(Ezekiel 2:1-5, Psalm 123, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/51Fu7m1Mhyc)
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If 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.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
There’s a joke about a duck who walks into a feed store and asks, “Got any duck feed?” The clerk tells him, “No, we don’t have a market for it so we don’t carry it.” The duck says, “Okay,” and leaves. The next day, the duck again walks in to the feed store and asks, “Got any duck feed?” Again the clerk says no and the duck leaves. The next day, the duck once again walks in, and asks, “Got any duck feed?” The clerk says, “I’ve told you twice, we don’t have duck feed, we’ve never had duck feed and we never will have duck feed. If you ask me again, I’ll nail your feet to the floor.” The duck leaves. The next day, the duck walks in and asks, “Got any nails?” The clerk responds, “No.” The duck gulps and asks “Got any duck feed?”
That clever duck saw an obstacle and found a way to get around it. It wasn’t going to be held back from begging daily for the food it needed. The threat was respected yet questioned and proved to be an empty threat after all. With a little persistence, the duck saw through the empty threat and overcame the obstacle that was presented. That duck’s persistence is not unlike the persistence we find in this week’s lessons. In our first lesson, we heard the prophet Ezekiel receiving his call to bring the Word of the Lord to the rebellious people of Israel. It wasn’t an easy calling. For years, the people of Israel had either not heard God’s Word or chosen to ignore it. God wasn’t telling Ezekiel to reach out to the people who hadn’t heard His Word yet. Spreading God’s Word to the unknowing, the unchurched, is the job of God’s apostles. No, God specifically called Ezekiel to re-spread His Word to the Israelites who had knowingly and willfully chosen to ignore it; i.e. the rebellious Israelites. These Israelites had, for one reason or another, felt that God’s Word was irrelevant to their lives…irrelevant and useless. They felt that they knew what was best for their lives, not God. And because they felt this way about His Word, these Israelites openly rebelled against God and His Word. Like children angry with their parents when they don’t get their way, the rebellious Israelites behaved in ways that were meant to anger God. Ezekiel was called to be a prophet to the rebellious Israelites, bringing words of judgment and condemnation. He was called to speak words that nobody wanted to hear and to persistently speak them. God persistently found ways to speak to His people. Yes, at times their rebelliousness presented quite an obstacle. But God persistently found ways to reach out to them and remind them that they were His beloved children.
The Israelites’ story is like our own story. God persistently finds ways to speak to us in spite of our rebellious ways. We’ve heard His Word and yet we, too, believe at times that we know what’s best for our lives. We believe that God’s Word is irrelevant and useless to our lives. We rebel against its truth and wisdom. God persistently reaches out to us, too, and His Word is just as relevant and useful to us as it was to the Israelites. God encouraged Ezekiel in his challenge, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” It wasn’t Ezekiel’s words of judgment and condemnation; it was God’s words and God’s Word always finds a way to be heard. We might run from it, we might claim its irrelevancy and uselessness, and we might behave contrary to it but that doesn’t mean it is any less true and wise. Ezekiel was tasked with overcoming a difficult obstacle but God encouraged him to be persistent. God is persistent…God’s Word is persistent.
Paul didn’t have quite as difficult of a job as Ezekiel. He merely had to spread God’s Word to people who hadn’t already heard it. On occasion, he was called back to congregations that had misheard God’s Word in an effort to correct the misunderstandings. His job wasn’t prophetic in nature—he wasn’t responsible for bringing words of judgment and condemnation like Ezekiel. But this didn’t relieve him from obstacles in his ministry. He still encountered people who resisted the Gospel simply because it was different. As we heard in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul also had a particular obstacle that was unique to him alone: a so-called “thorn in the flesh,” a “messenger from Satan” that tormented him. No one knows exactly what this “thorn” consisted of but we hear that Paul considered it a great obstacle. It kept him from “being too elated” as he puts it. Again, we don’t understand what Paul meant by this sacrifice. We do, however, hear how he overcomes it:
8Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, 9but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul overcame his obstacle by regarding it as a source of strength. He is perfected by the obstacle because, through it, Christ is able to enter into his life. Paul persists in his duties as an apostle and continues spreading the Gospel. God’s Word of grace and mercy persists in Paul’s life and this enables him to persist in his ministry.
Ezekiel and Paul found ways to persist in their callings of prophecy and apostleship in spite of their obstacles. But what happens when God is challenged to persist in spite of obstacles? We learned from Ezekiel’s witness that God is persistent and His Word is persistent. But what happens when that persistence is challenged? In our gospel reading, we heard how God was challenged with an obstacle. Jesus came back to his hometown after being away building his ministry and reputation. He went home and tried building his ministry and reputation there but met great opposition from the townspeople. They cried, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” In a sense, Jesus’ humanity presents a great obstacle in sharing his divinity with the people. They only see his humanity and can’t or won’t acknowledge his divinity. Does Jesus’ end his ministry? Of course not…he finds a way to keep his ministry alive. He sends his disciples out to other towns and uses the experience to teach them about the necessity of reaching others who are more receptive to God’s Word. Jesus is persistent…God is persistent…God’s Word is persistent.
The witness of persistence in Scripture ultimately inspires us to remain persistent. We all face obstacles in our lives. A lost job or a new job, a failed marriage or a wedding, the death of a loved one or the birth of a newborn, these can all be considered obstacles. Some of us are called as prophets, some of us as apostles, and some of us as disciples and each of these jobs comes with its own unique set of obstacles. Life is filled with obstacles just waiting to be overcome. 239 years ago the people of this land were presented with the great obstacle of breaking away from the mother land and forming a new country. But the thing about obstacles is that they demand persistence. Obstacles demand that we hang on to what we believe is right in the face of opposition. Obstacles in life aren’t easy. Obstacles aren’t meant to be easy! Obstacles are meant to grow us, to build our character, to build our faith. We can’t grow, we can’t build our characters, and we can’t build our faiths without persistence. Persistence is key to growing and building. The prophets, apostles, and disciples of Scripture teach us the importance of persistence. Like that hungry duck, they all found ways to persist and overcome whatever obstacle they encountered. Let us go forth persistent in sharing God’s love to a world that is hungry for His love!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.