In today’s Gospel reading, we see Jesus being astounded at the unbelief of the people. Some folks were asking how He knew all this stuff. Others, who apparently knew him, were saying, “Oh, come on, this is Jesus. He’s a nobody just like us. What makes Him so special?” Familiarity breeds contempt. I know that often I go into places where I am familiar and I don’t get taken seriously as a priest, a theologian, or any other sort of Christian minister. “There goes Seraphim, playing priest-man again!” As most of you know, I am an ex-Mormon. When I was in Utah in the early 1990’s, I was not only not taken seriously, but I was actively shunned by many folks because I was an apostate. I lost jobs because of it. Of course, as many can testify, the local Sanhedrin control all aspects of life there. It was no different in the Judaea of Jesus’ time. Jesus was not a great rabbinical student. He did not hob-knob with the crowd that Caiaphas hung out with nor rub elbows with Pilate’s or Herod’s friends.
Yet he still sends folks out two by two immediately after all this mocking and tells them, ‘He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”‘ Why? The Gospel of Peace must be preached. It must be made available so that every man, woman, and child may have the opportunity to grow something marvelous from the mustard seed of faith that God has given to all who live. St. Paul asks somewhere, “How will they know, if they do not hear. And how will they hear, if someone is not sent?” As members of the Order of Preachers, Reformed, we are among those that are sent. Each in our various ways are sent to someone somewhere.
But there is a price. There is an old acronym: TANSTAAFL: “Their ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” We will pay a price for following Jesus. If we are not paying a price, we are not truly following him, I think. For some the price may be low and for others it will be high. For some it is all – martyrdom.
The Holy Spirit entered into Ezekiel and told him that he was being sent to the rebellious house of Israel. God had a message: forgiveness for those who would repent and change their lives to conform to His. But either way, He tells Ezekiel, “Whether or not they listen to you, they will know that a prophet was among them!” That really could have gone to Ezekiel’s head, but it didn’t.
St. Paul did get a bit proud. He had been chosen by the Resurrected Christ. He had been made an Apostle of the Creator of heaven and earth and all that therein is. He tells us, however, that God sent a “thorn in the flesh” to buffet him and keep him from getting prideful about it. He prayed three times to have it removed but instead of removing it, the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” St. Paul learned to boast in his weakness instead. When we are weak, then is God’s power free to reign in us; we are no longer the monarchs of our lives. Then will we be a true mirror reflecting His image. Then will we leave people knowing we are Christians by our love, as the old hymn says.
So often we pray for things that we believe will help us out and God answers our prayers … with a resounding, “No.” I often assumed early on that God was calling me to be a pastor. That’s what all priests are supposed to be, aren’t they? No, and I would have failed His calling had I run off in that direction. I would dearly love to say mass in a beautiful neo-Gothic church with vestments of gold damask, 24 karat altar wares, a well trained choir, and … I think you get the idea here. None of these things are, in all honesty, conducive to my calling as a religious priest and hermit. All of them would likely have made me very proud had I succeeded in starting a church and obtained a building and all those things.
As clergy and religious, we need to be more on guard against pride than any other group. We all want to see miracles. I have seen several genuine miracles in my life. We all want to see phenomenal growth in our churches and ministries. We want to help large numbers of poor. We naturally want to boast of the greatness of our churches and denominations.
Let pause that thought for just a minute for a particularly poignant object lesson God once gave me about that. I was living in Michigan and rarely went to church because I worked graveyard shift. One Sunday I was feeling rested enough to stay up for church. My wife and I were attending an Assembly of God parish in our little town. We went early enough to attend a Sunday School class, too. All throughout the class, a long time member kept saying, “The Assemblies of God do this,” and, “The Assemblies of God do that.” In under ten minutes’ time, I was thinking “This guy knows all about the Assembly of God, but does he know anything at all about the God of the Assembly?” His pride in his denomination bordered on idolatry, by all appearances. We must never let ourselves get there.
But we must remember whether events in our ministries are Providential or miraculous, good or bad, it is God Who is the source and supply of all. We must be His hands, His ears, His mouth to others. We cannot be our own. We must follow the example of Him Who came not to be served, but to serve. We, the servants, are not greater than our Master.