Lectionary Commentaries for July 5, 2009
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Mark 6:1-13

Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman

This is one of those instances where the lectionary disturbs the narrative flow of Mark’s gospel.

Verses 1-6 of chapter 6 are really a self-contained unit, but who wants to end on that challenging verse 6? So we get verses 7-13 added on, and the preacher can choose to move to these more positive admonitions related to the sending of the disciples. We don’t hear the rest of this story, however, until two weeks later in the lectionary when the return of the disciples is narrated in Mark 6:30.

I will treat these units separately, but I will also suggest how they may be related.

The reason why the people of Nazareth reject Jesus in Mark 6:1-6 has never been entirely clear to me. I am more familiar with instances where a small town celebrates, even exaggerates, the success stories of locals who have made it big.

The text suggests an initial positive reception, but somewhere in verses 2-3 everything changes. Why might this be?

  • Did they wonder if Jesus was ‘crazy smart,’ and then decide that he was just crazy? Earlier in Mark 3:21, Jesus’ own family had come to get him because they thought he had “gone out of his mind.”
  • In Mark 6:2, the people asked, “Where did this man get all this?” Did they decide, like the scribes had in Mark 3:22, that he got it all from a demonic source? (This makes for a nice connection with the earlier, similar synagogue scene in Mark 1:21-27 where the question about Jesus’ authority was first raised.)
  • In a social system where status was understood as fixed (i.e., your status at birth defined who you would always be) and honor/shame considerations were important, did they simply regard it as impossible for Jesus to amount to anything? The people of Nazareth indicate this negative perception when they identify Jesus as a “carpenter” (i.e., a low-status manual laborer) and as the “son of Mary” (i.e., hinting at a questionable fatherhood).

In its breezy style, Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message probably gets it right.1  Because people think they know who Jesus is, they end up asking disdainfully, “Who does he think he is?”

The identity of Jesus is a consistent issue in Mark. In the gospel, we hear the opinions of rulers, religious authorities, crowds, disciples, and family members. For the author of Mark, the important question keeps coming around to “who do you — the reader — say that Jesus is?” And if you do honor Jesus as a prophet (or more than a prophet), who does that make you? Does it mean new allegiances that supersede traditional country and family values? As you answer those questions, Mark is leading you into a confession of faith.

But what about Jesus’ inability to perform miracles? Apparently it caused Jesus to wonder too! A couple things to note:

  • The problem is not a matter of whether they have enough faith but that they have no faith.
  • Elsewhere in Mark, a person’s faith is not necessarily tied to the success of a miracle. Sometimes faith is not mentioned at all. Sometimes the faith of the restored one’s friends or family is noted, or, as in Mark 9:24. Sometimes it’s a matter of “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Ultimately, what didn’t happen in Nazareth is not much of a surprise. A miracle is not just an event but it is an interpreted event. If Jesus is not regarded to be capable of healing, any healing that does happen won’t be attributed to him. So, there is nothing here to see. Move along, move along…

We move on to Mark 6:7-13. The sending of the twelve does not have an encouraging setup in the gospel. We’ve only seen the disciples a few times in the immediately previous chapters:

  • In Mark 4, they fail to understand Jesus’ parables and need explanations.
  • At the end of Mark 4, Jesus charges them of being fearful and lacking faith when he stills the storm, and they wonder, “Who then is this?”
  • In a cameo role in Mark 5, they question Jesus for wondering who touched him in the crowd.

Now, Jesus sends them forth to preach repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons.

How does this preach today? I have heard plenty of sermons on how God doesn’t necessarily choose the qualified but qualifies the chosen. If you want evidence, this text is proof. Maybe someone needs to hear that kind of encouragement. However, I’m not sure how good of a sermon it will make or how much Gospel it actually is.

What’s harder to preach is the business about all the things that are not supposed to be taken “for the way” (Mark 6:8). Jesus describes an itinerant ministry where the evangelists live solely on the kindness of strangers, and on faith that Jesus knows what he is talking about.

Times and cultures change, of course, and I’m not advocating this practice as the best way to spread the Gospel today. Still, it should give us some pause as many of us worship in well-appointed sanctuaries and live with salaries, pensions, and any number of shoes and extra clothes. The text is not intended to be a scolding, however, and isn’t even the only model for ministry. (Did you note that after being rejected in Nazareth, Jesus forgot to shake off the dust from his sandals!)

Would you agree that we are living in a world that is more and more characterized by unbelief?

If so, doesn’t it feel as if we are living in a Nazareth-world — a culture that is, at best, disinterested in Jesus?

If so, isn’t it utter folly to think we can change anything by preaching Christ?

In fact, isn’t any Christian whose life has been transformed by Christ living defenseless in a world where security and status are calculated commodities?

We do have one thing those disciples did not, and it makes all the difference. We have experienced the faithfulness of God in Jesus crucified and risen. So, we may marvel at the unbelief around us, but still we go forth, proclaiming and practicing our faith in Christ.

1Peterson’s translation of Mark 6:1-6 reads: He left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?” But in the next breath they were cutting him down: “He’s just a carpenter — Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further. Jesus told them, “A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child.” Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there — he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that’s all. He couldn’t get over their stubbornness. He left and made a circuit of the other villages, teaching.

First Reading

Commentary on Ezekiel 2:1-5

John C. Holbert

Passages like this one can lead in two very different directions.

On the one hand, the certainty of a call from God can offer strength and conviction in the face of adversaries. It can buck up a failing will to speak the truth in a community that finds truth-telling threatening. This reading of a prophetic call has been the stuff of preaching for centuries, and more than a few preachers have heard this call as a model for their own ministries.

On the other hand, a passage like this one can offer too much certainty for an arrogant human convinced that she has a phone line to the Almighty and has been sent by God to set the world straight.

I had a student some years ago who quite literally poisoned one of my classes. Citing passages like Ezekiel 2:1-5, he believed that his call was so completely approved by God that any classmates with ideas other than his were subjected to withering abuse. And all his abuse was couched in the conviction that he was telling the truth received from on high.

Certainty of call can be a wonderful thing, but certainty of call can also be a terrible thing.
Ezekiel was called to his prophetic ministry during the greatest crisis in the nation’s history. In 597 BCE, the Babylonians had come to the city of Jerusalem, bent on conquest. They had defeated the meager armies of the nation and had made Israel a vassal, placing their own Babylonian puppet, Zedekiah, on the throne.

However, during the next ten years, Zedekiah had been convinced that he should resist his Babylonian masters, proclaim independence from Babylon, and align with Egypt. Such recklessness brought down the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar. He returned to Jerusalem in 587 BCE, destroyed the city, and this time, removed the king and court to Babylon. Israel ceased to exist as a nation and remained in limbo for several centuries. This story is told in a memorable poetic allegory in Ezekiel 17.

Into this maelstrom of defeat, plunder, and death, Ezekiel was called to speak. Little wonder that his call is described at such length and with such drama in chapter 1, the vision of the throne chariot.

Confronted by a mind-blowing apparition of winged creatures and wheels within wheels, all wrapped in towering clouds, Ezekiel falls on his face. Visions can do that to a person!

But then he hears the voice of someone speaking (Ezekiel 1:28). He first hears, “Mortal (literally ‘son of man,’ though the locution suggests a part of a group, so ‘mortal’ is a correct reading), stand on your feet, and I will speak to you!” (Ezekiel 2:1). But Ezekiel, on his own, cannot stand. So, the text continues: “a spirit (or wind) entered (the literal Hebrew here is ‘a wind in the manner of a word’) came into me, and set me on my feet” (Ezekiel 2:2).

Something important is said by this language. All of the prophet’s actions are directed by God; Ezekiel is not able to stand or to speak unless directed by the Spirit of God to do so. This fact implies that anyone who claims to speak for God should listen very intently to what God has for him/her to say. He/she should continually reflect on the nature of the divine call to speak.

God’s call to Ezekiel is a harsh one. “Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day” (Ezekiel 2:3).

Here God recalls that long-ago time when spies were sent into the Promised Land. The report came back that the inhabitants were like giants and could never be defeated. But Joshua and Caleb gave a different assessment and accused their compatriots of “rebellion against the Lord” (Numbers 14:9). These rebellions are typical of Israel even now, says God.

In the face of “impudence” and “stubbornness,” Ezekiel is to say, “Thus says the Lord” (Ezekiel 2:4). He is never to produce his own ideas or words, for such individual human arguments can never carry the day against a people long-entrenched in rebellion.

“Whether they hear or refuse to hear, they will know that there has been a prophet among them” (Ezekiel 2:5). Verses 6-7 warn Ezekiel not to be afraid of them, no matter their words of rejection, no matter their looks of disapproval and disdain.

But the question remains always: how are we to know that a true prophet has been among us? As the modern world shows, many people who claim to speak for God say all manner of things that many others think could never have come from God at all.

It is crucial to return to the beginning of the passage. Ezekiel has nothing to say. He is incapable of saying anything apart from the indwelling of God’s Spirit. This calls for humility.

When I stand to speak for God, I must always know that it is I who am speaking. I hope that God’s Spirit infuses my words, but I also know that those words are pouring out of my mouth, infused with my reflection and my research.

And this is why chapter 2 of Ezekiel is written in the way it is. To speak for God is both wondrous and dangerous. Before we take such a task on, we had better open ourselves up, as wide as we can, so that God’s Spirit might pour in.

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Ralph W. Klein

David was anointed to be king three times.

The first time, he was anointed by the prophet Samuel, secretly, and at God’s direction (1 Samuel 16:1 — 13). That divine designation and election was prior and most important, but David was also anointed king by a decision of the people.  First it was Judah where David served as a kind of mini-king for seven and a half years (2 Samuel 2:1-4). It was only one tribe, but it was a beginning.

Those first years as king were troubled times.  The eleven other tribes followed after the death of Saul’s surviving son, Ishbaal, who carried on a kind of civil war with David.

But during those troubled times, the house of David grew stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul grew constantly weaker. Finally, Saul’s son  Ishbosheth was assassinated by two of his own officers. These daring men thought they would be rewarded for their treachery by David, who instead ordered their execution (2 Samuel 4:1-12).

All the tribes of North Israel had no other option but to turn to David. So they all took the humbling trip to Hebron and began negotiations.

They first acknowledged that David was kinfolk: “We are your bone and flesh” (2 Samuel 5:1). Secondly, they recognized his considerable achievements.  “Even when Saul was our king,” they observed, “you were the one who led Israel in battle.” Third, they recognized in him Yahweh’s own choice: “Yahweh said to you: it is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel” (2 Samuel 5:2).

The word shepherd in antiquity was a synonym for king. When we hail Yahweh as shepherd in the twenty-third psalm, that title has royal overtones. “Ruler” also is a technical term, meaning something like “king-designate.”  The one who designates David as king is Yahweh. All that is needed now is the acclamation of the people.

For the next stage of the ritual, David made a covenant with them (2 Samuel 5:3). Elsewhere we speak of the covenant that Yahweh made with David (2 Samuel 23:5).

We are not told what obligations this covenant involved, but it would have likely included judging the people with righteousness and the poor with justice (Psalm 72:2), or defending the cause of the poor and giving deliverance to the needy (Psalm 72:4). David also would be responsible for their economic well-being (Psalm 72:16). All this was done with Yahweh as a witness.

Now it was the people’s turn to act in this ritual, and they are represented by the traditional elders of the community. They anointed David king over Israel (2 Samuel 5:3).

The Bible nowhere explains the exact significance of anointing, and whether it is kings or priests who are anointed.  Some customs in neighboring countries suggest that anointing was itself an act of covenant making. The people too were expressing their loyalty, acknowledging David as king and agreeing to their responsibilities, such as taxes, state work projects, and military service.

In any case, the kings of Israel were always anointed. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the word ‘anointed’ is always modified. The person anointed is the ‘anointed of Yahweh,’ or ‘my anointed,’ or ‘his anointed.’  The possessive pronouns always refer to Yahweh. When later kings are anointed, this no doubt stood as an indication of Yahweh’s choice and the people’s faithfulness. Needless to say, this was not always a perfect relationship.

David ruled for forty years altogether, seven and one half in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. In verses 6-8, David captured Jerusalem, which previously had remained the city of the Jebusites. Located outside the tribal territories, much like Washington, D.C., Jerusalem was literally the City of David. The choice of Jerusalem as capital did not favor one tribe over another.

According to verse 10, David went from strength to strength. In the polls? In military victories? In moral and ethical conduct? Well, yes and no. The writer probes for a deeper analysis: “It was because Yahweh, the God of the heavenly armies, was with him.” This literal translation boldly expresses the power of David’s God.

The short sentence “I am with you” is at the heart of the good news in the Bible. Moses thought up five excuses in Exodus 3-4 about why he should not be the leader in the Exodus. Then God said, “I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12), or “I will be with your mouth” when Moses had tried the lame excuse that he did not know how to talk (Exodus 4:12). Jeremiah had argued that he was only a teenager and therefore could not be a prophet.  God countered, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you” (Jeremiah 1:8). In Matthew’s description of the significance of Jesus, he drew on the old word in Isaiah 7:14, “They shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us'” (cf. Matthew 1:23). And the last word of Jesus in that Gospel is: “And remember, I am with you to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Why is “I am with you” so important? It means that David and all of us later royal and priestly children of God are never alone. However sinful and however lacking in confidence we might be, God is not ashamed to hang around with David, Bathsheba, or us. There is an implicit word of forgiveness in this simple sentence.

Finally, “I am with you” is a word of empowerment. Whether it is the ability to trust, to carry out our day to day vocations, or to face all the challenges of life — including our mortality — God’s “I am with you” means that we have the promise of strength and encouragement to do what we have to do.

How do we know that God is with us? It all starts with our naming at our baptism. Ralph or Marilyn or whoever, you have been marked with the cross of Christ forever. It is Christ’s real presence in the Supper that says to us in ways that we can taste, touch, and smell, “I am with you.”

It is in the assurance of Christian brothers and sisters, in their words of encouragement and forgiveness, and by their witness that we hear God is with us. It is through the frequent use of the Means of Grace that we know God is indeed with us, and we are God’s children. Was God ever more with us than when Jesus was extended for us on the cross?

When a new king arose after Saul, there was the excitement we all feel at the beginning of a new administration, the excitement of our first job, our first love, or each new day. But this excitement is not born just from newness or from refreshment after sleep. It is the excitement that in this new day or new venture that God is with us.

Those words alone were enough for David. They are also enough for us.


Commentary on Psalm 123

W. H. Bellinger, Jr.

One of the more helpful approaches to the Psalms is considering these poems as pilgrimage songs of faith.

The people of ancient Israel went on pilgrimage to the temple to worship, and these are the songs they sang as they traveled to express their faith. As the community sings its faith, it also comes to embrace that faith at a deeper level.

One of the collections of psalms that clearly embodies this approach is the “Psalms of Ascents,” Psalms 120-134. Most interpreters understand this collection to come from a festival pilgrimage (ascending) to Zion/Jerusalem for worship.

The first four psalms in the collection (Psalms 120-123) suggest a journey from afar and a context of distress for the pilgrim community. They anticipate arriving at the temple on Mount Zion. In the meantime, the community looks to God for help along the way.

J. Clinton McCann suggests that Book V of the Psalter (Psalms 107-150) responds to the theological crisis and need for help that persisted for ancient Israel even after return from exile.1  Those who arranged the Psalter are thus suggesting reading the Psalms of Ascents (placed in Book V) in terms of the experience of exile and its aftermath.

While not limited to this particular setting, Psalm 123 fits it well. It is a community lament psalm that, based upon trust in God, petitions God for help in the face of scorn. Nehemiah 2:17-20; 4:1-5 suggests the scorn faced by those attempting to re-build Jerusalem after the experience of exile.

Likely the psalm would have been used in an ancient worship setting in which the community expressed its trust in God and pleaded for divine help. The exilic/post-exilic setting is helpful for seeing the import of this song that suggests part of the ancient faith community’s pilgrimage of faith.

The prayed poem is brief but powerful. We will consider it in two parts:

  • Confession of trust in God (verses 1-2)
  • Subsequent complaint and petition (verses 3-4)

Verses 1-2

The controlling image of the psalm has to do with the eyes or looking. In the opening line, “To you I lift up my eyes,” we find the spatial image of looking up to heaven where God is enthroned as creator and sovereign over all the earth.

The second line of the verse confirms that the singer looks up toward the throne room of God. Underlying the faith articulated in Psalm 123 is the confession that God is king. The psalm opens in the first person singular ‘I’ but moves to the plural we/us/our in the remainder of the prayer.

The second verse communicates with a poetic comparison. A servant looks to the master for provision, and a maid looks to the mistress for provision. In the same way, the praying community now looks to God for provision. The eyes and looking are still front and center in the poetry.

What this community looks for is a sign of divine mercy. The worshiper sings of lifting wide open eyes to the skies. The community looks up in anticipation. The prayer is not a silent act of resignation, but a looking in hope for a glimpse of divine mercy.

Verses 3-4

The concluding line of verse 2 introduces the mercy of God, and verse 3 continues the emphasis with the prayer that God have mercy upon this struggling community. The petition “Have mercy upon us” occurs twice. No specifics are named, only the strong plea for mercy.

Verses one and two suggest a covenant relationship for this community with the heavenly king, thus giving a basis for the plea in verse 3. The trouble the praying community brings before the divine king is the contempt or scorn they face. Some people in authority are pouring contempt on the faithful pilgrims and they have had more than enough.

These mockers are identified in verse 4 as ‘the proud’ or arrogant. They do not look up to the heavenly king, but look down upon those around them. Again, we are drawn to the image of eyes and the act of looking, the psalm’s central image. The arrogant look only to themselves, not to master or mistress, and certainly not to the heavenly king. The pilgrim community looks to the heavenly king for a word of mercy and grace, a word absent from their current world.


The psalm begins with an affirmation of trust and moves to the community’s plea for help from the one it trusts. The psalm fits the crisis of ancient Israel’s exile and its aftermath, but it is not limited to that setting. Like other prayers for help in the book of Psalms, Psalm 123 can fit a variety of circumstances in both the ancient and contemporary world. It is adaptable for life.

The poetic imagery of the eyes or looking provides a powerful entry into the import of this song. The eyes of the pilgrim community look to the divine king for hope in the midst of oppression by arrogant overlords, a contrast to the arrogant mockers who operate out of autonomy and independence.

This perspective is characteristic of many of the pilgrimage songs of faith in the Psalter. The faithful are those who live in an interdependent way with other members of the faith community. The faithful understand that life is not something they have earned or made, but it is a gift from the creator, sustainer, and king enthroned in the heavens. Such a perspective is woefully absent in contemporary western culture.

1J. Clinton McCann, “The Book of Psalms,” New Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Leander E. Keck, et al (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996), 1187.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

David Tiede

He was a spellbinding preacher addressing the ecumenical Thanksgiving gathering in the little gymnasium of my hometown.

“I wear a white suit, white shoes, and a red tie for the blood of Jesus!” he declared. The message was all about him, full of his exploits, and calling for “powerful faith” like his to make all things possible.

Irritated to my core, I headed for the door when the service ended. Paul’s “super-apostle” opponents didn’t hold a candle to this preacher. But my ten-year-old son went straight to the podium. He was always first to the car! I turned toward him, “Let’s go!”

“No, dad!” He scowled. “This is the first time religion made any sense to me!”

So I stood behind my child in the line to shake the preacher’s hand. One of us pure as the driven snow. The other, humbled in his hypocrisy.

2 Corinthians 12 churns with irony, sarcasm, and faith. If the lector reads it right, the calm of the Pentecost season will be disrupted with prophetic speech. No “working preacher” who engages this passage will allow boredom in the congregation.

To grasp its evangelical force, this text needs to be read in the larger context of chapters 10-13, or at least with the benefit of verses 11-12, just beyond the close of the pericope: “I have been a fool! You forced me to it. Indeed you should have been the ones commending me, for I am not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, signs and wonders and mighty works.”

Those “extra verses” remind us that Paul was dealing with high performers who apparently criticized his adequacy as an apostle. “His letters are weighty and strong,” they noted, “but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible” (2 Corinthians 10:10).

“I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles,” Paul responded. “I may be untrained in speech, but not in knowledge” (2 Corinthians 11:6). “And what I do I will also continue to do, in order to deny an opportunity to those who want an opportunity to be recognized as our equals in what they boast about. For such boasters are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:12-13).

In the verse preceding our pericope (2 Corinthians 12:1), Paul notes: “It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on in visions and revelations of the Lord.” This reading, therefore, is Paul’s testimony to his “foolish boast” in the Lord and his experience of the presence of the resurrected Christ.

The commentaries demonstrate how profoundly the way Paul speaks is shaped by the prevailing styles, terms, and metaphors of his era. He is talking their game! Even the tensions between “bold speech” (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:2) and worthy or foolish “boasting” are consistent with the conventions of Hellenistic rhetoric.

Garrison Keillor aside, neither “militantly modest” Lutherans nor the Jews invented convoluted discussions about who is “holier than thou” or “humbler than thou.” What the apostolic witness added, however, was a “proper confidence.”1

Even Paul’s ironic tone, verging on the sarcastic, does not hide Paul’s confidence that his religious experiences are at least as powerful as anyone else’s. Accounts of out-of-the-body experiences were as popular in Paul’s world as in ours.

The mystery religions often cultivated transcendent experiences, “whether in the body or out of the body” (2 Corinthians 12:3). Their ecstatic visions were to be kept secret: “things not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat” (2 Corinthians 12:4). For Paul, speaking in the voice of the third person (“I know a person in Christ who…” 2 Corinthians 12:3) could be an ironic imitation of how people told such stories to heighten the mystery of watching themselves having the experience.

People have been practicing spiritual travel, telling death and near-death stories, and inducing visions in every era. The apostle does not discredit such human religious experiences. Instead he describes his encounter with the living Christ in their terms.

For those who are amazed at such experiences, Paul is confident his story ranks right at the top: “If I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth” (2 Corinthians 12:6). Recent Pauline scholarship has emphasized the Apostle did not lack ego strength. “I am not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing” (2 Corinthians 12:11).

The statement “I am nothing,” therefore, is not a denial of self-confidence, but a witness to his profound confidence which is grounded in Christ outside of himself.

The true ecstasy to which Paul testifies is not his personal accomplishment of standing outside of his body, but the living Christ Jesus standing in for him. He even saw he could put others in the spiritual danger of thinking “better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations” (2 Corinthians 12:6-7).

“A thorn was given me in the flesh,” he declares. The passive voice suggests this “thorn” was given by God, as “a messenger from Satan” (2 Corinthians 12:7). In the Bible, God can even be at work in the trials of Satan, as in the trials of Job or the testing of Jesus in the wilderness.

This entire journey through the splendors of human experience of transcendence takes us to the revelation of the gracious presence and power of Christ.

Instead of being full of himself and his religious experience, Paul is aware that his own weakness, his emptiness is the occasion for the presence of the living Christ: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This is not a general truth, but the specific truth of the Gospel that “the power of Christ may dwell in me.”

Under attack from “false apostles,” Paul is fierce, ironic, even sarcastic, drawing the Corinthians away from the illusions of superior spiritualities. In his letter to the saints in Philippi, he was gentler with his adversaries about what matters. “Just this,” he said, “that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).

So too for you, dear “Working Preacher!” Even when you persist in making yourself the hero of your stories, God can draw your people to the proper ground of their confidence: the power of Christ dwelling in them.

1See Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt and Certainty in Christian Discipleship. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.