Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

St. Alban’s Church                                                   II Samuel 5: 105, 9-10

July 4, 2021                                                                Psalm 123

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost                                  II Corinthians 12: 2 – 10

Pastor Jim Stickney                                                  Mark 6: 1 – 13


I will not boast — except of my weaknesses.


When the flamboyant English author Oscar Wilde began his very successful visit

to America in 1882, he went through the New York Customs House. He was asked

if he had anything to declare. He said, “I have nothing to declare, except my genius!”


Some of us might recall the portrayal of Mozart in the play (and movie) Amadeus,

when Mozart speaks about how he sees himself in relation to other composers.

At one point he comes right out with it and says that he’s simply the best.

He’s reprimanded that others could take offense at his lacking the customary humility,

but by hindsight we don’t mind words about Mozart claiming to the the best.


This morning I’m considering this tension between showing humility & taking pride.

Some of us may be following the riders in the world’s most famous cycling event,

the Tour de France. More of us will be watching parts of the summer Olympics,

postponed from last year and held in Japan — a celebration of the world’s best.

We expect these winners to take their places on the podium and accept their medals,

(or yellow jerseys). Yet we also expect them not to trash talk about those who lost.


There are a few human beings who obviously excel at their chosen fields of endeavor,

and we cut a lot of slack to someone who’s obviously brilliant, especially

if such a person can display a little of the common touch and stay grounded.


But for ordinary people, what we want to hear is that they’re not the best.

In fact, something in us wants to cut huge egos down to size — especially enemies.

Just as we admire true excellence, so we can’t abide phonies, frauds, or pretenders.

This is why St. Paul declares, I will not boast — except of my weaknesses.


When it comes to spiritual things, we want our religious leaders to display humility.

We assume that someone who is given the privilege of preaching in a church

also shares in human weakness, and does not remain silent during the Confession!


         I will not boast — except of my weaknesses. St. Paul utters this gem of a guideline

only after he speaks of some extraordinary spiritual experiences (perhaps “mystical”).

He refers in the third person to someone caught up into the third heaven.

That person — most likely the writer Paul himself — was in Paradise, and heard things

that can’t be told, of experiences that can’t be trapped in mere human words.


It might seem quite a stretch for us to see Jesus described as weak or powerless.

And yet, in the Gospel story chosen for today, we hear Mark tell us,

                   “He could do no deed of power [in his hometown], except that he laid his hands

                   on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.”


Jesus could not do much for people who had seen him grow up, for they knew him —

both too well and not well enough. His Good News couldn’t get past their history.

It didn’t matter that he preached well in their synagogue — that only made them feel

somehow inferior to this person to whom they had once been superior.


Did Jesus go back and make a special campaign to get them to change their minds?

Perhaps to our surprise, we hear: Then he went about among the villages, teaching.

He gave witness to who he was and what he could do, and then he left his home town.


I will not boast — except of my weaknesses.


Some parishioners were born in other countries, and chose to come here.

But most were born in this country, and like you, I said the pledge of allegiance

and was taught that ours was the best country in the world — that other countries

looked up to us as the best example of human freedom. Sure, we had some problems,

but thanks to active citizens, we could vote to change policies and solve problems.


But on this Independence Day, we have to admit that our pride has been challenged.

Despite advanced technology, we had more Covid deaths than any other country.

The murder of George Floyd revealed even more the realities of racism among us.

And on January 6th, our own fellow countrymen staged an insurrection.

We have to admit that our nation has been humbled.


Recall that St. Paul is careful to mention “a thorn in his side.” This character defect,

this constant irritant, kept him from being too proud about his lofty visions.

We all carry around with us our own personal “thorn in our side,” some reminder

of our frailty — despite our other gifts. As our country strives to better itself,

we know that simply chanting “USA! USA!” won’t get us very far. What will help

is our telling the truth about the thorns in the side of our country.

Honest examination of our shortcomings is the first step in correcting them.


One advantage of this Zoom format is that I can show you small photos

that would not be visible from a pulpit. Here’s one I took from our deck on Flag Day:

Our church’s flag and our country’s flag flying side by side.


Now, our church’s Hymnal places the National Songs on the very last pages.

In fact, the last song in the Hymnal is “O say can you see.”

A more singable national song is there, known as “America the Beautiful,”

Each of its three verses asks that God shed grace upon our country.


In particular, the second verse implores God to assist us overcome our weaknesses:

America, America, God mend thine every flaw —

confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law.


I will not boast — except of my weaknesses.