This is the a version of the sermon I preached on Sunday, September 13, 2020 at Broken Bow United Methodist Church. It’s part of a chapter-by-chapter series on Mark’s gospel, the goal of which is to get to know, love, and follow Jesus more fully in our daily lives.
It’s based on 6:6b-13.
When our oldest was in preschool, he learned a song that went like this. “Our God is so big, so awesome, so mighty. There’s nothing our God cannot do.” Perhaps you learned this song too. But let’s play with a little riddle about God’s mightiness. Can God make a rock so big that God cannot move it? What do you think? We could say “Yes,” because God can make anything, but then God’s power is limited – God can’t move it. Or, we could say, “No,” God can move anything, but then God’s creative ability is limited – God can’t make such a thing. Both answers are unsatisfying, but let’s keep this riddle in the back of our minds as we think about Mark 6
Last week, we saw that Jesus’s healing ministry gives us hope and faith; however, however, as Mark 6 begins, it’s clear that Jesus’s healing presence does not give everyone hope and faith. Instead, when he goes to his hometown of Nazareth, the people there could not accept that he, the one they’ve seen grow up, is anything special. They couldn’t accept his teaching. The way they talked about him, as “Mary’s son” could even imply a little criticism: as in, He’s Mary’s son; he’s got no father, and here he is gallivanting around the countryside when he should be at home plying his trade to care for his family. And because of this, Mark tells us, “[Jesus] was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them.He was appalled by their disbelief (Mk 6:5-6).
So, Jesus is unable to do any miracles among them. That’s something to ponder. But he doesn’t let it faze him. He continues healing and teaching in the surrounding villages, and he enlists help for the mission. For the second time in Mark (Mk 3:14-15), Jesus calls, empowers, and sends the Twelve closest disciples for Jesus’ mission and ministry with “authority over unclean spirits” (Mk 6:7).
Let’s imagine this for a second. Jesus calls, empowers, and sends his disciples for a daunting mission that he himself has been unable to accomplish in Nazareth. Do we feel good about this mission if we’re the Twelve? Maybe that’s why Jesus gives them specific instructions:
Don’t take any supplies. Depend on the people who welcome you, whose hearts are open. But, when you experience people with hardened hearts who don’t hear your message, like I have, leave that place and shake the dust off your sandals as you go (para. Mk 6:8-11).
But the fact of the matter remains. Jesus calls, empowers, and sends his disciples to share in his life-saving, kingdom-bearing, good news-sharing mission…that he was unable to do in his hometown. Further, Jesus knows they won’t be able to universally accomplish his mission. This shows us something important about God and what it means to follow Jesus.
So, can God make a rock so big that God cannot move it? It seems that, since Jesus is God, but is unable to do any miracles in his hometown, there may be something to this riddle after all. That rock, the one God made but cannot (or at least will not) move, is the human heart. Jesus does not force the people to believe the good news and change their hearts and lives; and neither do his disciples. This point is important, and is perhaps a main thread of Mark’s gospel: the good news of Jesus has to be welcomed. In other weeks, with other chapters, we’ll explore what it means to welcome Jesus, and why some people in the gospels and our lives, struggle to do so. But today, God’s leading me to explore ways we answer Jesus’s call as his disciples.
At the end of today’s passage, Mark tells us that the disciples’ ministry included preaching and teaching, casting out demons, and anointing and healing many people. These are the ministries Jesus was unable to do in Nazareth, as well as what consistently does throughout Mark – like in chapter 5 or even the feeding scene later in Mark 6. So, Jesus calls, empowers, and sends his disciples, people like us, to bear his healing, saving presence for others. The question for us is, “How?”
Some of us may have the training, wisdom, and God-given ability to actually treat someone and bring healing. We’d call this healing ministry an act of mercy. It’s why people become doctors, nurses, and counselors. Jesus does empower us to bear God’s healing presence, which know is true even in the small sense of fixing boo-boos with a kiss and hug.
Still, if we remember the woman from last week, we know that her many treatments also left her impoverished. This isn’t such a stretch of the imagination either, right? So what does Jesus call, empower, and send us to do? We could do fundraisers to help the person pay for treatment, or pay from our own pockets if we have the means. These, too, are acts of mercy and compassion – and ways of living into Jesus’s calling.
But, some of us might have minds and hearts that ask some complicated follow up questions. Why don’t the treatments work better? Why isn’t the most effective treatment available to everyone? What is going on with the family, cultural, medical, and political systems that led this woman, and others into debt? Isn’t there a better way?
When we ask these types of questions, we do so because we believe Jesus calls, empowers, and sends us for more than mercy, but also justice. And for some of us, Jesus’s call for justice can lead us into the public and political arenas. In answer to them, we could seek to raise and educate children with the tools and vision to go into STEM fields out of a desire to answer Jesus’s call to heal others. We could work for treatment or vaccine proliferation. This could lead some of us to lobby for companies to share research, or for government funding for research, or for non-profit support of research and treatment. We might form non-profits or serve on community boards, or in elected offices, out of Jesus’s call to heal. We could support this or that candidate for government leadership, because he or she, we believe, will best help us change the systems to best bring healing to our friend and others. We could write and call said leaders weekly with encouragement and constructive criticism, as an expression of Jesus’s call to heal others. And in these ways, we’d be answering Jesus’s call to bear God’s healing presence for others by seeking justice.
I know the blending of politics, economics, and faith makes some of us uncomfortable. It does me. But, as I have come to know Jesus more, especially through passages like today’s in Mark, I see Jesus clearly calling, empowering, and sending, us – his disciples – to bear his healing, teaching, feeding, and life-saving presence to others. Sometimes that ministry looks like teaching – like the disciples inviting people to believe the good news of Jesus and change their hearts and lives. We might call this evangelism. Sometimes this ministry looks like acts of mercy, in which we seek to care for a specific person’s needs at a specific time. And sometimes this ministry looks like acts of justice, in which we seek to make system-wide, cultural changes in the world so that no one else has to experience the same thing again. When Jesus calls, empowers, and sends us to bear his healing presence, all of these – teaching, evangelism, mercy, and justice – are ways we live into his call.
Jesus calls, empowers, and sends us, his disciples, to partner in his kingdom-bearing, salvation-offering, world-healing mission. He sends us into the world of real people, knowing that the rock of the human heart might or might not move at first. We may meet with resistance: good news can be denied, mercy can be rejected, justice can be ignored. But Jesus sends us with his power to walk in his footsteps. He sends us to share the good news, to act with mercy, and to seek justice, so that the world and each person can see and experience the kingdom life he offers. Jesus calls, empowers, and sends us to bear his healing presence for others with self-giving love and patient but persistent grace. May it be so.
ADDENDUM, OR, REFLECTION GUIDE
Midway through, this sermon could go two ways that might be summed up like this: 1) This is how we’re like the Nazarenes, or 2) this is how we’re like the disciples, or maybe 2B) This is how we’re like the disciples who encounter Nazarenes. By the end, I think I’ve hit hard on way 2, with a touch of 2b, which could be slightly stronger.
It is obvious that I’m trying to carve out a niche in which people can see that good news-sharing discipleship can (and should) look different for different people – and include evangelism, mercy, and justice. In this, I’m seeking to build on a few things in the life of our church.
First, the Annual Conference has invited all churches to focus on mercy – “serving others, especially the poor” – this year. Next year, we’re invited to focus on seeking justice. Are you aware of the four-year focus we’ve sought to have: Know God, Offer Jesus, Serve Others, and Seek Justice? I am fairly confident that these goals did not sink very deeply into our church culture or sense of identity or mission. I’ll own that as a failing of my leadership to bring these to the center of preaching, teaching, and leadership.
Second, in the summer, I had the Conference Micah Corps interns present during worship. They taught on mercy and justice as two ways to interact with our calling. At Charge Conference next month, we’ll be brainstorming and planning and learning about seeking justice, which we are supposed to continue working on throughout 2021.
Saying all this in the sermon seemed to me like it would bog down the sermon. So I went with laying some groundwork for building something without saying, “Hey, we’re going to be building a thing.” It’s a questionable tactic that could slide by people too smoothly. How do you think we as a church could be more explicitly focused on serving others (mercy) and seeking justice? And by that same token, how do we feel we’re doing in sharing or offering Jesus (evangelism)?
The other thing I hoped to do in this sermon was to subtly affirm some people in the congregation. This church has many people serving on community boards, agencies, or service groups. At least a few, maybe many, think of their service as expressions of their faith. Similarly, many who work in explicitly public spheres think of their work as expressions of how they live out their calling to serve others in Christ’s name. On the other hand, sometimes we church folk think about evangelism as the primary or sole vocation of Jesus’s disciples, and that we should be doing that, not acts of mercy or justice, through non-church entities. In this sermon, I want people across the spectrum of these convictions to consider and recognize the worth and value of the other’s calling. Perhaps this too is too subtle.
- How does this strike you?
- Have you thought about your work as a vocational calling through which you can reveal Jesus to others?
- Have you thought about how explicitly sharing or offering Jesus (evangelism) might be an important part of our church culture as well?
Thinking about the hardened hearts, or closed minds, reminds us of many passages in scripture (like with Pharaoh in Exodus 12, or earlier in Mark). But in today’s chapter, the disciples are the ones with closed minds: “His disciples were so baffled they were beside themselves. That’s because they hadn’t understood about the loaves. Their minds had been closed so that they resisted God’s ways” (Mk 6:31-32).
- In what ways do we experienced hardened hearts or closed minds to Jesus’s presence, heart, and teaching?
- Do you struggle with compassion for others (I often do)?
- Do you recognize that Jesus’s kingdom might actually look different than we expected, or different from the kingdoms of the world we like or love?
- Do you sometimes want to ignore inklings that this could be true? Why?
- What in your heart or mind is Jesus’s presence inviting to change?
- Why are we resistant to Jesus changing our hearts and lives?
I wrote/said, “Jesus calls, empowers, and sends his disciples to share in his life-saving, kingdom-bearing, good news-sharing mission…that he was unable to do in his hometown. Further, Jesus knows they won’t be able to universally accomplish his mission. This shows us something important about God and what it means to follow Jesus.”
- What does this show you about God?
The good news of this sermon is that Jesus calls, empowers, and sends us to bear his healing presence for others.
- In what ways do you think “bearing Jesus’s healing presence” is descriptive for certain circumstances, rather than universally prescriptive for Jesus’s followers?
- That is, do we always have to seek healing for others if we’re Jesus’s followers?
This sermon implies a broad view of healing: physical or spiritual recovery is healing; spiritual freedom is healing; feeding is healing; caring for someone without cure is healing; seeking justice is healing a system, a world, and all parties involved.
- Is this idea of healing hard for you to imagine?
- Is it too limiting to, in effect, say that Jesus as healer is the image of Jesus as savior?
Here are some questions from one of my colleagues after reading this sermon:
- So why wouldn’t someone want to welcome Jesus in to their hearts? Why wouldn’t someone want to be healed?
- Because that healing might mean uncomfortable change. We start asking big systemic questions. We start blending faith into politics and economics and we’re likely to receive opposition from those whose respect and regard we hold higher than Jesus’ respect and regard for us.
- Do we want to pay a pittance for other’s healing (and to feel like we’ve done something ourselves?) and move on?
- To what degree does having our hearts moved by Jesus mean greater compassion and mercy and confronting our own contributions to the ills of people and societies?
- Is it possible that we don’t truly want Jesus to move our hearts, because we believe the voices around us that say things like this: “You can’t amount to anything” “You can’t live up to God’s calling to be a true follower of Jesus sent on a mission to heal the world, so why bother?”
- The problem with all of that is that it not only limits God’s healing in the world, it also makes us sick too. How do you see inactivity to seek justice or act mercifully as being complicit? How do you see the worlds sicknesses making us sick?
- The question is no longer a riddle but very personal… are you, am I, are our hearts the stone God can’t move, because we are unwilling to welcome the good news of Jesus in to our hearts? I pray that it is not.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.Adapted from United Methodist Hymnal, 8