This is the message that I gave on the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, 9 July 2000, at Walker Valley United Methodist Church, Walker Valley, NY. The Scriptures for that Sunday were 2 Samuel 5: 1- 9, 9 – 10, 2 Corinthians 12: 2 – 10, and Mark 6: 1- 13
Playing in an All-Star game is an interesting proposition. On the one hand, we consider each member of the All-Star team, be it in baseball, football, basketball or any other sport, to be the among the best in that particular sport. Yet, there are times when, even with the combined talents of all the superstars present, the All-Star team is not the best team in the sport. This is especially true when you look at all the professional teams who tried to put all the “superstars” on one team. Having the best players in the sport is not a guarantee of success unless they are all working to one common goal. The problem is that we consider All-Stars in terms of individual accomplishments, not necessarily their team accomplishments.
That’s the contrast that I saw in the Old Testament and Epistle readings for today. The people of Israel applaud David for his military exploits and victories and accept him as their king, completing the task that had been started several years before.
Paul, on the other hand, laments the fact that he has many weaknesses and that these weaknesses are holding him back from doing his ministry. But it should be noted that neither David’s nor Paul’s success was accomplished by themselves. It was the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives that made the difference.
As the concluding verse in the Old Testament reading for today notes, “David went on and became great, and the Lord God of hosts was with him.” (2 Samuel 5: 16)
Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he had asked God many times to help him overcome the weaknesses, the thorn in his flesh, that he felt was holding back his ministry. Yet, God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9)
In this passage Paul points out that he does not boast of his success in the ministry because people will not understand where the success comes from. And whatever the reason for the “thorn in his flesh” (and what this was has been one of the great historical questions of the church), Paul sees it as reminder of his own weaknesses, a painful and humiliating experience that prevents his own pride from taking credit for the work that Christ has done in his life.
Paul does point out that because of his weaknesses, Christ’s power is magnified and more apparent to others. As Paul notes at the end of the Epistle reading for today, if in my own weakness others see Christ, then I will be content with that.
Similarly, in the Gospel reading for today, we see that the focus of the people is on Jesus himself and not on His ministry and message. In Mark 6: 2 the people readily acknowledge Jesus’ wisdom and mighty works but because they still saw him as the local boy who did good, they were not truly open to the message. It may have been that others were jealous that it was Jesus was getting all the glory and adulation of the people. It was this envy that lead others to literally through Jesus out of Nazareth, as described in Luke 4: 28 – 30.
So all those in the synagogue, when they heard all these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way. (Luke 4: 28 – 30)
It has often been noted that Jesus did not pick twelve scholars or teachers or those who might have considered themselves future leaders in the kingdom of God when he picked His disciples. I know that it may be a cliché to say so but it does fit within the context of this sermon to say that Jesus did not pick the local Jewish superstars for his All-Star team. Rather, he picked twelve ordinary guys, people who no one would have imagined capable of great doing great things.
And it would be safe to say that left to their own powers, skills and abilities, they would not have accomplished much. But when Jesus sent them out on that first mission described in today’s Gospel reading he did not send them out alone. He paired them together so that they could work together as a team and he gave the power over unclean spirits. The success of the mission, as indicated in Mark 6: 13, only came about because the Holy Spirit was with the twelve and because they had the faith that was needed.
The success of the church today will be because, like the church of old, we do not rely on the talents or skills of a single superstar. Rather, like the church of old, it will be the skills and talents of all the members of the church working together for a single goal. Yes, there will be times when the success is not evident. Even Jesus’ disciples could not get it right the first time. And it is true that even when the disciples and others who were sent out on these first missions came back with stories of success, there were those who came back with stories of how they just didn’t quite get it.
Some might argue that the success of the church lies in everyone doing the same thing. But success requires that a variety of tasks be done and that can only be accomplished through teamwork. What is important is that we have a single goal in mind and that we are of one accord when it comes to that goal.
This can be accomplished when we let the Holy Spirit into our hearts. When that happens, whatever we desire will come to pass. Paul could never have accomplished what he did had he not accepted Christ as his personal savior. David’s triumphs quickly disappeared, as we shall see in the coming weeks, when he left God behind.
And Jesus’ own brothers, who were among those who scoffed at his miracles and wisdom, came to the faith after the resurrection, when they understood what Jesus message was really about. Jesus’ brothers, James and Judas, came to power, not because they were his brothers but because of their faith in Christ.
We may want to play in the All-Star Game yet feel that it is out of our reach because we don’t have the skills or talents necessary. Yet, if we accept Christ as our personal Savior, if we let the Holy Spirit guide and direct us in our daily life, we quickly will find that we can do more than our own skills and talents alone will ever do.
That’s the challenge for us this day. It is not our skills and talents but rather what is in our heart that brings us success. Is Christ a part of your life? Can you play in the all-star game?