No Guarantee of Success

2 Samuel 5:1–5, 9–10
Psalm 48
Mark 6:1–13

 

6:1 “He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. 2On 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! 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 offence at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town, 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.” (Mark 6: 1-13, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: God of grace and powerful weakness, at times your prophets were ignored, rejected, belittled, and unwelcome. Trusting that we, too, are called to be prophets, fill us with your Spirit, and support us that we may persevere in speaking your word and living our faith. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

 

I know it is strange but I really do enjoy mowing the lawn.  Call me crazy, I know!  Let me explain, what I love about it is the sense of accomplishment.  What I enjoy is I can see what I have done and what I still have to cut. Not all jobs and tasks in life are like that.  Other jobs and tasks are not so clearly defined.

Being a follower of Jesus is one such task or calling.  Jesus tells parables about casting seeds on the ground and having faith that they will take hold and grow.  He admits that not every seed will flourish.  In today’s gospel he prepares his disciples for the harsh reality that not everyone they encounter is going to join the movement.

 

In the Gospel of Mark we learn that Jesus’ ministry is off to a great start.  His has preached throughout Galilee, he has recruited disciples, he has healed the sick, performed miracles, survived theological arguments with the Pharisees, he has calmed a violent storm on the sea, and the crowds gathered to hear his words.  Then he and his disciples go to Nazareth, his hometown.[1]

 

Now you would think it would be one of the high points of Jesus’ ministry to go back home…to family and friends, the people that Jesus grew up with; they were his teachers, his childhood friends, the mothers and fathers who had seen this son of Mary grow up. Up until this point, everywhere Jesus went the crowds loved him and the people were moved by what they had seen and heard through Jesus.

 

So, why this sort of treatment from his neighbors and hometown friends. Why such disdain?  Was it something he said?  Perhaps it’s just that familiarity does indeed breed contempt. Jesus wasn’t what they expected a prophet, let alone a Messiah, to look like.  No one they knew could be a prophet or a Messiah and it surely called into question everything they thought they knew about the world and about people and about themselves. It is a hard lesson of life to learn that not everyone will like you or what you say or what you stand for.[2]

 

It is the difficult truth of the Christian faith and the church, in the end it is not for everyone.

 

Another difficult truth of the Christian faith is the naive idea that if you treat people like you want to be treated, that is treat them well, then people will like you and respond.

 

But that is not what the Christian faith is about— being liked.  The Christian faith, being a disciple, is about loving God and loving our neighbors. Even in disagreement, love God and love our neighbors, but that isn’t so easy.  And that is why Jesus is preparing his disciples for the harsh truth of life as he tells them, “As you leave, shake the dust off your feet…”

 

Jesus prepared his disciples for rejection because there is something inherent about following him that causes controversy. Something about the Gospel that provokes hostility and creates conflict that brings about rejection to the messenger.[3] It is the reality of the church, of faith, that we aren’t all going to agree about everything. There are parts of faith that simply aren’t black and white, most aspects of faith are gray.

 

But yet, having a conversation, being open to sharing your views and listening to others is important, is faithful and what the church can do more of. So, here it goes for today.

 

I imagine that the thoughts on most of our minds over the past few weeks have been on national events such as; racial violence, confederate flags, the Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act and gay marriage all leading up to the Fourth of July the celebration of the birthday of our great nation.

 

It seems that when the Supreme Court or the government or the ruling body of a church denomination makes a decision it splits us into two groups: those for it and those against it?  Does every political or social issue have to divide us as a people?  Divide us as a church?  I hope and pray not.[4]

 

So, as people of faith we turn to the Bible for guidance and in most cases it isn’t clear cut.  Take marriage for example, as best as I understand, marriage is the creation of a stable social structure in which children can be born and raised.  It is the logical outcome of what God says in Genesis 1:28, in which God says to the Adam and Even whom he has just created, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.”  In the very next chapter Genesis 2:24 it says, “Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves or embraces his wife and they become one flesh.” This is how humans multiply.  A man and a woman “cleave/embrace” to each other.  Biologists call it reproduction or procreation.

This seems to be the primary purpose of marriage in the Bible, and for that reason it is necessarily between a man and a woman.  But not only one woman.  Early in the Bible there is the story of Jacob who married first Leah and then Rachel and then had children by their hand maidens Bilhah and Zilpah. Ultimately Jacob produced twelve sons and who knows how many daughters.  But I don’t know many people these days who hold up the example of Jacob as the model for what the Bible says about marriage.  Instead we talk about a lifetime of love and commitment.  But most biblical marriages were not based on love or attraction.  Most marriages were arranged by parents who lived in an agricultural society and they needed more workers for the fields.  It wasn’t about love; it was about multiplication.[5]

 

Times have changed, we no longer live in an agricultural society. Likewise our understanding of marriage has changed as well.  Today, a woman gets married because she falls in love with a man and wants to spend the rest of her life with him. A man gets married for the same reason. And while they may want a family at some point that is no longer the sole reason for marriage.

 

I have officiated at a dozen or so weddings for couples in their sixties, seventies and even their eighties.  One in particular comes to mind. Bob and Willene, each had survived the loss of a spouse after more than fifty years of marriage.  They both had grown children and grandchildren and great grandchildren.  They were getting married because they were lonely, and they had fallen in love and they longed for companionship.  So, times have changed as our understanding of marriage has changed since biblical times.  It’s not just about multiplication anymore.  It’s about love and commitment.  And our understanding of human beings has changed.

 

Most people are attracted to members of the opposite sex, some people are attracted to members of the same sex. Why, we don’t really know?  Is it nature or nurture? Genetic?  Is it something learned?  As far as I can see, whatever it is, it doesn’t seem to be a choice. But that is for another sermon.

 

And so the Supreme Court has decided that, since marriage is no longer strictly about multiplication, but rather a matter of love and commitment, and since people don’t seem to choose whom they are attracted to, but rather discover those attractions at an early age, then who are they to tell two adults that they can’t share their lives with each other? That they can’t have joint ownership of property and joint custody of children? The Supreme Court has decided that marriage is a civil right, and that withholding that right on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin is unconstitutional.[6] Like it or not, for it or against, it is what it is—

But that is not the real point to me.  Instead the point to me is what I believe being a Christian, a follower of Jesus is really all about—how do we treat others?  We have a new law of the land that reflects the reality of our times.  What I believe is important is how we treat people in light of it, especially those who see things differently than we do?

 

I was taught in preaching 101 that the majority of people don’t come to church to hear about politics, especially the politics of the preacher, especially when the politics of the preacher differ from theirs.  Even so, I know that these issues are controversial, painful, and divisive but here’s the thing: you and people you know are talking about them.  You are talking about them with your friends, your family members, your co-workers.  You are talking about just these things everywhere…just not at church. Which is why of all places church should be the place you come to talk about these issues and many others.

 

I enjoy the dialogue, the learning from others about issues and I have heard from many of you that you would like a time to talk about the sermons I preach and the message of them.  So, today grab some coffee and a cookie and come to the library and we can talk about these issues and/ or any of the other hard things going on in life and in the news.  I think this is role of the Church and the task of Christian formation and discipleship, to offer perspectives on how the Scriptures and our faith help us navigate this very challenging world.

 

Which is really the reason I’m bringing all this up – not simply because there are huge issues in the news but more importantly – because the Gospel passage appointed for this week has a lot to tell us about what it means to be a disciple, a follower of Christ in a challenging, difficult, confusing, and at times painful world which is also and simultaneously created and loved of God.

 

There have been a lot of changes in our country in the last few weeks, but as the author of Hebrews says, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever’ (13:8).

What does Jesus say about gay marriage? Nothing at all.

What does he say about the Affordable Care Act? Nothing.

What does he say about the Confederate flag? Nothing.

What He does say over and over is to love our neighbors…

Remember in the parable of the Good Samaritan he makes it clear that the people or groups of people we have the hardest time loving are also our neighbors. Samaritans were despised by the Jews of Jesus’ time, but the Samaritan in his story stopped and helped a Jew who had been beaten and left for dead. What would Jesus say to us in these days when some people have been shot because their skin was black and others have been allowed to marry even though they are gay?  I’m fairly certain he would say, “Love your neighbor.” And I like to think he might add (although I don’t want to put words in his mouth) that the commandment to love applies to everyone with no exceptions, that those of us who follow Jesus must love our all our neighbors, black, white, gay, straight, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist and even the neighbors who call the SPCA because our dog barks too much.  Let us leave the work of judgment up to God and the Supreme Court and focus on our calling, as difficult as it is – to love God with all our hearts and souls and minds and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.[7]

 

Let us pray:

 

[1] The Reverend Dr. Sid Batts, The Gospel of Rejection, Mark 6: 1-13. Government Street Presbyterian Church, Mobile, Alabama July 9, 2000.

[2] The Reverend Dr. David Lose, Pentecost 6 B – Independence & Interdependence, Mark 6: 1-13. http://www.davidlose.net/2015/06/pentecost-6-b-independence-and-interdependence/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28…In+the+Meantime%29

 

[3] ibid

[4]The Reverend Dr. Jim Somerville, In Light of Recent Events, June 29, 2015. https://jimsomerville.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/in-light-of-recent-events/

 

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

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