Sermon – Pentecost 7 – July 8, 2018
Mark 6:1-13 ‘Faith’s Enemy; Unbelief’s Champion’
CT: Our reason continually puts stumbling blocks in the way of faith, but Jesus, in the most ordinary ways, continues to work grace in our lives to bring about faith in the most unexpected places.
Intro: How many of you have attended a reunion, a family or high school reunion? It’s a time to catch up on who lives where and what they’re doing. Now think about Jesus returning to His hometown; the carpenter’s son turned preacher. There’s a buzz in the air about who He is. Some called Him a prophet and there were rumours about miraculous signs. There was a lot of sceptics and expectations!
Now when a famous singer, a movie star, or a NHL hockey player comes home, there might even be a parade. Like Chris Pronger, you would see your name on a sign. But Jesus didn’t come to entertain or be famous; His venue is much more serious—He came to teach the truth of God’s Word and His kingdom, not as a celebrity, but as a servant—and most importantly, to give His life as a ransom for many. People weren’t looking for that!
Home: Our Gospel lesson this morning has special significance for me as it was quoted to me when I considered the call to be your pastor. Could I be a pastor in my hometown, when so many people knew me from before? Jesus took hold of tax collectors, fishermen and even a doctor named Luke, why not a tourist camp owner—or an electrician—or a welder? None of us grew up sinless as Jesus did; we live as sinners among sinners; we all have warts and there’s no hiding them. That had to set Jesus apart, even as a growing young boy. I can only imagine how all His peers grated every time their mothers would say, “Why can’t you be more like Jesus?”
While Mark didn’t record what Jesus said on that Sabbath in Nazareth, Luke does. Jesus read from Isaiah 61 (“the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor…”) and then He declared that this Scripture was being fulfilled in their hearing. In effect Jesus said, “I am the Christ, the fulfilment of God’s promise.”
Unbelief: That’s a hard sell in front a hometown crowd where everybody’s a critic. Familiarity can breed contempt; they knew Jesus the carpenter—Mary’s son, James, Joses, Judas, and Simon are his brothers…and by the way, didn’t you marry one of his sisters? Some of the older people might have remembered Joseph and Mary’s rocky start and maybe still questioned why Joseph married her. They were scandalized, shocked, and angry. “Where did this man get these things? What is this wisdom given to him? And how are such mighty works done by his hands?” In other words: “Who does He think He is?” And the people took offence at Him!
Jesus marvelled at their unbelief. It is not that a prophet is without honour; it’s that people let their reason and preconceived ideas about Jesus and how God should do things get in the way. To them, Jesus was just a man.
Our Scandal: There are many people inside and outside the church who continue to take offence at the ordinary way God brings us to faith, forgiveness, and eternal life. Our reason is a wonderful gift from God that sets us apart from the rest of Creation, but sin has corrupted us completely; even our reason.
A little baby born in Bethlehem and an ordinary man dying on a cross to forgive my sins offends many. Yes, our sins must be paid for; when we’re wronged we want justice, but God wouldn’t do it that way. After all, I’m not that bad, am I? I’m good enough; God will have to accept me the way I am or He’s no God at all. For others the water of Baptism is just too ordinary to do what Scripture says it will. How can God attach His gifts of faith, forgiveness, Spirit, and life to water? It must only be something I do to show my faithfulness. And this Supper of bread and wine—that’s all I see and taste so therefore that’s all it is. Never mind what Jesus said about it being His Body and His Blood given and shed for you; it’s merely a symbol empty of any power. And yet God in His mercy continues to come to us in the most ordinary of means to confer on us His gifts of faith, forgiveness, and life.
Faith Surprises: And faith does spring up and express itself in love for others. It doesn’t always happen where we expect it will, nor is it a result of any kind of special powers of persuasion that you or I have. It’s always God’s work—the Spirit’s work. Faith shows itself where we least expect it—the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, Jairus who was told not to fear only believe, a Roman centurion, a Samaritan woman, and a little tax collector who climbed a tree to see Jesus. In our lives too there is no sure fire systematic conversion course that will reach every unbeliever with the good news of Jesus. For my part, I will always be surprised at God’s gift of faith; especially that He should have given it to me.
Jesus remained undaunted in His work and continued teaching and sending others to teach because it is in the hearing that faith is given and lives are saved. Hearing or not hearing the people will know that a prophet has been in their midst. Jesus’ brother James eventually believed and became a leader in the church in Jerusalem. The disciples may have shaken the dust off their feet when leaving some people, but they too would know that God’s word had been spoken to them. I’m certain that the words I speak at funerals offend some listeners; the truth can do that. But God’s persistent love for all people took Jesus to the cross and His love gives up on no one. He will speak His Word to them again—somehow—somewhere—by someone—maybe you? When you are at your weakest are the moments when your faith, though tested, speaks the loudest of God’s strength.
Good News: Our Gospel reading ends up on a high note. Mark does not dwell on the rejections and what we might perceive to be failures to reach people with the Good News. Instead he simply reports that many who were sick were healed. For as John wrote in his Gospel: “But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to be called the children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.