As you all know, I spent this past week at our Synod’s Confirmation Camp at Nanoose Bay just outside of Nanaimo on the Island, and as usual, it was a very busy and at times stressful week. Not only do I have to come up with a week-long lesson plan for a bunch of confirmation students whom I’ve never met, but I had to make sure that my own kids who I typically bring with me are well fed, rested, and mostly hygienically clean. So with pretty much nothing else on my mind the past few days, what else could I talk about in my sermon?
Not that I was trying to force it or anything, but something actually did happen during the week that was eye opening for me. It wasn’t part of the engaging worship that Pastor Eric from Good Shepherd led us in, it wasn’t from the amazing stories that we heard from the pastors and campers about their experiences around the week and beyond, it wasn’t even from the compelling and informative lessons that I taught to the class I was in charge of. The moment actually came during the campfire… well, right before it, anyway.
Normally every year that I am at camp, I am in charge of starting the fire. It is something that I enjoy because I’m not usually allowed or encouraged to destroy something with fire in normal situations, but I get to at camp. And I have to admit, I am pretty good at it. Or so I thought.
On the third night we had a little bit of rain and our selection of dry wood was scarce and I didn’t have a good working lighter. So, I couldn’t start the fire. I tried and tried, like Tom Hanks in Castaway, but I was unsuccessful. I kept going like for a half hour and the kids started heading to the fire pit, which of course made the situation even more stressful.
And as you might have imagined, the more people showed up, the more opinions and meddling came with them. Suddenly everyone was an expert and needed to get their 2 cents in on how it should be done. Some even just started adding wood and various other combustibles to the yet unlit fire, thinking that this is how to do it. In my frustration, I decided to not speak my very irritated and stressed out mind and just let them do their thing. I’m sure one of them in this growing group of people would be able to start it, so I let them figure it out because we really needed this fire started. I sat back and held my kids away from trying to help.
Lo and behold, after a little while the group weeded out and all that was left was this one kid that I admit did know what he was talking about. He rebuilt the mess of wood, placed the kindling in the correct spot, and fanned where he should at the speed that gives just enough air it needs. And the fire was lit!
Again, I am the usual firestarter of the camp, and I am pretty confident in my firestarting abilities. So it was hard for me to see this other group of people, most of which had no idea what they were doing, try to take over and act all like the expert that I know I am. It was tough for me to swallow my pride and hand the reigns to someone else. It wasn’t easy to actually do what I did and step back, quite honestly I was surprised myself with how I did that. Maybe because my own kids were watching and I constantly have to tell them to share and not think that they can do everything themselves.
And really? I’m glad I did, because who knows? I might still be there now trying to light that darned fire. And with the rain we had at the camp since then, it probably just would have gotten worse. So I learned a valuable lesson there in humility, that sometimes being persistent on my own and being overly confident in my abilities doesn’t always get things done, but I need to admit when I sometimes need help and accept it when offered by others. Otherwise, I might not get the help that I need and I probably couldn’t have done it myself.
So I wonder if there was a little of this happening in today’s gospel lesson. Not that the people of Jesus’ hometown needed help building a fire, but it seemed like they were unable to see Jesus for what Jesus could do for them. Instead, they couldn’t see past their own assumptions of Jesus, which effectively rendered him powerless.
Funny, isn’t it, to hear that Jesus was basically powerless? We don’t often hear that unless he purposely is being powerless to, you know, die on the cross to save us all or something. But to hear that he actually could do no deed of power? That is like crazy talk.
But it is how Mark reports it, besides a couple of healings, Jesus couldn’t do anything for these people. He himself was amazed, just as much as we are. And it would seem, especially if you read my blog post from this past week, that I would just say that we should be more humble and give into the help that Jesus wants to give, and everything would be honky dory, right? You’d think that since Jesus was powerless to help those of his hometown because they were being all stuck up that we could make Jesus powerless because we could be stuck up too, right? It might be nice to wrap this up in a pretty little package and say “be humble, you ingrates” and just end the sermon here, right?
No such luck. For either of us.
I think Jesus’ powerlessness is more than that. I think the fact that Jesus couldn’t do much for his hometown does have to do with the level of familiarity the people had with him, yes, but there is more to the story than that. I do think that the people in the story along with ourselves need to learn how to be humble in order to be able to accept God’s action in our lives, but the story doesn’t end with just that. I do think that our acceptance of God’s presence in our lives is important for our own understanding and recognition of said presence, but there is another step that we see in these texts.
After Jesus finds that he wasn’t all that effective, he himself calls for back up.
I know right? What a plot twist!
Jesus comments on how a prophet can’t get no r-e-s-p-e-c-t in their own hometown, he goes and sends others who aren’t from that town. He calls on his disciples, his students, his friends, and sends them out and tells them how he does things and gives them the power to do those things. He teaches them how to be hospitable and gracious, and how to react when even then people don’t listen.
And then in turn he goes and he calls us, each and every one of us in this room, to continue in the work. Yes, we need to be humble to accept God’s help, but we also need to be humble to hear God’s call. Because we sometimes have to give up a little of ourselves to know that God can use us. We sometimes have to take ourselves down a notch just to see how God can be strengthening us. We sometimes have to take a step back, swallow our pride, and know that we can make a difference, we can contribute to society and the world, we can see God’s power made perfect in our weakness.
But all that is hard when we can’t see past our own agendas, our own wishlists of things to do and accomplish, our own desires for fortune and fame. Rather, by accepting the fact that we can be more, that we can be blessed with gifts and talents, that we can be called into service, then we might see and know that God is with us, ahead of us leading us, and behind us giving us that nudge to go forth into to world to proclaim God’s good news.
See, those people who helped me make the fire? Yeah, they couldn’t have helped me if I didn’t accept their help, if I refused their advice, if I told them that I got this and that they should just get lost. But they also couldn’t have helped me if they didn’t offer to help to begin with. And of course people will offer to build fires, because that is so dang fun, but it is harder to offer help to someone in need, a meal to a stranger who is hungry, some money to a friend who is down and out, or even a place to worship for an acquaintance who is searching. I know it’s hard, because I’ve faced those tough decisions myself.
But it is in that exact place where it is difficult, that exact place where we are unsure, that exact place that we are weak that God’s power is made perfect, and that we are strengthened to do God’s will for the sake of the world. I know, it almost sounds circular in that God needs us to do this but we need God to do that before we can do this but if God can do that for us to do this then why doesn’t God just do whatever it is without us and so on and so forth.
Unfortunately that isn’t the point. The point is that God calls us. God empowers us. And God remains with us throughout the times of our weakness and insecurities and continues to call and empower. God doesn’t call all of us to be in full time ministry. God doesn’t call all of us to pack our bags and go off into seminary. God doesn’t even call all of us to be the most charitable and hospitable person in the room. But God does call us.
To help. To serve. To love. God calls us. God trusts us. God needs us.
Not that God cannot do it alone, but God’s desire for community and right relationship among us drives us to go out and further that community and ministry among all whom we encounter.
So yes we should be humble. Yes we should answer God’s call. And yes we should see the importance of that community and right relationship that joins us all together in the body of Christ, the kingdom of God.
In this season after Pentecost, where we look at church growth and ministry, let us look at our own personal ministries and see where God is already working in our lives, and follow the call to continue in that ministry and service to our community, our neighbourhood, and all those we meet. Thanks be to God. Amen.