July 8, 2018
Mark 6: 1- 13
Those of you who were here last week will recall the gospel reading had 2 stories of faith embedded in each other. Jairus, with the dying daughter, and the hemorrhaging women, two desperate people who risk their all in one throw of the dice that Jesus may be the healer, and hence savior, they seek.
Today in contrast, in Jesus’ home town, among his own kin, we come across a story not of faith, but of rejection. Jesus as stumbling block, a scandal. One of most common verses in scripture the building block that was rejected has become the cornerstone of a brand new world.
Funny experience this going home business. What memories do you have of going home, maybe moved away for study, work, to get married. Remember when I moved out for the first time. Did not move far just a suburb or two into the youth house with 4 of my mates from the local Ashburton Uniting house. And when I went home for the odd meal it did feel different. I could see my parents as people, humans, they had their foibles, like anyone and that was OK. I even started calling them by their first names – sort of radical thing we did in those days!
Hard preaching in front of congregation that contains old friends, family, those you grew up with They know you! They remember that time you acted like a complete tosser, when you insisted on being right about that topic you actually knew nothing about etc. And here you are turned up again but this time claiming to be a holy man, if not the Messiah. Not the Messiah just a naughty boy. Guy I met from Melb High, You are a minister! Wow, I thought you would be in jail by now!
One person notes that when the church has a meeting and a well known, perhaps even international speaker people and then afterwards when it comes to the questions time people are virtually queing up to make their points whether or not it has much at all to do with the topic in order to be noted and be seen as having something to say on the same stage as the international celebrity. However when it is just a local well known speaker the attitude can almost be one of, well who are you to be here addressing us? Body language is different, tone of voice and deference all different.
Maybe that is part of why Jesus could do no mighty works – not in this environment of disdain and disbelief.
In his spiritual autobiography “Now and Then,” Frederick Buechner writes of his off-the-beaten-path (at least for a seminary-trained, ordained Presbyterian minister) encounter with Agnes Sanford, a Christian healer. “The most vivid image she presented,” writes Buechner, “was of Jesus standing in church services all over Christendom with his hands tied behind his back, unable to do any mighty works because the ministers who led the services either didn’t expect him to do them or didn’t dare ask him to do them . . .”
That’s quite an image: Jesus standing in the church, his hands tied behind his back. Then Buechner added this: “I recognized immediately my own kinship with those ministers.” And as I read, I whispered my confession, “And I recognize my kinship with you.” What stops you buying the ticket, being in the race, having a go
Being a follower of Jesus ought to prepare us for both stories and experiences. It seems the rejection in today’s reading is on the basis that the home town folk think Jesus is “one of ours”, too familiar, and hence cannot be the Messiah, savior, healer, of his people.
Rather than withdraw to call down damnation upon their heads, rather than withdraw to sulk or lick his wounds the response of Jesus is to expand and intensify his mission.
Jesus once again calls to himself those he has already called to be found in his company – his disciples, but this time the calling is in order to send them out. And in this there is a major principle of discipleship for the church. The called person will inevitably become the sent person. There is no being “called into” the presence of Jesus that will not one day, when the Lord’s timing be right, (which it goes without saying may not at all be your timing) becomes also the “sent from” Jesus. No longer just “Come to me”, now it also includes, “Go from me, go with my authority over evil spirits, authority to heal, proclaim the breaking in of the reign of God, into our world, our lives. Jesus divides his team up into 6 pairs, as we still today see Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses out and about in our streets. And they are sent out to travel around the local villages.
This is travel with a mission, with a purpose. In this sense it becomes a metaphor, an image, of the Christian life. Travel in Jesus company is not a holiday, not mere personal development, or sight seeing. It will involve the challenging, the confronting, just as it will involve the elation of the making present the power of the Kingdom.
We normally say Pentecost is the birth of the church, because of the giving of the Spirit but today readings also has a claim for being recognized as the emergence of the church – and the emergence of the church with a mission focus.
When you travel with purpose, (seen as a metaphor for the spirit filled life of the community) you take with you, steward it, to be the keeper, – the authority of Jesus over evil spirits, oh and don’t be fooled into thinking there are not evil spirits abroad, powers that ensnare, distort, that devastate the good creation of God. The church has authority to bind and drive out the evil spirits. We do need to relearn what form and what shape a ministry that binds the spirits may take in 21st century western culture in contrast to 1st century Palestine culture. The authority remains in the words of Jesus.
Take with you what you what need for travel – sandals and stick. But the interesting things you cannot take is what normally would be thought of as those things essential for survival – food, money and bag to put the otherwise missing food and money in. That is considered excess baggage because the disciple will be dependent upon hospitality once they arrive at their destination. It’s as if the authority of Jesus and the excess baggage seem to be mutually exclusive. We could have a whole sermon another day on excess baggage – sufficient for today simply to note it can be internal or external, by internal excess baggage I mean stuff like unresolved guilt, chronic low self esteem, our various addictions, preoccupations with status and things. Filling your life so full you can barely stuff another electronic gadget into it. All this projects an image of unbelief and misses the point of the urgency contained in this reading. I mean, why bother praying for something you need, when you can buy it?
We do not have to see today’s reading as the literal guidelines for the mission of the church. It was a specific, short term, localized missionary journey. Jesus was not setting down the blueprint for the life of the church in 2,000years time. But in releasing ourselves from that, the threat to us becomes that we also lose the sense of urgency. How to keep alive the passion? And here at Sunshine Uniting we have the immense privilege of not just reading about this, not just hearing of others doing things. It is all here before us.
The journalist Tom Friedman once told a story in order to explain why the Middle East peace process seems so frequently stuck. It was a story about a man named Goldberg. Every week when the results of the lottery were announced, Goldberg prayed to God, “God, why don’t I ever win the lottery? What have I done wrong? I’ve been a good man. Why shouldn’t I win?” Again next week the lottery winner was announced and again Goldberg was disappointed and he cried out to God. “What will it take, Lord? I am a righteous man, an honorable man, a hard-working man. Would it be so hard for you, just once, to let me win the lottery?” The clouds parted, the heavens opened and a voice came forth out of the heavens. The voice said, “Goldberg, give me a chance–buy a ticket!”