Not Power, but Faith

We’re not looking for power, but faith … a Sermon on 2 Corinthians 12:5b-10 (Year B, Proper 9 / Ordinary 14)


Sometimes I hear Christians say “if only we really believed and really loved like Jesus we would transform the world,” but Jesus said that most would reject God, and war/poverty would be with us until the end times.  What they really mean is if we had more numbers we would have power!

Scripture – 2 Corinthians 12:5b-10

Paul, a man of great faith, is not healed  (miracles are not a reward for faith).  He explains that he must have this thorn in his flesh, to make him rely on God’s grace.

The Corinthians are wealthy, powerful, clever, successful & strong.  Paul’s two big letters to them (16 & 13 Chaps) are one long rebuke!  He has to justify his authority to say these things and does so – by boasting about his sufferings (Chap 11)!  Paul uses his weakness to shame the strong (as in 1Cor Chaps 1-2).


“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Great men are almost always bad men” said a wise historian about the idea that religious leaders and kings could not make mistakes.

I mentioned the Islamic State earlier.  The Five Pillars of Islam are: declaring the faith; prayer; giving; fasting; and pilgrimage.  But look what happens when you give people guns – these gentle ideas are quickly thrown out!

We need weakness to remind us to rely on God.  Many of you know my wife but may not know that she has been ill for all her adult life.  Our struggle against this illness has been good for us – it has brought us closer together, stopped us from being able to take each other for granted.  Our relationship with God is like that.


We won’t transform the world for the better by being strong or clever or powerful.  There are lots of strong, clever and powerful people in the world and they’re making it worse as often as better!  We will transform ourselves, not the world, by doing three things:

  1. We will be fallible, average and powerless (what we are now);
  2. but we will rely on God’s Omni-power, -presence, -knowledge and -seeing: faith in God; and
  3. we will be doing the best that we can.

Maturity in Christ: Commitment not Consumption

Maturity in Christ: Commitment not Consumption … a Sermon on John 6:24-35 (Year B, Ordinary 18 / Proper 13)

Aim: To hear what Christ has to say to hungry people.


Our Western society consumes 80% of the world’s resources, even though we are only 20% of its population.  We often define themselves by what they do.  We are identified, labelled – and valued – by and for our contribution to consumption: where we are in the supply chain.

Nowadays we don’t just consume material things.  We want to choose a ‘spirituality’ that suits us; we want “our rights”.  Even Jesus says come and consume me for lasting satisfaction!  So why aren’t consumers queuing up to get a piece of Jesus?

The Bread of Life

We heard a conversation between Jesus and the people.  Jesus is none too impressed with their attitude and is very rude to them (v26).  Jesus then challenges them, because v29 really means ‘you must stake everything on me’; however, the crowd dither and ask for another sign (Jesus has just fed them miraculously), justifying their demand with the story of the Manna.  Jesus replies that the significance of the Manna is not the miracle itself but that it is a sign pointing to God’s offer of eternal bread from heaven right now! (v32-3).  Then Jesus declares “it’s me!  I AM the bread of life.”

But Jesus is not offering an instant consumer product:

  • Bread comes from wheat, but we can’t eat wheat. It has to be harvested, threshed, milled, mixed into dough and baked.  By the end, the wheat has changed out of all recognition.
  • It’s the same for Jesus. We can’t eat raw Jesus, the Word who was in the beginning.  He had to be born, grow & learn; he had to teach, lead, heal, preach, provoke, be arrested, put on trial, be tortured, die and rise again.


Jesus is not a popular consumer product – he requires commitment: not popular – even among believers; in Jesus’ time ‘many disciples desert[ed] Jesus’ (vv 60-70).  Jesus is not bread for a day, but for life, which is sometimes painful: we don’t always get our ‘rights’ or what we want.  But we have what we need: Christ, His Grace, His Gifts and each other.

[Let us share the peace.]

Jesus Changes His Mind

Jesus Changes His Mind … a sermon on Mark 7:24-27 (Year B, Proper 18)

Aim: To see Jesus as real – real God and a real human.


In Chapter 6, Jesus had a tough time.  He’s been rejected at Nazareth, by those who should have known him best.  His friend and Cousin John the Baptist has been killed.  He’s sent out his disciples and performed miracles to feed the relentless crowds.  In Chapter 7 he’s argued with the Pharisees about what’s right and wrong after they found a way to criticise his disciples.  Now he’s trying to get some peace and quiet by staying incognito in a house over the border in a foreign town.  At last, he can get some time to deal with everything that has happened to him.

Somehow, a foreigner has recognised him.  Even though she’s a woman, she has the nerve to approach a Rabbi and ask for his help!  Jesus gives her a short answer, referring to non-Jews as ‘dogs’: at best this is a patronising comment, at worst it is a racist insult!  Jesus is not being very nice, but she won’t give up, uses a term of respect to this rude Jew.  Then Jesus gives in and answers her.


Mark tells it like it was, perhaps for comedy value, even though it might embarrass Jesus.  There are two difficult issues for us here.  First, we see Jesus portrayed as human; he is not the perfect gentleman and can be harsh when irritated.  Second, he changes his mind and grants a request, even when the person who asks has no business asking him for anything.

Our Christian doctrine, our traditional theology tells us that God is perfectly knowing, all seeing and unchanging, so Jesus can’t have changed his mind!  Sometimes this is explained away as Jesus ‘testing’ people’s faith.  A well-known Christian hymn is titled ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’; here, he is not!


However, I feel encouraged by these verses just as they are.  The Bible does not shy away from the facts, even when it might not always look good or be interpreted the in ‘right’ way.  This gives me confidence that it is true.  I am excited that mere humans if they have faith, can change the mind of God.  In the OT, Abraham persuaded God to spare his cousins’ family.  In the NT, Jesus is persuaded by the persistent faith of a foreigner, a woman – when foreign women counted for nothing in Judea.

Sometimes we are told things about God, which we are not supposed to question.  Does faith mean that we’re not meant to reason about them?  Thank God Jesus does not conform to such dogma!  Thank God that Mark tells us the truth about Jesus and does not give us a sterile piece of propaganda!  Jesus (who is God, Holy Spirit, creator of the universe and all) has compassion, and is prepared to change our world in response to a mere human!

What is our Response to Suffering?

What is our response to suffering … a sermon on Job 1:1;2:1-10 (Year B, Proper 22)


Job’s sufferings are very well known, even outside God’s people.  This book has early Hebrew ideas about how God operates, with Satan working for God, rather than against him. Everybody goes to the same place (Sheol) when they die, there is no judgement after death, so the only punishment is during this life. These ideas changed later in the OT and then dramatically in the NT.

Most of the narrative is about Job’s friends offering him ‘wisdom’ and ‘advice’ but always based on the assumption that Job has sinned, and as soon as repents, he will be healed.  But in this passage, we see how it all begins.


  • God – seen here as presiding like a judge in court over the reports of the angels who watch over the earth.
  • Satan (the ‘Accuser’ or Prosecutor) – who seems rather too eager to perform his role.
  • Job – a good and prosperous man, who has lost all his possessions (Chapter 1) and now his health (Chapter 2).
  • Job’s wife – who urges him to curse God and be done with it: die.


  • Is Job truly loyal to God, or is because he wants to hold onto the good things he’s got (an important lesson for rich, western Christians)?
  • Would we remain loyal like Job, when stripped of everything, including our health and vigour?


I don’t know much about suffering, but I see it close by and on the TV; I also know what it is to receive well-meaning advice from ‘friends’ when in difficulties!

You will have varying degrees of direct and indirect experience of suffering. There will be no rhyme or reason to who has experienced what.  But, guess what: we’re still here!

God’s answer to Job is not an argument but a revelation of his overpowering greatness and goodness.  Whatever happens in life God can be relied upon.  We are much better off than Job, as we have Jesus (the Defender) – now ‘we know that our Redeemer liveth’, unlike Job, who was sure that a mediator existed, but could only hope for life after death.  In the face of suffering, we know God, we know salvation and we know that we are going to God after this life.  Hallelujah.