“Vocation to Nobility” – Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sermon

“Vocation to Nobility”

Trinity Church, Newport RI

Sunday September 2nd 2018

The Reverend Alan Neale

At long last (over four decades) I get to preach on the intriguing and sometimes frustrating Psalm 45, one of the royal psalms. We need our hearts to be stirred by noble things so we can be transformed and then empowered to be noble people and do noble things.

The sermon text follows the sermon audio. As is my occasional wont, I asked for a hymn to replace the Creed and Confession… “God of grace, God of glory… grant us courage for the living of these days” – the hymn provides opportunity both for an affirmation of faith and a confession of sin. Hymn tune and words below the sermon text.

 

 

Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI; Sunday September 2nd 2018

The Reverend Alan Neale; “The Vocation to Nobility”

Psalm 45:1 “My heart is stirring with a song of nobility.”

Even passing views, or transient auditions, of media in all its myriad forms this week presented the portrayal of life’s events with a noble, truly noble, theme.

The life, dying, death of Senator John McCain has not been presented with a saccharine veneer of goodness; the Senator’s life has been presented vigorously, constantly, thoroughly… and “warts and all” is a largely redundant phrase given the countless flights that speakers, in one breath, made twixt heroism and cantankerousness, spirituality and earthy language, irascibility and yet a readiness to seek resolution.

We have seen the truth of philosopher Kedar Joshi’s words, “He is man whose heart is spirited and eyes are wet each moment on account of the… nobility that decorates this world.”

The whole panoply of this great man’s life interwoven with words and music has caused many a heart to be stirred, a tear to be shed, a regret to be rued but, above all, a prayer made that… a “reset” occur in the standard of behavior in this great country… that a tide of respect will beat down heavily on a shoreline all too often strewn with the flotsam and jetsam, the debris of rudeness, indecency and malicious intent.

For decades I have dreaded a little that day in the church’s month when Psalm 45 is read at Morning Prayer; I remember (I can almost still hear) the groans of female colleagues and laity as they bemoaned the apparent sexism of today’s Psalm.

But today, for me at least, this Psalm is redeemed for it speaks to me of the daring of nobility, of the derivation of nobility and of the designation of nobility.

The Daring of Nobility (vv1-3)
There is something about the noble that ignites our spirits, shapes our behavior.
Friends, our hearts have been constructed to be stirred, inspired, even agitated by songs of nobility.
…our tongues have been created so that with eager readiness, acute alertness and artful skill they narrate stories of nobility.
And though verses 3 & 4 are omitted from today’s Psalm for some peculiar reason, I will refer to them for they speak of how nobility causes our words to be seasoned with grace and our pugnacity to be channeled into causes of truth, clemency and justice.
I am convinced that the regular re-presentation before my mind of the nobility of Jesus and His saints will enable me to dare… to dare for God great and holy things.
I am convinced that the regular re-presentation before my spirit of the nobility of Jesus as he embraces life and death will enable me to dare… to dare for God great and holy things.
Surely we have a vocation to put aside that which is demeaning, petty, small-minded and if we do not… then we dare little and achieve it resoundingly.

The Derivation of Nobility (vv.4-6)
Whether it be the modern edifice of an Arizonan Methodist Mega-Church or the ancient shape of Washington Cathedral – both structures were filled not only with words about Senator McCain but also, as strongly, words about the divine Lord whom the Senator worshipped, considered and did his best to follow – day by day.
Psalm 45, like many a Psalm, is not always clear as to the person being addressed… sometimes it’s the earthly king… at other times it’s God the King… (“the one who endures for ever and ever…”).
A similar uncertainty and confusion sometimes occurs in the minds of earthly leaders – fudging the distinction between the Creator and the Creature.
You will remember that when Oscar Wilde encountered the buffoon who boasted, “I am a self-made man”, Wilde responded, “Well, at least that relieves the Almighty of a terrible responsibility.”
No wonder that Step Two of 12 Step Programs reads, “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Sanity… nobility… we affirm that we are established deep in the being of God… the Creator, not the creature, defines what it is to be noble.

And, the Designation of Nobility (vv.7-10)
It would be a mean, nasty, teasing sort of God that caused our hearts to flicker at the sound, the sight of nobility and yet stopped there.
But we do not have to do with such a God… and that which we are called to be by divine fiat, we are enabled to become by divine grace.
v. 8 “Your God has anointed you with the oil of gladness… creations of garments and compositions of songs bring joy to your heart…”
By God’s abundant goodness we, each of us, are designated as noble daughters and sons of the most high and what God calls us to be, He enables us to be by the powerful love, His transforming grace and the dynamic Holy Spirit.
Please do not be tricked into surrendering this hope of nobility as you consider what at times seems such a slow and troubled progress. Hemingway (perhaps) wrote this, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow men. True nobility lies in being superior to your former self” – we look for progress, not for perfection, in ourselves and in others – herein is nobility.

So, these past few days I have watched Honor Guards in an Arizonan Methodist Mega-Church, on an airfield tarmac, in the Gothic majesty of National Cathedral. But also… on Thursday evening in Newport when, at the conclusion of a wedding, I called an Honor Guard to take position and salute the newly-weds with an arch of sabers and… I was surprised, even here I wept.

And I wondered why? Why? Because I hoped and prayed in that moment… that the couple would take equal meticulous care to guard their honor, their respect for each other as did those six marines for them.

Why? Because I dare to hope for a resurrection of honor and nobility in our lives and in our relating… one to another in the name, in the pattern, in the power of God. Oh, yes, my heart aches to be stirred and my lips be moved by stories of nobility in these days, throughout this land… beginning here. AMEN

God of Grace, God of Glory!

1 God of grace and God of glory,
on your people pour your power;
crown your ancient church’s story,
bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour,
for the facing of this hour.

2 Lo! the hosts of evil round us
scorn the Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the living of these days,
for the living of these days.

3 Cure your children’s warring madness;
bend our pride to your control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal,
lest we miss your kingdom’s goal.

4 Save us from weak resignation
to the evils we deplore;
let the gift of your salvation
be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
serving you whom we adore,
serving you whom we adore.

“Over/Under-whelming” – Sunday, August 26

The two texts to which I refer in today’s sermon are texts that have long intrigued and engaged me; I am so joyfully fortunate to have yet another opportunity to preach a sermon on texts… for the first time ever!

The sermon text (basically) follows after the sermon audio.

 

 

Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport, Rhode Island; Sunday August 26th 2018 The Reverend Alan Neale; “Over/Under-whelming”

Today I share with you, from our Scripture readings, two very different experiences on the spiritual journey; they seem poles apart and yet I believe they are connected by a common desire to love, serve and know the Lord.

1 Kings 8:11 “The priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.”

Professional Christians, clergy, are a “rum lot”… or they can be.

They deal with holy things as a matter of course and with such familiarity comes the danger of nonchalance if not contempt.

They are privy to personal secrets, incongruous hypocrisy, radical foibles (maybe the Episcopal euphemism for sins)… so much so that sometimes they are near to despair that they will ever enjoy personally or observe vicariously divine grace at its most transformative.

This professional caste can be a jaded, church-weary, cynical lot so I am amazed…

… when I read, in our text, that something so profound happened in the temple that these professionals could not stand to minister, were not able to minister… I am in awe and wonder and, frankly, I want/I covet this experience for myself.

The historian of the Kings writes of that “the glory of the Lord filled the whole house”. And in so doing the writer speaks of the powerful and pervasive presence of God.

Powerful… in using a grammatical circumlocution (the glory of the Lord rather than the Lord) reminds the readers that it is a fearful, awesome thing to stand in the presence of God without intermediary.

Pervasive… every aspect, every corner, every vessel is alive with the divine glory and this is the very nature of glory… it seeks to be pervasive, takes up residence throughout our being and strives to pulsate in every facet of our lives.

I want/I covet this experience for myself… for you… for this church community. That all we are, that all we do throb with the beat of divine glory.

This experience is available… it will enable us to stand with dignity (as did the people 8:14, as did King Solomon 8:22); it will enlarge our perspective, extend our embrace, stretch our acceptance so that (8:43) “all the people of the earth may know Your name.”

This is experience is available… I read on Friday these words written by a doctor to an addict; the doctor was writing of the importance of
“…vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They ap¬pear to be in the nature of huge emotional displace¬ments and rearrangements.
Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of (men and women) are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them. In fact, I have been trying to produce some such emotional rearrangement within you.”

I am reminded that a friend recently told me, “Every morning I pray that God will get into my head… before I do.”

So the Lord deals with us… “trying constantly to produce some emotional rearrangement within us” that we may be dominated by the will, the glory of the Lord” instead of our own “self-will, run riot.”

Oh but before, dear listener, you decide that this is not the path for you I have some news… this radical encounter with the Living God, this experience of spectacular transformation though available… is not required.

There is, indeed for some, a “softer, gentler way” that may well suffice… at least for the moment.
Let’s jump centuries ahead to today’s Gospel.

John 6:60 “Many of his disciples found the teaching hard and began to turn back and no longer go about with Jesus”; as some translators wryly comment (given this is all about bread) “many of his disciples found this hard to swallow… and turned away.”

At this point I am fascinated to consider the thinking of Jesus – was he merely concerned, or somewhat alarmed, or rather indifferent that his band of followers was diminishing. Whatever Jesus is thinking, he is prompted to turn to his closest friends, the twelve and he asks them (is this plaintive or not?) (John 6:67 Message Translation) “Do you also want to leave?”

Now at this point it would have been… nice, reassuring, comforting, strengthening to hear a passionate, whole-hearted, unequivocal yes for Jesus… but instead comes this somewhat feeble response from Peter (of all people)… “To whom would we go? What else can we do?”

And St Athanasius observes, “It is the part of true godliness not to compel but to persuade. Our Lord himself does not employ force but offers the choice.”
And this, my friends, is when the more hesitant amongst us can breathe a sigh of relief… sometimes all we can muster on our spiritual journey is this shaky affirmation, “Lord, we’re here… what else can we do? Where else can we go? Whom else can we follow?”

And for some, for a while this is sufficient… as long as we do not lose hope that one day, somehow, we will experience the glory of the Lord that will transform and empower us.

I Kings 8:11 “The priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.”

Available always… required never. Thank you, Lord. Amen

 

Today I awake and God is before me.
At night, as I dreamt, God summoned the day;
For God never sleeps but patterns the morning
with slithers of gold or glory in grey.

Today I arise and Christ is beside me.
He walked through the dark to scatter new light,
Yes, Christ is alive, and beckons his people
to hope and to heal, resist and invite.

Today I affirm the Spirit within me
at worship and work, in struggle and rest.
The Spirit inspires all life which is changing
from fearing to faith, from broken to blest.

Today I enjoy the Trinity round me,
above and beneath, before and behind;
The Maker, the Son, the Spirit together
they called me to life and call me their friend.

“Intervention – Firm and Loving” – August 5, 2018

Sermon “Intervention – Firm and Loving”. Sunday August 5th 2018. Trinity Church, Newport RI. The Reverend Alan Neale

 

The passage from 2 Samuel 12 where Nathan confronts David is a powerful, challenging story. It deals with the uncovering of power abuse and truth denial. I heard yesterday that most of us struggle in some way from being abused… though the perpetrators come in different forms both outside and even within. We should covet Nathan’s boldness but also David’s readiness to hear – to accept truth and be changed through confession and restoration.

The text below the sermon audio approximates (!) to what was preached.

 

 

Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI; Sunday August 5th 2018 The Reverend Alan Neale; “Intervention – Firm and Loving”

So many times I hear wedding couples bemoan the inordinate, mammoth amount of details involved in planning a wedding, and I try to be sympathetic! One of the most complicated tasks is to plan the seating at the reception; trying to match the wrong people at the right table. One challenge of course is “where shall I put the priest?”. Well, that is nothing compared to the task, “Where shall I put the prophet, the prophet Nathan.” He seems so unpredictable – accommodating one moment, and embarrassing the next.

According to Chronicles Nathan was an historian of the reigns of David and Solomon; he was involved in the music of the temple. All this suggests to me a sociable, sensitive, agreeable man but… contrast the man we see in today’s reading who dares to stride into the king’s presence, seduce him with a moral story and then denounce him as one who abuses the weak and exploits the powerless.

Two weeks ago we read how Nathan chastises the king and thwarts his plans for self-aggrandisement; today he denounces the king. But this is also the man who offers comfort and counsel to the dying king and is winsome, agreeable enough that Bathsheba and David name their first viable child… Nathan!

During a pre-marital conversation yesterday, one partner spoke of the importance of “truth-telling in love.” This is no simple task… as Bill Wilson writes in a letter (1966) “Sometimes we need to place love ahead of indiscriminate ‘factual honesty.’ We cannot, under the guise of ‘perfect honesty,’ cruelly and unnecessarily hurt others.”

I covet Nathan’s boldness but also yearn for his winsomeness that caused even the castigated and challenged, the rebuked and reprimanded to remain in a circle of friendship and respect.

We hear much today of the phrase “truth to power”. It is as old as ancient Greece known then as ‘parrhesia’; it is similar to the tactic Satyagrapha (“truth-force”) used by Gandhi in seeking independence from the British. And one critic, speaking of Salinger’s ‘Catcher in the Rye’, speaks of its ‘truth-to-power vibe, calling out all the phonies, as gut-punching now as ever.”

Nathan is the very personification of ‘truth to power’, he dares to enter an arena in which he could lose not only his livelihood, his reputation but even his very life (remember what happened to that other “truth to power” emblem, John Baptist – he lost his head!

Here Christians, the Church, find ourselves in miry and controversial ground – we want to be both pastoral and yet also prophetic… and friends this is not an easy vocation, though our vocation I believe it to be.

Consider, for a few moments, Nathan. He spoke with courage, clarity and compassion.

Courage! I remember, years ago in Oxford, I was showing a Norwegian Christian the city. When we returned to the college she expressed her surprise at the number of Christian texts she saw on billboards large and often. When asked to explain, she said, “Everywhere it reads ‘Take Courage’”. I just had to let her know that Courage was a popular beer not a reference to Joshua chapter 1. But we need to “take courage” and we do that as we spend time in the presence of God and the presence of God’s people. I read yesterday, “Lack of power, that is our real dilemma” – but it need not, should not be our dilemma.

Clarity! I consider it to be one of the most dramatic moments in Holy Scripture when Nathan has engaged King David in moral outrage, the king demands the name of the wretched and unjust perpetrator and then (probably after a moment of silence as the two men stare at each other)… Nathan declares, “You are the man.” There is no equivocation, no fudging of issues, no evasion… caginess… or ambiguity. “You are the man.” I remember the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:37) “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ Anything more comes from the evil one.” We must strive toward, we must maintain (with the help of God) the goal that we mean what we say, though we be not mean when we say it.

Compassion! Despite these radical engagements between Nathan and David, there remains between them a relationship of friendship and respect. As he is dying so David calls for his friend Nathan; as David and Bathsheba seek to name their first viable child so they name him “Nathan.” I believe that the telling of the story about the poor, the rich man, the sheep was done so that David’s sense of moral outrage could be stirred and so that the moment of great revelation and truth (“You are the man”) was more palatable, more able to be received.

Nathan was determined to uncover abuse of power and to reveal the truth. Similarly churches locally, nationally, globally have also been dealing, continue to deal, with situations in which ordained power has been used to abuse and to deny the truth. We are, at the very least, in process and this process we will not surrender.

But there are two major protagonists in today’s story from Samuel; one to whom we have given much attention, Nathan, but remember also David.

In that obviously and ostensibly flawed man, there remained the man whom God could use; how comes? Because David was able, somehow, to hear the truth and be changed.

Friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, our vocation is to be Nathan but our reality is to be David… with some hesitation and some temerity, I want to be ready, willing and able to hear God’s voice challenge me as Nathan once challenged David; are you ready to commit to this journey again. This I know, this will lead to a life more free, more useful… beyond my imaginings.

So be it, AMEN.

“Peace” – July 22, 2018

Truly from a bountiful array of possible sermon themes, I felt the Lord lead to a particular theme this morning “He/Christ is our Peace.” As I heard the rain pouring on dry ground so I thought of how often our lives are so thirsty for peace. The sermon text is below the sermon audio (they only approximate to one another).

 

 

Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI
Sunday July 22nd 2018
The Reverend Alan Neale
“Peace”

Having signed the Anglo-German Declaration with Adolf Hitler on September 30th 1938 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street, London and announced, “My good friends, (I) have returned Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”

All too sadly, we know, the ‘nice quiet sleep’ did not endure for many days and the peace to which Mr. Chamberlain referred proved only too fragile and transient.

Compare and contrast Ephesians 2:14 Paul declares in ringing tones to the Ephesian church and to the church for generations to come, “Christ is our peace”… and this peace has proved to be constant, irreversible and impermeable to all attack. “Christ is our peace”… it is the understanding, the deep appropriation in our being, that enables us daily (in the words of Appeaser Neville Chamberlain) “to go home and get a nice quiet sleep.”

With enormous economy of word, St. Paul makes in this single verse three statements about peace that encourage, inspire and transform us.

But first… let it be known that before ever nations and leaders talked about the importance of peace in local, national and global arena; it was the God of Abraham and the God of Jesus, it was Judaeo-Islamic-Christian Scriptures that pronounced the signal, primal and psychic importance of peace. To wish another peace, to strive for peace is to live and breathe an atmosphere in which peace (at-one-ment) is available for us in relation to our creation, ourselves, our fellows and our God!

But the text… Ephesians 2:14 “He/Christ is our Peace”

The Person, the Process and the Purview of Peace.

First, the Person of Peace.

For Paul, for the church, for us it is not possible to speak of peace without speaking of the person of Jesus Christ. I am not permitted to talk of peace as some disinterested, impersonal, objective and academic subject. It is by His presence and by His work that Jesus creates peace – in his very body the awful tragic work for peace is wrought! (Cf. the Fraction!)

But there is more… peace on any scale (simple and profound), peace must involve both person and personal commitment. No leader of family, industry, church or state… no leader with integrity can espouse a vocation to peace unless she/he first be on the path of personal peace and reconciliation. Jesus makes this unutterably plain, it is simply incontrovertible. When we sue for peace, we are to invite Jesus into the dynamic; and when we sue for peace, we must expect to carry some pain even within ourselves… for the work of peace involves person.

Second, the Process of Peace.

Now I hesitate to proceed along the path of such detailed exposition that even the word “is” becomes eloquent and yet here… in this text, the use of present tense is expressive and articulate. We know that Paul was convinced that the work on the Cross was an historic event, we know that there was a sacrifice once made that need never be repeated, we know he believed we have been saved (a done deal) and yet… Christ is our peace. The past reference does not preclude the present experience of peace and the ongoing commitment to process. Friends, there are so many instances in our lives where we are aware of only “peace in process”… friendships remain in tatters, once close relationships are tentative and fragile… we do not lose hope because we are people of process.

It is a devilish ploy that encourages us to surrender the process because we have not achieved the perfect result; yes, we stand on firm ground of peace achieved between women/men and God but that peace needs be worked out in daily living. It is, to refer again to WWII, as if we celebrate the event of D-Day and yet still labor towards V-Day, final victory.

Third, the Purview of Peace.

“He/Christ is our peace” – the arena, the place, the purview of peace is, and always will be, in community. Christ is our peace and this peace may not be unilaterally snatched as belonging to one group or one caste or even one individual. Christ is our peace and what is afforded to us must be exercised, tested, expressed in community… it is no toy with which to play, but rather a tool with which to work; it is not for occasional adoration and stored away, it is for our engagement for the living of these days.

Later in Ephesians 2 (verse 17) Paul urges the proclamation, the sharing of peace and this, friends, we do not only by word but also by example.

How can we expect those as yet outside the church community to believe “Christ is our peace” if we show ourselves patently, palpably unable to work out peace and reconciliation amongst ourselves (doubtless, the prospect of Prayer Book revision will challenge our vocation to peace in community!)

So the Psalmist declares (Psalm 117) “How wonderful a thing it is when brothers and sisters dwell in unity… for there the Lord has commanded the blessing”… yes, for there is the blessing of a powerful, life-transforming witness to the peace that Christ affords.

Christ is our Peace – the person, the process and the purview.

I grow in my faith that the very words of Holy Scripture carry within themselves a power that thwarts the evil and promotes the good; I grow in my faith that the very words of Holy Scripture uniquely and solely effect change that is radical and pervasive.

I ask you to carry this text with you into this coming week… and when you confront, or are propelled into situations, of angst, dis-ease and conflict to stop and recite this text often… “Christ is Our Peace.”

I finish with words from our final hymn..

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.

AMEN

“Would you believe it?” – July 8, 2018

I think the concept that Jesus (Son of God, Son of Man) can be amazed, shocked about anything is in itself… amazing and shocking. No wonder that such a human characteristic is found in the very human Gospel of Mark. Like many sermons there were themes that once outlined, I wanted to pursue with vigor… but did not. The sermon audio is of the early 8am service; the 10am was a lot more vigorous and, I think, more overtly evangelistic looking for a response from the hearers. The Bill Wilson quotation (at the end of the sermon) was followed by a reminder that we are called to admit our need, believe God can rescue and transform us and then… commit our lives to God – this, I said, is a way that we can amaze Jesus and I ended with “So, let’s do it.”

As the famous summary of the first three steps goes: “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him.”

The basic sermon text is below the audio!

Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI
Sunday July 8 2018
The Reverend Alan Neale
“Would you believe it?”

Mark 6:6 Jesus was amazed, stunned, flabbergasted. To use a colloquial British expression (forgive me, so close to Independence Day!)… “He was gobsmacked.” The Greek word ethaumazen may even allow us to read “traumatized.”

Reflecting on this text from today’s Gospel has made me think that what amazes us, what shocks us says a lot about our sensibilities and priorities. Sadly as one grows older there is a tendency to become unshockable, the gift of wonder is less rarely entertained and in its place begins to develop an unattractive crust of jaded cynicism, of world-weariness. Rather like that Yorkshire farmer (remember I’m from London) who turning to see his horse had collapsed and died tersely commented, “He’s not done that before.”

But Mark the Gospel writer presents us with Jesus who, though God incarnate (Son of Man, Son of God), still has the capacity to be surprised, shocked… sometimes by that which is good (remember how impressed Jesus was by the obedience of the soldier) but more often by that which is not so good, by that which is disappointing, depressing, disheartening.

Mark 6:6 Jesus was amazed by their unbelief, or we can read “by their misbelief.” You see the profound challenge, with eternal significance, is not so much to believe but to believe the right thing, to have the right image.

Jesus was amazed at what the people thought about themselves (their anthropology).

Jesus was amazed at what the people thought about Him (their Christology, their theology).

First, their shocking self-image. There seemed to be a vigorous, energetic, consuming, pervasive self-image that argued that nothing good could from their kin, their friends, their hometown. Maybe in recent years/generations PLU (“people like us”) was a concept used to establish importance, significance but not so in Nazareth – here PLU was a concept from which you ran, oh very much would you want to shake the Nazareth dust from a pair of stylish sandals! No wonder Nathanael exclaims (John 1:46) “Can anything good come out of Nazareth.” And afflicted with this wretched self-image it seemed the Nazarenes did all they could to share the disease with others and so it was projected liberally… even onto Jesus.

Second, their shocking Jesus-image. Doubtless the people of Nazareth had heard rumors about the magnetic teaching and marvelous miracles of Jesus. Doubtless Jesus was not only followed by disciples and admirers but also preceded by tales of wonder. And yet… it seemed they clung tightly to the view that diminished not only the power of Jesus but also His particular interest in them.
“Oh… we know his family”… and the pregnant pause and the raised eyebrow would cause the scandal around his birth to be suddenly present without uttering a word!
“Oh… we know his trade, look at his hands… a carpenter.” “And they took offence at him” and the Greek word for ‘take offence’ is scandalidzo… they were scandalized! And their offence, their sense of scandal, their refusal to acknowledge the truth about Jesus led to (how pathetique) “only a few sick people being healed.”

Frankly, I will admit, this is all a mystery to me… a mystery I embrace, with which I can live but a mystery all the same. A mystery… that my low image of self and God somehow confines divine activity to heal, make whole; to restore and reconcile.

Paul eventually seemed to get it right, though for him it was definitely a journey. The man who once saw himself as worst of sinners and saw God as punishing and vindictive is now the man who writes in today’s second reading (2 Corinthians)…
“I glory in, boast of, my weakness, frailty, so that God’s power may reside within me.” The weakness in us, our very vulnerability, becomes the crucible in which strength and grace are created by the magic of the divine economy.
At last we see ourselves beloved and treasured by God, and at last we see God as full of grace – boundless, overflowing.

So I must ask myself, and you, is this how I see myself… is this how I see God. Acceptance of powerlessness, belief in a gracious God and a commitment to give my life to Him/Her?

Once, in days long ago as told in our first reading, the people of God lived powerfully in the land where a young shepherd could become king and a mighty Creator could become a tender shepherd. It is our vocation to reclaim this for ourselves and for our church… day by day by day.

The co-founder of AA, Bill Wilson, once wrote these words, “The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our heart and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves.

This is on offer for each of us today, right now… and this is… amazing!

Just think we can amaze Jesus not by our disbelief but by our belief… our belief that confesses our need, affirms God’s power to save and transform and our commitment to give our lives to him. We can amaze Jesus… so, let’s do it!