This is the sermon I preached last Sunday, 7/8 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Mark 6:1-13.
What a great time we had with family while we were on vacation. We enjoyed the pool—playing beach ball volleyball with Grace and another time Sarah, Grace and I were in the pool with squirt guns. Ray even got in on the action, grabbing one that was on the side of the pool and squirting us with amazing accuracy. We even got some special time with Grace while the other adults were working. We played Sorry and of course, Grace won, because she always wins, no matter what game is played. Later, we went out to lunch together and had a great time.
Our time away was completely relaxing. It was an absolutely ideal vacation time, but as enjoyable as vacation is, there is nothing like sleeping in your own bed. As Dorothy said in the “Wizard of Oz,” “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”
Jesus had been away from home for quite a while, busy teaching and preaching, healing the sick, stopping storms and casting out demons. He must have been anxious to be home with family and friends. What a relief that would be from all the work he’d been doing—or would it? Instead, what we see is a reception of ridicule and rejection later transformed into commission and conquest.
Jesus’ rejection in his hometown of Nazareth is a bit puzzling. After all, here was the hometown boy returning as a great success. Everyone knew who he was and what he could do. However, he was not received as the conquering hero.
Jesus was received with ridicule and rejection. How could this one that they knew so well do all these things? Where did his authority come from? Who gave him permission to say he was the Son of God who was doing the work of his Father?
After all, there was doubt in the village of Nazareth about who Jesus’ father really was. One of the insults hurled at him was that he was the son of Mary. People were hinting that Jesus was illegitimate and no one knew who his father was.
Jesus’ power was not only independent of his family connection, but it was hindered by it. Do you remember that earlier in Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ family tried to stop him from preaching and doing all the works he was doing because they thought he was a nut-job? That isn’t exactly encouraging, is it?
And the village…well, these people knew Jesus. In a social system where one’s status was fixed at birth, it was considered impossible for someone like Jesus-a mere carpenter of questionable parentage—to amount to much of anything. He had no business rising above his dicey beginnings, no cultural permission to get too big for his britches. “We know exactly where you come from, boy. Remember your place!” (Barbara Brown Taylor).
We can see ourselves cast in various roles as we read this gospel lesson. Are we like Jesus and his disciples, looking for rest and hoping for a pat on the back for a job well-done? So many people were helped through your efforts. Lives were transformed and all you get is mockery.
Or, are we like Jesus’ family, just wishing that Jesus’ work wasn't so public since it reflected badly on them. Do we just try to fly under the radar so that no one notices us and we don’t get into trouble?
How about the town-folk? Has God brought someone our way with a powerful message and works, but, “Oh…he or she is just…” Fill in the blank. They’re uneducated, poor, have problems, are immigrants. We know this person and they are someone you just need to keep away from. How open are we that God’s power and a message that may come from an unexpected source? This story shows us how even miracles take divine power and willing witnesses.
The people’s small-mindedness, lack of trust and inability to embrace a new part of Jesus’ life and mission, kept them in spiritual poverty. They were offended and scandalized by Jesus. This was Jesus’ fourth rejection since he called his twelve disciples.
What was Jesus’ response? He quoted an equally insulting proverb to them, “A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child,” (v. 4).
Jesus’ power was limited because of the response of the villagers. Mark writes, “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” (vv. 5,6).
After all the ridicule and rejection at home, Jesus regroups, teaches in the surrounding villages and sends out his disciples. Throughout Mark’s gospel, we find the pattern of rejection followed by a demonstration of authority.
The rest of the story is that of commission and conquest as Jesus gives his disciples authority and sends them out to do the work he had been doing. Now the last time Jesus spoke to his disciples, it was anything but complimentary. He asked them why they were so afraid and had no faith (4:40). And these were the people he was sending out to do his work. I guess we don’t have to worry about any lack of qualifications to share the gospel considering these guys.
Jesus sent his disciples out two by two for several reasons. They would have each other's backs. The roads were dangerous. It wasn’t safe to go alone. They could encourage one another. Additionally, a second person would be a witness of the veracity of the message and could give testimony if the message was rejected. This was derived from the law of Moses regarding the importance of two or more witnesses (Deut. 17:6-7) when there was a dispute.
The disciples were to take very little with them. Perhaps this is so that they can witness to God’s power as they rely on God’s provision through the people they met, unencumbered by many possessions. Other wandering preachers of that time carried all their possessions with them so that they could be self-sufficient. But that was not to be the way of Jesus’ followers. Their dependence was on God. They did not even have any guarantees that their ministry would be received. Jesus sent them with the one thing that mattered most: relationship.
Now the interesting thing is that while the disciples were out teaching, healing and exorcising demons, John the Baptist was killed by Herod. What a reminder of how dangerous it could be to follow God faithfully.
Jesus told his followers that if they were not well-received, they were to shrug their shoulders and be on their way, (v. 11). In other translations, there is a reference to shaking the dust off their shoes. That was quite an insult, a curse in Jesus’ day. They were to wash their hands of such people and move on. It was a formal disavowal of fellowship, which also warned the unreceptive of the danger of rejecting God’s messengers. Jesus modeled this in the way he moved on after his reception in Nazareth.
Jesus sends us out today and we don’t have to go it alone. This life can be hard. We need support. We need one another. This doesn’t mean we’re weak. We were made for connections and relationships. It’s not good for us to try to go it alone. The more challenging our work is, the more important it is to have a companion by your side.
In today’s gospel, we have heard about the ministry of Jesus and about the special work of his chosen twelve followers as they preach and heal. Now it’s our turn to testify to Christ and to bring healing to others. In baptism,
God commissioned us to let our light shine so that others would see our good works and glorify our Heavenly Father. Each day we have the choice to resist God’s activity or to partner with God’s intent and action to bless and care for God’s world.
This is evident in our involvement with the Five and Two Ministry, when we made mats for the homeless, as well as a number of other activities. What we do matters, and once again this week God equips and commissions us to be agents of grace.
I see and appreciate all the wonderful things you all do. I am grateful for your efforts. God invites you to a life of holiness rooted in everyday acts of kindness, that are so ordinary as to be easily overlooked yet extraordinary in the difference they make to those around you. God not only sees you but also blesses you. God blesses you to be a blessing and works through you to love, bless and care for this world (David Lose).
God also challenges us today to respond to God’s call as we are sent out to continue the work of Jesus, proclaiming the power of God over all the powers of the demons of this world (sundaysandseasons.com). Evangelism is about telling others about the God who means so much and has done so much for us. That means that we may even have to open our mouths and speak with someone about Jesus. In partnership with our sisters and brothers in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I know we can do it.
Brian K. Blount & Gary W. Charles, Preaching Mark in Two Voices
David Lose, “…In the Meantime,” davidlose.net
Robb McCoy & Eric Fistler, pulpitfiction.com
Gail Ramshaw, sundaysandseasons.com
Barbara Brown Taylor, sermon “Sapping God’s Strength.”
Debi Thomas, journeywithjesus.net