1He said to me: O mortal, stand up on your feet, and I
will speak with you. 2And when he spoke to me, a spirit
entered into me and set me on my feet; and I heard him speaking to
me. 3He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the
people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against
me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this
very day. 4The descendants are impudent and stubborn. I
am sending you to them, and you shall say to them,
Thus says the
Lord God. 5Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for
they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a
prophet among them.
1He left that place and came to his hometown, and his
disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach
in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They
Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that
has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his
hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and
brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his
sisters here with us? And they took offense at
him. 4Then Jesus said to them,
are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own
kin, and in their own house. 5And he could do no deed
of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people
and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them,
Wherever you enter a house, stay there until
you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you
and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that
is on your feet as a testimony against them. 12So
they went out and proclaimed that all should
repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with
oil many who were sick and cured them.
In the entire gospel of mark, this is the last time Jesus is mentioned as setting foot in the synagogue. He walked into the synagogue in his hometown and he sat down to teach. The people who were there to listen were the people who grew up with him… his childhood friends, his family… his kin as the text calls them. They heard what Jesus had done and they were astounded. Where did this man get all this? What is the source of the wisdom he's been given… what about the deeds of power he's doing! The last three scenes before this passage in the gospel are pictures of power.calming the storm, casting out the legion of demons, healing the woman who was hemorrhaging and bringing the young girl back to life. He'd been back and forth across the lake healing, teaching and proclaiming the good news of the proximity of God's kingdom wherever he went and to whomever would listen.
By this point, the sixth chapter of the gospel, it's become clear to anyone who read it, or heard it read from the beginning, there's something special about Jesus. His power, his authority, his miracles, his teaching… it comes from God. He must be from God. The people who gathered to hear the gospel read in the first century would have known it as clearly as we do… that's the nature of the gospel of Mark…It's focus is on the identity and proper response to Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ. It seems like the author almost wants us as the readers to be shouting the answer as the characters in the story, those who should know Jesus best, ask questions and then turn on him… they may have started out astounded but within the course of two verses they took offense at him, they wouldn't accept him. They rejected him.
For whatever reason, it was hard for them to grasp the idea that the power of God was at work among them, in someone as close as the kid who grew up next door. We remember him when he was in diapers… He was a rabble-rouser even then. The tendency is to take people for granted; especially if you've known them forever… you've seen little glimpses of what they've done for the last twenty years… they sit in the row behind you at church week after week. They're normal, ordinary. They couldn't believe Jesus was as amazing as he seemed… they knew where he came from, they knew where he'd been… they heard him fight with his siblings.
Everyone wanted to see the miracles and the miracle worker… but when it turned out to be just the same old Jesus they weren't real sure they wanted to listen to him. Who did he think he was to tell us what to do. Now the content of what he said isn't recorded in the gospel but we can imagine that it's consistent with the message Jesus had been proclaiming all along: Repent, for the kingdom of God has drawn near. It's a hard message to accept because it demands a response. It required something of them and that same message, if we listen, requires something of us too… the kingdom of God has drawn near… turn toward it and embrace it. But change is always hard.
Change requires vulnerability and the call to change can make people feel threatened. It's amazing how often we choose to stay put when the choice is presented between on the one hand taking steps toward health and wholeness, toward newness of life; and on the other hand,to repeat patterns or behaviors that aren't particularly fruitful or helpful.
Jesus offered. He consistently showed the way to wholeness. But he
didn't force the issue. He didn't coerce people to choose new life.
He didn't compel people to move toward health. That choice was
theirs and the same choice is ours. Jesus came out of a position of
vulnerability. He came into the world as a poor peasant child with
questionable lineage, vulnerable in more regards than one... He
went out of the world, crucified as a criminal. In between he was
rejected and deserted by religious leaders, by his friends and in
our passage today, by his family and people in his hometown. He
came out of a position of vulnerability to invite people into a
position of vulnerability: because that's the pathway to growth and
that's the pathway to new life. The most vulnerable part of a plant
is the bright green new growth emerging. Brand new babies have that
little soft spot on the top of their heads where their skull is
still growing together.. And when it comes to ideas, who of us
haven't at one point in time had a dream or hope that holds
excitement for us… but when it first gets shared it gets
discouraged, put down as impossible or unrealistic and then it
remains hidden away in the back of our minds for years and we're
And that's the risk of vulnerability, rejection. We know that we
come into the world vulnerable and we know that we go out of the
world vulnerable but it seems like all the time in between we try to
be as protected as we can… so we act strong because otherwise
the world will chew you up and spit you out. Even my daughter who's
not yet two… she doesn't quite have the words to say it yet
but she sure can communicate,
leave me alone, I can do it
myself… We learn at an early age and by now, I think most
of us are pretty good at that one.
Oh, but Jesus gives a different vision when he sends out the disciples. Right after he's rejected by those who should have known him best, the gospel story shifts to the people who have decided to follow him. They're the ones who said yes, the ones who have a personal relationship with Jesus. They've seen how he operates in the world. Even though there are plenty of places in Mark's gospel that the disciples don't get it. They know enough… and more importantly they are enough for the task they're given. They have experience of the power of God in Jesus Christ and because of that they're sent out to share the message he's been proclaiming and do the works that he's been doing.
He sends them out with only the most basic necessities. Wear what you're wearing, don't bring extra food, don't take money. Go out vulnerable.
When it comes to sharing the gospel, there's really not very much
stuff that's needed. Eugene Peterson did a translation/paraphrase
of the entire bible from original languages into contemporary
English. And this is how he paraphrased verses 8 and 9 of our
Don't think you need a lot of extra equipment for
this. You are the equipment... Keep it simple.
It's not the techniques that you know, it's not the bible verses you memorized when you were a kid, it's not the answers you have or even the answers you don't have that are the tools to share the gospel… You are the tool. Even though we are imperfect, we are flawed human beings, and none of us have everything together, people, whether it was the disciples two thousand years ago or whether it's you and me today, people are the equipment that's used to share the gospel. Our passion, our excitement, our caring and the experience we have of God working in our lives… that's what we have to share. Sharing our selves including the stories of our own experience of God is what's going to draw people to Christ and it's what's going to draw people to the community of followers… it's been that way since the beginning.
Now sharing ourselves, especially our experience of what God is doing in our lives is counter-cultural and it's difficult because it requires time to build trust. It requires openness and vulnerability and like I said before, we work real hard to avoid that.what if they laugh at me, what if they think I'm crazy… I don' t want them to dismiss me as some kind of bible thumper or Jesus freak.
Jesus sends the disciples with only two things, both of which are more ideas than possessions. First he gives them a warning that they will likely be rejected and second, there's an implicit expectation that God will provide what's needed. It's almost funny to me when I think about my experience talking with people about reaching out, the proportionality of the two things Jesus mentions here. First we have you will likely be rejected… I'm not sure that this room can hold the enormity of the way people hear that statement… it's big, ginormous, Neon flashing sign… Rejection! We've all been rejected, we know what it feels like and it makes sense to avoid it. And then second, we have way back there, sitting in the back row, maybe even hiding under a chair in little tiny print… God will provide. When we come from that kind of proportionality it's no wonder outreach seems scary.
But this might just be where the goals the ones that came out of the UPB church leadership retreat a couple months ago, converge… to be a community of believers growing spiritually, to be committed to community service and to increase participation in the life and ministry of the church… Where they converge is to reclaim that God will provide, that God is already providing. Where they converge is to reclaim vulnerable open relationships sharing ourselves in community and sharing our experience of God. That's the kind of outreach and that's the kind of authenticity that's attractive to people of my generation.
So I ask, what are you thankful for? What are you passionate about? What are your fears and failings? What are your hopes and dreams? Where have you seen God at work in your life… where do you desperately want to see God at work? If these questions don't have answers for you, a good place to start might be to ask them. If the answers come easy perhaps it's time to share them: with me, with a friend, a spouse, a loved one, an intentional community, a small group.
There are a thousand reasons why not to… it's certainly easier to not worry about it, to not expend the energy or the effort, to not risk rejection by being vulnerable. But again, that's how Jesus sends out the disciples… to share themselves. And my experience in intentional community and ministry tells me that kind of vulnerability has an upside that can't be found elsewhere. It builds community because it frees relationships for depth and healing and it also leads to spiritual growth because it fosters trusting God.
In our passage today, Jesus gets rejected and the disciples get sent out… and perhaps the message, the challenge is to go forth trusting that God will provide. Because when it comes right down to it, all we have is what we are and when we're connected to the living God, that is more than enough to share the good news both in words and in action. Amen
The foregoing sermon was given by Rev. Dan Holland at the United Parish of Bowie on July 5, 2009.
© 2009 Daniel Holland