We read of Jesus’ attempt to minister to the citizens of his hometown Nazareth - and it's not working.

            After the healing of a woman who had suffered for 12 years from hemorrhages and after the raising of the dead child of Jairus, Jesus goes home to Nazareth along with his disciples. He teaches in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and the people are amazed both at his teaching and at the rumors circulating about the healings. For a moment we think they may welcome him as "hometown boy makes good.” But no, what is about to happen is rejection, the same kind of rejection that would dog his trail all the way to Good Friday. "He could do no mighty work there . . . because of their unbelief."

             Jesus is not the one who is flawed here. But the circumstances were flawed. His deeper ministry, his deeper understanding of spiritual healing, God's purpose could not take root here with these particular people, at this particular time. It's easy enough to view this story under the heading of "familiarity breeds contempt." Jesus even invites this interpretation with his "A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country." Yet there is an issue here that runs much deeper and with greater, even devastating importance.

            Yes, by God! Jesus was the carpenter’s son. He was the brother of James and Simon. He was a man, yet he could perform miracles.  He was God, yet he was born into a local family.  Downtown Nazareth was having none of that. And downtown Anchorage isn’t all that comfortable with it either. The mystery of the "Divine Human" holds our greatest comfort, namely that wherever we go in suffering, in hurt and sorrow and despair, God has gone there first, goes with us, shows up when needed, and is glad to be there with us and for us.

            The first great heresy in the church was not the denial of Christ's divinity, but the denial of his full humanity. We want a warrior God who comes up like thunder, and we are offended by one who puts himself/herself at our mercy and who now and then looks a lot like the boy or girl next door.

            When we begin to really believe, when we seek God in the ordinary, daily wash of things, we find God in nothing more complicated than each other and in God's beautiful, dangerous, gorgeous creation. We are God’s all very human, but valiant warriors.  Through us, with God beside us and in us, works of mercy and compassion, works of healing and commiseration, works of forgiveness and understanding can and will happen. 

            Jesus knew this when he sent out his disciples. Human and flawed as they were, he sent them out two by two to preach from town to town.  They were just like you and me.  They hadn’t attained entrance into a third heaven; they were firmly rooted right here on earth.  Heaven would come later.

            It must have been frightening, knowing how little they really understood. But these very human warriors took their first steps on a journey to bring a deeper understanding of God's will to God’s people.

            What does this mean for us? Don't wait for perfection. Go forward valiantly. Let the flaws fall where they may. In each of us there is the Human as well as the Divine. Honor both, as we honor the human and divine in our Jesus Christ.

            Along with David, Paul, and all the disciples of Jesus, we stand proudly among God’s flawed, but valiant warriors.

Amen.

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