When the Going Gets Tough

Mark 6:1-13
6th Sunday after Pentecost

Elizabeth M. Deibert
8 July 2012

Guide us, O God, by your Word and Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Many of you know that I served as interim pastor of my hometown church for two years before accepting the call to come to Peace in 2005.   When I read scripture from the pulpit, I read from the Bible, given in my father’s memory.   When I proclaimed God’s word, there were some there who remembered when I had no words.  There were others who had gone to school with me from Kindergarten to 12th grade.   There was my mother in the choir, my sixth grade teacher, my jr high basketball coach, an old boyfriend’s mother and sister, my piano teacher, my high school chorus director, and I could go on.   I was now faith leader to those who had taught my Sunday school classes and fed me at youth group, and watched me grow in faith.   It was an interesting time to find my voice, my God-given authority as a pastor among people, most of whom had known me well for the first twenty years of my life.

Yet there is a familiarity that breeds contempt.    There is no one who can cut you down quicker or point out your inconsistencies better than a spouse or sibling who wishes to put you in your place.    In Jesus’ hometown it was no different.    The people who had watched him grow up figured he was just like them.    How could a carpenter’s boy act like the Son of God?    I mean, really, that just Mary’s boy.   “Don’t you remember his brother?   He was an average guy.” So the hometown community rationalizes away all Jesus’ authority.

But the interesting thing about this story is that when Jesus realizes his power has been thwarted by those who don’t believe in him, he then simply passes off his healing power to his disciples and sends them out in twos, multiplying the mission of God.

Let us now ponder what the Spirit is saying to her church, as we read Mark, chapter 6, verses 1 to 13.

Mark 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.

2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue,

and many who heard him were astounded.

They said, "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!

3 Is 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.

4 Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown,

and among their own kin, and in their own house."

5 And he could do no deed of power there,

except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.

6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.

7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two,

and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff;

no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;

9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.

10 He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house,

stay there until you leave the place.

11 If 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."

12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.

13 They cast out many demons,

and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

(New Standard Revised Version)

Have you ever considered that Jesus’ exercise of power is dependent on those around him, believing in it?    Our text tells us that when Jesus’ hometown questions him, he is not able to do much, except a few healings.   All of us function better when people believe in us, when they affirm us, when they trust in us.   But ordinarily when we talk about believing in Jesus, trusting in him, we think of it differently -- that Jesus demands trust as a proof of our loyalty.   But in this story, it is clear that he needs it.   Believing in him is essential to empowering him to do what he is capable of doing.    Could the same be true in your life – that your trust in Christ empowers him to do more in your life and others?   I expect so.

The New Testament only records two occasions where Jesus is amazed.   Once, he is amazed at the faith of the centurian, who believes Jesus can heal his servant from a distance, only by saying the word.    The other instance is in this story, where Jesus is amazed at his hometown friends’ lack of faith.   Faith or lack of faith are what amaze Jesus.   Jesus may not be actually be amazed with us, but if he is, I prayed he is amazed at our faith, not at our lack of faith.   But I fear the latter may be true – that Jesus is shocked at how little faith we have.    Faith must be exercised to grow.    Following Christ is exercise.   Going where he says go.   Doing what he says to do.    All of this takes faith, courage, and dogged determination to keep trying, even when the going gets tough.

In C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan, the Lion King of Narnia, is a Christ figure. Lucy, conversing with Mr. Beaver, is curious about Aslan. She has never seen him, but has heard everyone say that he is "on the move," and anticipates meeting him. "Is he safe?" she asks.   "Who said anything about being safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Course he's not safe, but he's good. He's the King I tell you."   Following Christ is not safe, but it is good.

And Jesus truly is the one "on the move."  In Mark’s high speed Gospel, it is clear he is going places and all who follow him must be ready to go also.   The second part of this passage is the sending of the twelve.   In fact, the word “apostle” means literally “sent ones.”  

There are many people who believe that the reason the Church (big C Church- not Peace and not just the Presbyterian Church) is struggling is that we forgot that we are the sent ones.    We are called to go, to take the Gospel into the world, not wait on the world to come to us.   What are you doing about that?

And don’t miss the fact that when Jesus sent the twelve he told them to travel light.   The Gospels vary on exactly which articles of clothing they should take, but the point is, especially in Mark, that they do not need to carry a lot.   This means they will be depending on others for hospitality, for food, as was customary in their day.    He challenges them not to try to find the most comfortable room in the town, but to stay with whomever offers them a place first in that town.    And then, of course, the most memorable part of the message he gives them is the shaking the dust off your feet when your message is rejected.   This was a practice of pious Jews when leaving a Gentile house, to purify themselves.  Jesus, having been raised as a faithful Jew, thought that the same should apply when people are not open and welcoming to the Gospel.  Move on, rid yourself of any regrets, any bitterness or blemish left with you by their lack of faith.  

For those of us who particularly like to please people, this is a very helpful message.   Some of us have very muddy shoes, from carrying around with us all the negative comments we have received from others.    And it is not a good idea to track the mud from previous relationships into the homes and lives of new friends.   Shake off the dust.   Wipe off the mud.   Rid yourself of all that negativity.   Shake off the Christians who were a bad witness.   Shake off the people who don’t want to give the church a chance.    Shake off the people who are just plain rude.   Don’t be rude back, but let it go.   It does not need to dirty your day.   Shake off all the horrible, hurtful stuff and put on Christ as Paul describes in Colossians 3.   As God’s chosen ones, put on the forgiving love of Christ, along with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  (Col 3:12 NRS)

Gospel sharing cannot happen without Gospel living within you.   You cannot share what you do not have in your life.   So cultivate a life of faithfulness, of trust in the good news of God’s love in Christ.   But even so the Gospel is not easy to share.   Sometimes people are not interested.   Sometimes people misunderstand.   Sometimes people reject us because they have lost trust in the church as institution, and understandably so.   The church has committed some atrocities through the years and we’ve been terribly slow to admit it.  

And don’t forget:  people expect us to be more loving than the average person.  They want to know we were Christians by our love.   We, the Church, need to regain the trust of people if we ever hope to have an effective witness again.   Only if they trust us, will they open their doors and hearts to us.   Only if our lives are a faithful witness we might earn back the trust that the church for years has been losing by hypocrisy, by judgmentalism, by sexual misconduct and by ecclesiastical battles over non-essentials.

But this passage reassures us, that no matter how hard we try to be an effective witness, we will still be rejected sometimes, even as Jesus warned the first twelve who went out.  Jesus, thinking he could not secure the respect of his “homeys,” sent others and empowered them to be witnesses of his goodness by their healing of those in need.    And Jesus explicitly told his followers to travel light.   We live in such a different culture than 1st century early Christianity.   What does it mean for us to travel light as we engage the great commission – going into the world to share good news?   It surely does not mean that we travel with no money and no clothing beyond that on our backs.   But perhaps it means we simplify.   Too much stuff slows us down, encumbers us, makes it more difficult to trust in God to give us each day our daily bread.   We do not have to have every latest and greatest electronic gadget.   We do not have to have a pair of shoes for every outfit.   We do not have to eat out so often.  We could live with fewer cars, a lot less sugar, and smaller houses.   We’ve doubled the average house size in the last fifty years.   Why not begin to live more simply?  

Had the first disciples not been so willing to carry the torch for Jesus, to go where he sent them, to share good news of his power and healing touch, then the church may never have gotten a foothold in the world.   But they did and it did.   They were captivated by a desire to follow, even at great risk and sacrifice.   By the power of the Holy Spirit at work even today, may we too be willing to accept the cost of discipleship and live grace-filled lives of gratitude that commend the gospel to others.

Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly

than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus

to all generations, forever and ever.