Lectionary readings: Ezekiel 2:1-5, Psalm 123, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13
Let us pray:
Lord, open our hearts and minds by the power of your Holy Spirit, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may hear with joy what you say to us today. Amen.*
I don’t know about you, but I often think I’m too human. Like, the whole reason that I resisted the very idea of being a pastor was because I thought I was too human, too flawed. I felt a call to seminary when a family friend told me to think about seminary, and the strong ‘Yes!’ I immediately heard when I prayed about it was enough to get me to seminary. I mean, it took a while, and I spent a while avoiding it, and a while researching and delaying applying. And the last thing I wanted to do was tell anyone that I was thinking about seminary. It just felt weird. I wasn’t sure about so much of this whole seminary thing: What would I even do with a seminary education if I didn’t want to be a pastor? (and I emphatically did not want to be a pastor, or think that I could be a pastor) Would people think it was weird? Shouldn’t I be doing something science-y with my biology degree?
I did end up in seminary, obviously. God is hard to ignore, and seminary was the only post-graduation thing that fell into place. And so off I went to seminary, still determined not to be a pastor. I just didn’t think I had really any of the necessary qualities–I distinctly remember how surprised I was when one of the people who wrote a recommendation letter for me said that he’d written he’d be fine with having me as a pastor. “I meant it, too,” he added. I’m quiet, and shy, and have like zero pop culture awareness unless it’s about Star Wars or superheroes, and I don’t like public speaking. I rarely feel the need to talk. I can be introverted enough to be done with people after about an hour. Someone who deals with people for a living should probably be at least slightly good at dealing with people, right?
Really what I’m telling you right now is that I didn’t quite know what pastors do when I started seminary, but also I’m telling a story about familiarity, how when we know something well and can see its flaws, it can be so very hard to see its potential as well. Sometimes all we can see are its flaws. I am too close to both my gifts and my flaws to see them clearly, to see the gifts that I do have for ministry. When we know something well, we sometimes can’t see the gifts and talents there, only the flaws.
Like when Jesus goes home, all the townspeople can see is the little boy who played with His siblings and learned carpentry from His dad. They’ve known Him since He was a baby; they know all about that time He did something embarrassing or weird or different. I suspect being the Son of God didn’t help with that. And they just can’t imagine that that infant-turned-awkward-teenager-turned-carpenter is also this traveling teacher and healer, who’s now known throughout the land and followed by disciples of His own. They seem to be fascinated; they go to the synagogue and listen to Jesus’ teachings, after all. But by the end of it they’re fed up: ‘How does this guy we used to know teach all this stuff? He’s just a normal guy, like us. He has a job! and a family! He can’t be special!’
He’s too familiar, in other words. He’s too human. He can’t possibly be anyone special.
We humans are not terribly good at seeing the wonderful in the familiar, seeing God working somewhere when we walk by that place every day. I think we think that God working looks like something miraculous and easily recognizable, like in paintings, where Mary’s always wearing blue and Jesus has a giant golden halo and everyone else who’s going to be a saint someday has a little halo so that we know exactly who everyone is. We think that the people God works through are wonderful through and through, like Mr. Rogers or Mother Theresa. God can’t work through those of us with doubts and questions and giant flaws and family drama. All that disqualifies me, or him, or her.
And that is not true. Not only are none of us universally wonderful–I mean, I still don’t know what, say, Mr. Rogers’ flaw was, but presumably there was at least one–but God doesn’t seem to mind our flaws. God seems to embrace our flawed nature and our weakness and all of the things that we hate about ourselves. As Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 12:9), “My [that is, God’s] grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
The fact that we are flawed human beings is beautiful.
So often in Christian thought our weakness and sin are something to be scorned and hated and fought against. Bitter wars are waged against bad habits and everything is left scorched in its wake. It’s difficult to talk about this well, because I’m not trying to say that we should embrace our sin, that sin is anything but evil. Sin is definitely terrible, and leads us into places we don’t want to be. But having flaws and sinning also doesn’t mean we should hate ourselves. Our flaws don’t disqualify us from God’s love, from God moving in and through and with us. No matter how we’ve sinned, God can and does still use us.
Imperfection doesn’t disqualify us, no matter how familiar we may be with it. Our imperfections can be beautiful, the cracks in a clay jar that allows the light inside it to shine forth. Our humanity, with all its quirks and terrible tendencies and gifts, is God-given.
Not always–sin run rampant is not beautiful–but when we allow God to enter into our flaws, God can do wonderful things. God will make them beautiful, whether by remaking them, putting them together in new ways, or showing you that it isn’t a flaw at all. Maybe our flaws remind us of God’s eternal presence, remind us that God is our source and our creator, from whom we have our being.
As we go from this place, may we go forth and be given the grace to see the beauty in our flaws, to find God working amongst them. May we see the beauty in the flaws of those around us. And may we go forth in God’s love, which surrounds us no matter our flaws.