Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
God doesn’t give up on us- ever. No matter how hard-headed or weak we might be, God does not give up on us. Salvation history, recorded all throughout Genesis through Revelation and through practically every experience of God, we see that God comes to stubborn and weak people over and over again. No matter how hopeless they might be, no matter how sinful they might be, no matter how self-absorbed they might be, no matter how weak they might be- God brings the Good News of restoration, healing, and salvation to them.
We could spend all day talking about examples that we find in the Bible and in our day-to-day life, but we can focus on just a couple from our readings.
First, there is Ezekiel. He is a priest of God during the Exile of Israel. Israel had just lost a war with the much bigger nation, Babylon, and most of the survivors were carried away to Babylon (away from their home) to live as little more than slaves. The people are without hope. Some believe that being separated from the land God gave them means that they are separated from God’s own self. Others believe that even if God could still be their God in this enemy’s land, God wouldn’t want to. Many people believed that losing the war was a sign that God had rejected them as God’s own people. So when Ezekiel gets a message from God, that itself is a sign that God has not given up on him or his people. When Ezekiel hears the first syllable of the first word God speaks, that would have been enough. With the sound of God’s voice, he and we can know that God is not lost to us, even in the most hopeless of situations- even when we are convinced that God is angry with us beyond measure and even when we think that the enemies that surround us have destroyed all hope of joy and peace. Even then, God’s voice breaks through our hard hearts.
Then, God gives Ezekiel a message. The message sounds scary and condemning. God commands Ezekiel to speak to his fellow exiled people and God characterizes the people as “a nation of rebels… [who have] transgressed against [God]…” and who are “impudent and stubborn.” At first glance it sounds like God has written them off. But God still sends Ezekiel to proclaim this message of repentance. If God really thought they were beyond hope in that they were too stubborn and rebellious to ever listen to God again, God wouldn’t have wasted God’s time. God would have found a new chosen people. God sees the reality of the stubbornness and rebelliousness of the people, but God still won’t give up on them. God still sends a message of repentance so that they might not live in sin, shame, and hopelessness- that they might look up from their selves and see God again.
Second, we have Paul. God didn’t give up on Paul even though he was one of the first persecutors of the church. Paul (then known as Saul) stood by and watched approvingly as the first Christian martyr, Stephen, was stoned to death. Even so, God chose Saul, gave him the new name Paul, and gave him the task of sharing the Good News of Jesus throughout the known world. Paul himself recognizes his own limitations. He mentions a “thorn” in his side. There has been much speculation as to what this “thorn” actually is: some say it was his opponents who spoke against his message about Jesus, some say it was a physical challenge such as bad eyesight or chronic pain, some say it was a temptation to fall into sin. Whatever it was, Paul didn’t like it and he wanted it to go away. When he prayed for it to be removed, God’s response was simply, “My grace is sufficient.” Even with this thorn constantly piercing Paul’s side, God has promised to support Paul and help him carry God’s message about Jesus to the ends of the earth.
Finally, there is Jesus. In our Gospel reading, Jesus comes back to his hometown and is thoroughly shocked when the people can’t see him as the Messiah or even as a prophet after they witness him teaching and hearing about his miraculous works. They can only see him as a carpenter and the illegitimate child of Mary. Then we get a paradoxical statement, “[Jesus] could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” Even after Jesus is thoroughly rejected, Jesus still cures the unbelieving people of their illnesses. Even after blatant rejection, he does not reject them, but instead continues to reach out to them and embrace them in love.
The King’s Speech, the Academy Award winning historical drama, tells the story of King George VI who had suffered from a stammering speech problem for most of his life. As a member of the royal family he has to make public speeches very often. He is charged with the daunting task of inspiring courage and hope in his people through his words and constant stuttering does not instill confidence in the face of great trials. King George VI or “Bertie” is weighed down by the responsibility of this great challenge further as he assumes the throne on the eve of World War II. Before he is crowned king, Bertie, reluctantly sees a speech therapist at the urging of his wife. Lionel Logue, the therapist, is unconventional in his methods, but he never gives up on his patient who also becomes his friend. They do all sorts of stretches, speaking exercises done with his wife sitting on his diaphragm, speaking slowly, speaking quickly, practicing tongue twisters. They do this day after day after day. Then, on the day of his coronation, Bertie loses his nerve and loses hope. War looms on the horizon and his old doubts about his ability to speak rise to the surface again when he finds out that his teacher and friend, Lionel Logue, lied about his teaching credentials. He laments that he will be forever known as “George the stammerer” “who let his people down in their hour of need.” In the middle of his self-deprecating speech (which he stammers though), Bertie turns around to find Lionel lounging on the royal throne and he grows very angry very quickly.
Lionel brought out Bertie’s passion for leading. In his anger and passion, Bertie defended his ability to lead and said so without stammering.
Lionel never gave up on his friend Bertie. When Bertie was crushed by the fear of looming war, when he was terrified by the responsibilities he bore, when he was embarrassed at his utter weakness and his seeming inability to speak a word of hope to his people, Lionel never gave up on him.
God never gives up on us either. No matter what our weaknesses are, no matter how much fear we carry, no matter what we’ve done wrong or failed to do right in the past, no matter how stubborn or rebellious we are, no matter how much we stammer through the great challenges we face each day- God will never give up on us.