Sunday, July 08, 2018

Pentecost 7, Year B (2018)

PROPER 9 :: Ezekiel 2: 1–5; Psalm 48; II Corinthians 12: 2–10; Mark 6: 1–13
This is the homily that was given at St. John’s, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania by Fr. Gene Tucker on Sunday, July 8, 2018.
(Homily texts:  Ezekiel 2: 1–5 & Mark 6: 1–13)
Last Monday morning, I had occasion to watch a little bit of some of the tennis matches that take place each year at Wimbledon in England. It is fascinating to watch world-class players in action, players who are possessed of immense amounts of talent for playing the game, players who’ve spent years practicing and perfecting their mastery of it.
(Watching the matches reminded me of my own experience in playing tennis. It would be wrong to characterize my involvement with the game as any sort of a career. In fact, it would be equally wrong to say that I was a tennis player in any meaningful way at all. It would, however, be fair to say that I “played at” the game of tennis, for the truth is that I wasn’t all that suited for the game, nor did I devote any meaningful amounts of time and effort to improving my ability to play.)
I got to thinking, as I was watching the players on the court, about playing a game, any game. My thoughts eventually made their way to today’s lectionary readings, our reading from the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel and our Gospel account from Mark, chapter six, which places before us the sad rejection that Jesus experienced from people who refused to believe in His work and message. My mind compared people’s rejections of Ezekiel and Jesus to people who, when they are invited to play a game, refuse to play by the established norms of the game.
Playing a game, be it tennis or some other game, and playing “God’s Game”, usually prompts these responses:
  • Learning to play the game correctly and well, including learning the rules of the game. Learning to play the game would also involve learning about the game’s origin, and perhaps some of the great players of the past.
  • “Playing at” playing the game, a haphazard involvement that doesn’t result in any mastery of it.
  • Refusing to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.

I think there’s one more possible response, which would be:
  • Refusing to play the game at all.

Before we look at the Ezekiel passage and our Gospel text, it would be good to understand how we are using the word “game”. Today, the word is often associated with something that human beings do to amuse themselves, something we do to have fun. But when we apply this word to “God’s Game”, we are using it in to explain the most important thing we human beings can be about: The business of learning about God’s designs for human life, and our place in God’s design to live that life in communion with Him and with others.
Now, let’s turn to our lectionary texts.   
Ezekiel is addressing God’s people in the sixth century B.C., people who found themselves in exile in Babylon, a people who refused to play “God’s Game” as it was supposed to be played. We could compare their situation and attitude to a person who’s standing on a tennis court, but who refuses to return the ball when it comes over the net.
God tells Ezekiel that God’s people that, whether they listen or whether they don’t, they will know that God has sent a prophet among them. Ezekiel is like a tennis coach, or a line judge, or perhaps another player, who admonishes the uncooperative player for their refusal to play the game of tennis correctly.
It is the word “prophet” which links the Ezekiel reading to our Gospel passage: Jesus repeats what was (quite likely) a saying which circulated during the time of His earthly ministry about prophets who cannot find honor in their own hometown and among their own people.
The people of His hometown, Nazareth, question His credentials for teaching, saying, “Where did this man get all this....Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” It is as if an opposing tennis player questions the behavior of the other player who refuses to play the game correctly. In response, the uncooperative player might say, “Well, who are you to tell me I’m not playing correctly?”
A game usually involves two things:  Two players or teams, such as in tennis, football, baseball, and so forth; or a player and a challenge:  Crossword puzzles would be an example.
When it comes to “God’s Game”, the two teams are God and people.
God is the designer of “God’s Game”. He created the game and set out its rules and its limits. We read about all of that in Holy Scripture. The Bible also contains the history of some of the better-known players of the past, people like Abraham, Moses, Elijah and Jeremiah. The Bible records the times in which God’s people played the game faithfully and well, and it also records the times when God’s people failed and lost. The time of exile in Babylon in which Ezekiel found himself playing the role of prophet is a time of failure and loss.
God is the creator and designer of the game. We could liken Jesus’ ministry to that of a tennis pro who is sent to correct and improve the playing skills of players on a court. We might say that the Holy Spirit is like a coach whose ongoing work is to build upon the instruction of the tennis pro. (I use these examples to illustrate the ways in which God interacts with us, His players on the world stage today. I hope there’s no intent seen in using them to suggest any sort of a casual understanding of God’s nature and work among us.)
Let’s return to an aspect of a game that we mentioned a moment ago:  There are two sides or two entities in a game.
For whatever reason, God chooses to work with us human beings. Is there any doubt that God could choose to work without our involvement? No, God could easily do that.
But God wants us to play the game the way He designed and intended the game to be played. For the betterment of the world which God created, it is important that we learn the rules of the game and learn to apply those rules to the way we live.
That’s what we’re about here this morning at St. John’s….we are learning about the way God wants us to live, and we are improving our skills on the tennis court of life.
The world will be better for it, as we master the ways of playing the game that God designed and gave to us.