Summary: Utilizing 2 Samuel 5:1-10; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; and Mark 6:1-13, this sermon highlights how the Gospel often seems Upside-down and backwards--but really it is our perspective which needs adjusting.
When I was a camp counselor during the summers of my High School and College years, I looked forward to the many theme days that we would have throughout the summer. We’d have international food days—complete with French Toast, Tacos, and Hungarian Goulash (that you’d eat with your fingers), or we’d have Christmas in July, or sometimes we’d have an entire theme week based around the Olympics.
One of my favorite theme days was “Backwards” day—where we’d wake the campers up with “Taps” played on the trumpet, take them out lower the flag, and then go to campfire service. This would be followed by games, supper, free swim and craft time, lunch, crafts, morning Bible study, breakfast, and finally we’d conclude the day with morning cabin devotionals. The campers who really got into it would wear their clothes backwards or inside-out, walk backwards, and even try to talk backwards.
You know, in a lot of areas of life, there really is no such thing as “backwards.” Most of our definitions of “backwards” are culturally defined, as opposed to absolutely defined. For instance, I’m not sure that there’s anything particularly backwards about starting the day with the campfire service and ending the day with cabin devotionals. Does it really matter that we had Chop Suey in the morning and pancakes at night? Certainly, while clothes might look funny when worn backwards or inside-out, most hikers and athletes prefer clothes that have the seams and stitches on the outside instead of the inside, because they irritate the skin less.
At the same time, there are black-and-white issues in our lives that are much more absolutely defined—not so much as backwards or forwards—but as right and wrong. God’s teaching is not really negotiable, and those who break His commandments usually discover the consequences for their behavior. It would be a mistake to assume that the moral teaching of the Bible is simply a collection of cultural constructs that only apply to the authors and the original readers.
At the same time, we know that Jesus came, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it; we also know that he did so in such unconventional ways that he seemed to turn everything Upside-down, Backwards, and Inside-out. All of the human conceptions of religion were completely renovated by this new Rabbi—and to follow Him meant to abandon many of the rituals and practices that had become institutionalized portions of your faith.
You’ve already heard a bit of this “Upside-down, Backwards, and Inside-out” nature of Christianity this morning. Paul wrote, in Second Corinthians 12, verse 10: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.” That sounds like quite a list of things to delight in—we would say that Paul must be a “glutton for punishment.” Who would want all of those things to happen to them? Who would want any of those things to happen? But then, just when you think Paul is done presenting his Upside-down view of life, he pens these amazing words: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
How can Paul say these things that appear to make no sense? Because he is following the Christ who turns everything Upside-down, Backwards, and Inside-out. He has just finished writing about the “thorn in his flesh” which has tormented him—and while we don’t know exactly what this “thorn” was, we know that three times he asked God to remove it—but God reminded him that His grace was sufficient, and that His power was made perfect in weakness. Since Paul places all of his confidence in God’s strength, and not his own, he is able to say “when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul doesn’t boast about those things that would be easy to boast about—he doesn’t boast about his Damascus-road vision—he barely even claims it as his own. Instead, he boasts in his weaknesses—why? Because it’s in his weaknesses that God is revealed. In other words, Paul is not interested in doing and saying those things that will advance himself or his reputation—but only those things that will bring greater glory to God.
In our Gospel lesson today, found in Mark chapter 6, Jesus begins teaching in his hometown….where people around him said, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Where did he get this wisdom and these teachings?” In other words—“we know this guy…we’re not going to follow Him.” Jesus responds with a quote that has gone down in history and is often quoted simply as conventional wisdom today—“A prophet has no honor in his own hometown.”
While today’s conventional wisdom may be based upon that quote, it probably wasn’t the conventional wisdom of Jesus’ day—at least not to anyone who was well-versed in the rise of King David to the throne of Israel. I invite you to hear our Old Testament lesson today, found in Second Samuel 5:1-10--