I wonder whether you have ever, on an occasional or persistent basis, felt that you might not quite be good enough, or capable enough? If you have, fear not, you are not alone. Feeling not good enough, or not capable enough, is in large part characteristic of the human condition. St. Paul certainly knew what it felt like, so I suspect did the prophet Ezekiel. One of the great lies of our time is that in order to do anything remotely useful we need to be strong, highly capable and, independently resourceful. Its a lie, or a myth, than can lead to untold pain; please don’t believe it. Its a lie or a myth that leaves little or no room for God working in and through us.
As Christians we need to take to heart St. Paul’s recognition that God’s power ‘is made perfect in weakness,’ and the fact that he refused to boast about anything ‘except of my weaknesses.’ The twelve apostles who were sent to proclaim the arrival of the Kingdom, and who so we are told ‘cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them,’ were hardly candidates for the front page of Hello Magazine or the Harvard Business Review. They were all, like Paul and Ezekiel, flawed and vulnerable characters. And, yet like Paul and Ezekiel they became real game changers; catalysts for the breaking in of the Kingdom.
Growing in resilience is central to growth in Christian maturity. Sometimes we hope for, and even pray for, the alleviation of all of our problems, and yet the better way is to learn to bear our equivalent of Paul’s ‘thorn’ in our sides. We become strong when we allow God to work with and through our pains and tribulations. Mother Theresa is a wonderful modern example of someone who allowed God to use and work through her vulnerability. Mother Theresa, you see, suffered terribly with feelings of black-dog, despair, depression even. She felt her self to be both physically and mentally weak and yet we know what an unbelievable contribution she made to the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.
Mother Theresa knew that she was sent from the relative security of her monastery to serve the street people of Calcutta. This sense of being sent is captured in the reading from Ezekiel - ‘mortal I am sending you’ and again ‘I am sending you to them.’ In the gospel reading we hear that Jesus ‘called the twelve and began to send them out two by two.’ One of the things we should prayerfully ask God is ‘to who, or where, I am being sent?’ At the end of today’s service I will invite you to ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord.’ This week could I encourage you to ask just what this means for you? Where should you be serving and who should you be serving?
What strikes me about Ezekiel, Paul and the Apostles is that they were able to serve God because they trusted in God. They all had this remarkable confidence that God would provide. The Apostles, as we know, took ‘nothing for their journey,’ and yet they succeeded in their mission. But, what we also know is that trust in God and stepping out in faith won’t immunise us against worldly criticism. Ezekiel was rejected by many despite being God’s mouthpiece and lot’s of people ‘took offence at him (Jesus),’ whilst the Apostles were clearly not welcome everywhere they visited. In many ways their success rate was poor by comparison with worldly standards, as celebrated by the likes of Hello Magazine and the Harvard Business Review. However, the remarkable thing is that all of these years later we are still talking about them; still inspired by their stories.
Ezekiel, Paul, the Apostles and Mother Theresa all knew for sure that God’s strength is, paradoxically, ‘made perfect in weakness.’ Our task is simply to accept this basic spiritual truth and then to trustfully and prayerfully ask God what, and more precisely where and to whom, we should ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord,’ for loving and serving the Lord is what we are all sent to do.