Do you ever wonder if God is giving you a nudge to begin something in your life, but the task seems impossible? Don’t let perfection stand in the way of success.
In September 2020, Israel signed diplomatic pacts with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the first such agreements since Israel’s peace accords with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. Neither of the new deals end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — which many believe is the greatest obstacle to peace in the Middle East — but both appear to be steps in the right direction.
The pacts were brokered by the United States and dubbed the Abraham Accords in recognition of the biblical Abraham, who is the spiritual ancestor of both Jews and Muslims. The accords normalized relationships between the two Muslim countries and Israel and may have set a precedent for how peace in the Middle East will progress. In fact, Israel and Morocco agreed to normalize their relations in the months following the accords, with the United States recognizing Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara.
How you feel about the accords may be colored by your view of the U.S. president at the time, Donald Trump, whose administration was a key player in bringing the pacts about. And your feelings may also be influenced by how you view the Palestinians, who were sidestepped by the accords. But some people from both sides agree that the deals are likely better than no movement at all toward peace in the Middle East.
The biggest step toward Middle East peace would be to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but that hasn’t happened, despite the many efforts of skillful, well-intentioned diplomats and others. The Abraham Accords, however, ignored that area and instead focused on how an accord could benefit those nations willing to be involved. Sometimes, doing what is possible is better than bemoaning a larger goal that can’t be achieved at present.
Something like that seems to be going on in today’s gospel reading. Jesus was visiting his hometown — Nazareth — and when the Sabbath came, he went to the local synagogue and began to teach. His reputation as a miracle worker had likely preceded him, and Jesus’ teaching apparently wasn’t what that congregation was expecting. Yes, there was great wisdom in what he was saying, but who did he think he was? After all, he was a hometown boy, and some in the pews apparently thought he was getting too big for his britches. “And they took offense at him” (v. 3). On the whole, they had no faith in him, and because of that, “he could do no deed of power there” (v. 5). Faith on the part of the recipients was necessary for healings and the like, and since that wasn’t evident, the congregation missed out on what Jesus might have done for them.
Mark makes this comment while narrating the story: “And [Jesus] could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them” (v. 5). So, there must have been at least a few individuals present with enough faith to receive his help. We see the linkage to the Abraham Accords in Mark’s comment. When it turned out that Jesus could not accomplish in Nazareth what he had set out to do — what he was willing to do — he did what was possible, what the circumstances would allow, and healed a few sick people.
What can we take from this? Sometimes, doing what is possible is better than giving up if solving the larger problem is beyond reach.
We know of no Bible verse that commands, “Do what is possible.” In fact, when the Bible uses the word “possible,” it is sometimes to contrast what God can do versus what human beings cannot do, such as in Luke 18:27, where Jesus said, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”
Nonetheless, there is an underlying theme in Scripture advocating and praising effort, diligence, perseverance and “bearing fruit,” which points us toward doing what is possible in the realm of good works, healing, peacemaking and other virtuous undertakings.
There is also Mark’s account of the woman who intruded into the house of Simon the Leper, where Jesus was a guest, and anointed Jesus’ head with costly ointment. She was soundly criticized by some of those at the table for the extravagant “waste” of the ointment. But in her defense, Jesus (knowing he was soon to die) said: “She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial” (Mark 14:8, emphasis added), suggesting that she had accomplished what was possible.
Saint Francis of Assisi once advised, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” While that can be true, we ought not take it as a guarantee and treat the “possible” as if it were only a step on a larger journey. In some difficult circumstances, the possible may be all that’s ever accomplished, but doing it can still be a godly thing. And Francis’ statement does suggest that there’s a momentum that may be unleashed by doing the necessary and the possible, and that it may carry over regarding the more difficult stuff.
In Our World
Okay, let’s say you’re convinced. Where might you apply this “do-what’s-possible” principle?
One place might be when you have offended someone, and that person has rebuffed your attempts to make amends. While the offended individual may remain intransigent, others who were less directly affected by your offense may be open to giving you another chance or putting the matter behind them. So, do what’s possible and make peace with them.
Another place might be in gift giving, where you have the “perfect” gift in mind for a loved one, only to find out that it’s no longer available or is beyond your reach budget-wise. What’s still possible, however, is some other genuine expression of your affection for that person (which may mean more than the gift anyway).
Kitty Harris, director of the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery at Texas Tech University, gives us another application of this principle from her journey to recovery from alcohol addiction: “As we begin the journey of recovery, we are capable of doing only the necessary. We don’t drink and we go to meetings and we live our lives in hourly increments. Slowly, as hours turn into days and days into months, the fog lifts and we begin to recall our forsaken dreams and goals. One day we realize it might be possible for us to achieve what we abandoned. As our dreams are reclaimed, we become the people we were intended to be and suddenly we realize we are doing the impossible. That is the story of my recovery …”
This principle also applies to projects or missions you may be feeling called by God to undertake, but seem impossible to you. Doing some part of the project that is possible is likely to give you an indication regarding whether you are really feeling the call of God or only entertaining an idea of your own.
The Larger Point
A larger point behind this “do-what’s-possible” principle is that Christianity is not just a set of beliefs, but also a set of practices (think, for example, of the golden rule, the Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments). Religion writer Karen Armstrong puts it this way: “Religion is not about accepting 20 impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you. It’s a moral aesthetic, an ethical alchemy. If you behave a certain way you will be transformed.”
Thus, doing what is possible puts us in a position where God will transform us from people who think real change is impossible, to people who are doing the work of God — even when it looks like the odds are against achieving anything.
In that Nazareth synagogue, Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” More would have been possible if others had some faith, but Jesus did what he could, and it meant the world to those few sick people who were cured. And for them, it was the will of God the Father being done by God the Son.
To Ask Yourself
Here are a few questions for your consideration of what we’ve said today:
—Stan Purdum and Carl Wilton contributed to this material.
Armstrong, Karen. The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness (Anchor; Reprint edition, 2005) 270.
Harris, Kitty. “Start by Doing What’s Necessary, Then Do What’s Possible,” The Obama White House, December 21, 2011, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov. Retrieved December 30, 2020.
“Israel Signs Pacts With Two Arab Countries.” The Wired Word, September 27, 2020, www.TheWiredWord.com. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
Norlen, Tova and Tamir Sinai. “The Abraham Accords — Paradigm Shift or Realpolitik?” The Marshall Center, October 2020, www.marshallcenter.org. Retrieved December 27, 2020.
Click here to download a ZIP file of the July-August 2021 issue as Word Docs.
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
What Does the Text Say?
This text is the third and last announcement of David's anointing as king. It is the last of a three-stage realization of power. The first came with Samuel's anointing of David, prior to the lad's victory over Goliath (1 Samuel 16:13). But Saul was still alive, so David was a king-in-waiting, a role he would play for some time, and with considerable patience. The second "announcement" (2:4) comes following the anointing by the leaders of the "house of Judah." Here, in today's text, we have the final announcement: David is anointed king by the "elders of Israel" representing all the tribes of the nation. He had been king of Judah for 7 years; he would continue as king of the combined kingdoms for another 33 years. "And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him" (v. 10, NIV).
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Becoming Great. The text is verse 10: "And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him." How does one become "greater and greater"? You might recall that Muhammad Ali used to declare, "I am the greatest!" Jim Collins has written a book about business strategies that help them get from "good to great." Isn't it a little off-putting to desire to become great? But why should it be? Certainly, we would not want to confess to being mediocre, right? The key for David was that he was assisted in the process of maturing from good to great. He had help. He had the best, most awesome help available: "the Lord, the God of hosts." And not only that, this same "God of hosts" was "with him." Review David's life to find secrets to his greatness. Possibilities: a soul that was sensitive to the Spirit, a teachable spirit, and the willingness to confess and repent.
What Does the Text Say?
This psalm is the third of three (46-48) psalms that appear to be a hymnic response to deliverance from an enemy. Many scholars believe that the writer actually may be Isaiah and the historical reference may be the failed assault of Sennacherib of Assyria (see Isaiah 37) in which 185,000 Assyrians were struck down, apparently by the hand of the Lord. In any case, the psalm exults in the salvation and preservation of Mount Zion, or Jerusalem, and the writer goes to great lengths to exaggerate its strength, its beauty, its size and more. Such rhetorical excess is forgivable when rendered in the afterglow of a miraculous deliverance, and it speaks to the joy one has when victory has been plucked from the jaws of defeat.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Independence! Freedom! Tell the Next Generation! This is the Fourth of July weekend — Independence Day. This psalm sounds a lot like the exuberant language we hear during this holiday about declaring our independence from the British. In schools, stories are told of the midnight ride of Paul Revere, of the dumping of tea in Boston Harbor, of the Minutemen, of the speeches of Patrick Henry, of the writing of the Declaration of Independence. All of these things preserve for the "next generation" (v. 14) the glory, the bravery, the mighty exploits of those early colonists who fought and, in many cases, died to establish "liberty and justice for all." That's what this psalm is doing: celebrating God's mighty exploits. And it is also a recommitment of the people to acknowledge God as "our guide forever" (v. 14). One reason the local church exists is to "tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever" (vv. 13-14). As Americans, we must be reminded of the mighty deeds and acts of our forefathers and foremothers who secured our liberty. In the same way, we must continue to remind ourselves that God, who has been our guide in the past, will be our guide in the future. (Incidentally, many musical/choral versions of this psalm exist, especially of verses 1 and 2. Perhaps the psalm can be sung by a group or even the congregation.)
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
What Does the Text Say?
Paul seems so embarrassed about having allowed himself to get dragged into a boasting match (see 11:16-12:1) that he adopts the rhetorical device of speaking about himself in the third person ("I know a person …," v. 2). The experience is remarkable in two respects: first, because it brought him into the direct, heavenly presence of God ("third heaven," v. 2; "paradise," v. 3); and second, because it was so real and tangible that Paul was unable to distinguish between whether it had been a spiritual vision or an actual transport of his body into this other realm. So why hadn't Paul mentioned this experience before? In part because he had a constant "thorn … in the flesh … to keep [him] from being too elated" (v. 7). What Paul does make clear is that whatever the "thorn" was, it had not been placed in him by God. It had originated as "a messenger of Satan to torment me" (v. 7). It was neither a divinely imposed punishment for some failing, nor a burden placed upon him by God to teach him some lesson. That may explain why Paul had so diligently — at least for a time — asked God to remove it from him. But if God had not been the instigator of this infirmity, God did nevertheless choose to turn it to a more beneficial purpose (cf. Romans 8:28) than an apparently miraculous healing would have provided. That it was only a "thorn … in the flesh," certainly painful and possibly even somewhat debilitating, but not life-threatening or capable of curtailing his ministry, was clear proof that God's "grace is sufficient," and that indeed whatever power was manifested in this ministry of weakness was of divine origin (v. 9). The proof of God's activity in Paul's life, and in the lives of the Corinthians and all Christians, is ultimately not magnificent spiritual visions or miraculous physical healings. The proof of God's activity is the grace that sustains us even in our weakness, for it is in those moments that we recognize that power is not our own but must come from God. Boasting in our own power is foolishness and accomplishes nothing; boasting in our weakness may just remind us that "the power of Christ" also resides within us.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
The Backward or Upside-down Christian. Verses 9 and 10 of this text are two of the most well-known verses of the NT. They are memorable because of the upside-down, or backward logic found in them. Most people would gladly boast about their strengths, their assets, the things that make them beautiful, attractive, a highly valued employee and a skilled worker. In another letter, the apostle calls all this stuff so much rubbish (see Philippians 3:8). Here, he twice proclaims his weaknesses as qualities about which he boasts and with which he is utterly content. How many of us are content with our weaknesses? Should we be? How many of us like to "boast" about our shortcomings? How many psychological or self-help "weakness" tests are floating around out there in cyberspace? Not hard to find strength-assessment tools. But what if you said: "Hey, I'd love to get my hands on a weakness-assessment tool, you know, so I could have something to shout about and boast"? Crazy, huh? What does the apostle Paul mean by "weakness"? Why does he say something which is apparently so ridiculous?
Leader: Loving Christ, you are our gentle Shepherd.
People: We are your people; we long to know your will and to live in your way.
Leader: Keep us safe and secure in your compassionate hands.
People: Lead us, gentle Shepherd, lead us into new paths of love and service.
Leader: As you lead and guide us, touch our hearts and minds in this worship time,
People: So that our spirits may be refreshed and our lives filled with joy and praise.
Here in this time of worship, O Lord, I offer myself fully to you.
May your will be my guide.
May your love be the pattern of my life.
May your way be my hope.
May your path be my help.
Lord, I surrender to you my hopes, my dreams, my goals, my ambitions.
I place into your loving care my family, my friends, my life, my future.
Care for them with your loving care!
I release into your loving care my fears and sorrows, my sense of loss, my pain and numbness, my sadness and hurt.
Fill me, Lord, here and now, with a deep sense of your presence and a strong sense of your empowering Spirit. Take this time of prayer to renew our faith and replenish our hearts. Rebirth our spirits so that we may live with hope and confidence this day and every day, in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Go forth from this place inspired to serve one another and empowered by the love of God to do so. Go forth from this place to work in company with all God's children to do God's work and God's will on Earth as it is in heaven, that in loving and serving one another the kingdom of God may come to this world through you. Amen.
All Glory, Laud and Honor
Lift High the Cross
Lord, Dismiss Us with Thy Blessing
Worship and PraiseW
Open Hands (Story, Powell)Whatever Your Plan Is (Buchanan)
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God (Boswell)
WFor licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to ccli.com. The worship and praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.
on Mark 6:1-13
In Mark 6:1-13, the evangelist tells the story of Jesus' preaching in Galilee, followed by the story of the commissioning of the Twelve. Both these stories have parallels in Luke and Matthew, but in those gospels, they are not told together. Jesus' preaching in Galilee is related in Matthew 13:53-58 and Luke 4:14-30. Matthew tells the story of the commissioning of the apostles (along with a list of their names) in the same chapter in which Jesus appoints them (Matthew 10). Luke and Mark discuss their appointment and list their names separately from the story of their commissioning (Mark 3 and 6, and Luke 6 and 9).
Aside from their arrangement within their respective gospels, there are other differences within these parallel accounts as well. Only Mark and Luke include the detail that Jesus' teaching in the synagogue occurred on the Sabbath (Mark 6:2; Luke 4:16). Only Luke locates Jesus' teaching in his hometown of Nazareth, and only Luke cites Isaiah 61 as the passage not only from which Jesus read, but also applied to himself (Luke 4:16-21). In Mark and Matthew, the crowd identifies Jesus as the local carpenter and lists the names of his parents as well as his siblings (Mark 6:3; Matthew 13:55-56). The crowd in Luke identifies him only as Joseph's son (Luke 4:22).
While Luke is the only gospel in which Jesus quotes the proverb, "Doctor, cure yourself" (4:23), all of the synoptics attribute to Jesus the saying about a prophet not being welcome in his own country and among his own kin (Mark 6:4; Matthew 13:57; Luke 4:24). This saying is also attributed to Jesus in two extra-canonical collections of Jesus' sayings, the Coptic Gospel of Thomas (Saying 31) and the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus, lines 31-36. Luke is the only gospel that follows this saying with examples of the miracles wrought for non-Israelites by the prophets Elijah and Elisha. By doing this, Luke anchors the future expansion of the church into Gentile territory, not only within the preaching of Jesus, but also solidly within the classical Israelite prophetic tradition (Luke 4:25-27).
One last variation in this part of the story derives from the fact that Mark obviously had a hierarchy of value in mind regarding the types of miracles of which Jesus was capable. While Matthew states that Jesus could not do many mighty works in that place because of the people's unbelief (13:58), Mark says he couldn't do any mighty works there, except that he healed a few sick people through the laying on of hands (6:5). Apparently, healing the sick was not a particularly spectacular miracle for Jesus, according to Mark.
In the second part of this passage, the commissioning of the Twelve, the apostles first earn that title — which in English means "those who are sent out." In an interesting contrast to Luke's depiction of Jesus' preference for the Gentiles (4:25-27), Matthew begins his account of the commissioning of the apostles with Jesus' instructions that they not go to any Gentile or Samaritan towns, but only to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (10:5-6). These passages make it clear how both Matthew and Luke take material found in Mark and put their own spin on it. The original material in Mark does not favor either Israelites or Gentiles as the preferred targets of the gospel.
All of the synoptics recount that Jesus sent the apostles out to preach and gave them authority over "unclean spirits" (demons, according to Luke). Only Matthew and Luke feel it necessary to add that this gave them the authority to cure disease. Matthew also goes into greater detail as to their healing power, which included cleansing lepers and even raising the dead (Matthew 10:1, 8; Mark 6:7, 13; Luke 9:1-2). Mark no doubt considered healing power to be a given, once one had authority over the "unclean spirits" commonly credited with causing most diseases.
Only a few other minor differences exist in the remainder of this passage. While all the gospels recount that the apostles were to go without money and without baggage, even without a change of clothes, Matthew, for some reason (perhaps an extraordinary appeal to humility), states that they were not even to wear the sandals that Mark allows them (Matthew 10:10; Mark 6:9). Matthew also states that the persons they were to stay with were to be "worthy" (10:11). Mark and Luke only mandate, as does Matthew, that they were to pick only one host in a given town and stay only with that one person for the duration of their visit (Mark 6:10; Luke 9:4). This was, perhaps, an assurance that they would not draw on more of the resources of the community than was required for basic support.
Mark and Luke also explain that the purpose of the ritual of shaking of dust from one's feet is to make a "witness" against the inhabitants of the town one has just departed (Mark 6:11; Luke 9:5). The word for "witness," marturion, is also the root of our word "martyr." Thus, the apostles "witness" that they have been rejected by a given town, but rather than paying for that witness with their lives as many later did after bearing witness to Christ, Matthew makes it clear that the town will pay for their rejection of God's messengers with their lives as did Sodom and Gomorrah (10:15).
Finally, the content of the preaching of the apostles is described slightly differently by each of the synoptic gospels. Matthew states that they are to preach that "The kingdom of Heaven has come near" (10:7). Luke stipulates that they are simply to preach "the good news" (9:6). Mark states that the disciples preached that "all should repent" (6:12). These descriptions all share something in common, however. They are all used to describe the content of John the Baptist's preaching as recorded in Mark 1:14-15. Mark and Luke underscore the connection between John's and Jesus' message by following this story immediately with reports of the speculation that Jesus was John the Baptist resurrected (Mark 6:14-16; Luke 9:7-9). Matthew also makes reference to this speculation but places it elsewhere in his narrative (14:1-2). Also, according to Mark, preaching seems to be synonymous with teaching. When the disciples return, Mark says that they report to Jesus "all that they had done and taught" (6:30-31). The other evangelists make no mention of the apostles doing any teaching on their journeys.
In a Nazareth synagogue, Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” Jesus couldn’t do it all, but he did what he could. For the sick people who were cured, it was the will of God. Doing what we can transforms us from people who think change is impossible, to people who are doing God’s work, even when it looks like the odds are against us.
SERVICE TO GOD
They didn’t have a perfect marriage. That much is certain. Mary and Joseph began their life together with an unplanned pregnancy. Joseph seriously considered calling the whole thing off. But they persevered.
What enabled Mary and Joseph to do this was a conscious decision they undoubtedly made at some point in their wild, storm-tossed journey as an engaged couple.
How did they decide? We know precious little about the inner life of either one, other than that Mary listened to angels and Joseph paid attention to dreams. The decision those two made, at that critical juncture, was to cease chasing after a perfect marriage, and to cherish, instead, their good-enough marriage.
Now that may not sound especially commendable. To say those two accepted a marriage that was merely “good enough” hardly sounds romantic. It sounds like they merely settled.
For this couple, the road ahead was hardly what they’d planned — but then, are they all that unusual? What married couple, what human family, ever experiences exactly what they’ve planned?
There are conflicts and troubles a-plenty, in the best of marriages. There are times when the road is rough, the future uncertain. But then, in those marriages that do endure, there comes somehow the blessed discovery that what is flawed and imperfect is, after all, good enough.
All things are possible with God, but all things are not easy.
—George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons (Cosimo, 2007), 206.
Jesus said, “With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). We need to remember what this promise does and doesn’t imply.
First, it doesn’t imply that all things are easy. Accomplishing the impossible typically takes extended effort.
Second, it doesn’t imply that all things are immediate. Reaching worthwhile goals require a long-term investment of time.
Third, it doesn’t imply that all things will be painless. Personal sacrifice is part of the process.
It may not be easy, immediate, or painless, but for those willing to step out in faith, for those bold enough to trust God to do the impossible, the reward will always be greater than the investment.
—Steve May, The Monday Memo, March 19, 2007.
Father Richard Frechette, C.P. ... launched the St. Luke Foundation that has provided day-to-day help and education to thousands of children in Haiti. ...
What should we learn? What can we do? That we should keep our minds and hearts open to all the people of the world, Frechette said, and do what we can to keep “the banquet of life” open to all. “When you do the right thing, the next right thing will happen,” he said. ...
Frechette went to Haiti in 1987 to work in an orphanage. He was motivated to take on more and more services for children as he led the rise of the St. Luke Foundation. Its operations now include schools for 8,000 younger children and 1,200 high school age children. The foundation has also launched businesses employing Haitians and helps meet food needs of many. Its programs touch the lives of an estimated 150,000 Haitians each year.
Frechette described conditions in Haiti as terrible on almost every level, and, in general, not getting better. Yet, he pursues his work with love and confidence in the potential and future of the children who are involved. “I don’t see so much the bad part of it,” he said. “I see what’s possible.” Summarizing what St. Luke does, he said, “We raise children, that’s what we do.”
—Alan J. Borsuk, “Opus Award Winners: Huge Humanitarian Impact from Doing What Is Possible,” Marquette University Law School Faculty Blog, February 8, 2013.
Retrieved January 29, 2021.
The newly published novelist “wasn’t sure what to expect. ‘I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement,’ she later said. ‘I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.’”
More than 30 million copies of her book have since been sold. It has been translated into 40 languages. The book is To Kill a Mockingbird. The author is Harper Lee.
How did she even go through with the publication process, when she had such doubts? She simply did what was possible: and the impossible-sounding public acclaim came upon her like a tidal wave.
—Quoted material is from Garrison Keillor, The Writer’s Almanac for July 11, 2020.
Retrieved January 30, 2021.
Tell the children to pretend that you are all going on a camping trip and that you are going to bring the tent and a sleeping bag for each child. Ask them to list all the things they would like to bring on this overnight trip and write their answers down on a large easel so everyone can see. Encourage them to think of everything they might want to have on hand to play with: a soccer ball, board games, electronic games, stuffed animals, as well as things they need: foodstuffs, matches, change of clothes, toothbrush, flashlight. Then show them a backpack and have them cross out anything on the list that does not fit in the backpack. Conclude that sometimes, when we travel, we can only take with us what is absolutely necessary. Point out to them that they did not put “personal qualities” in the backpack. What would a follower of Jesus put in the backpack to get along well with her companions? Some possible answers might be honesty, thoughtfulness, consideration for others, a good sense of humor, a willingness to give in graciously to the desires of the group and a desire to make everyone feel a part of the group. Close with a prayer: "Thank you, God, for the fun times we have together. Help us to always be a person other people want to take on a trip. Amen."