14 July 2009

Proper 14 B - The Prophet's Honour

SERMON for 5 July 2009

Mark 6: 1-13

by Sharyn Hall

Today’s gospel reading is surprising and problematic. The first part of the reading, which describes how Jesus was rejected in his hometown of Nazareth, may at first surprise us; but on the other hand, we can understand how people are quick to be resentful when someone seems to place himself or herself above family and friends. Afterall, the people of Nazareth grew up with Jesus. They were ordinary folk, tradesmen and fishermen, not scribes and Pharisees. Why should Jesus be favoured by God and preach to everyone in the town? We can imagine the thoughts going through the minds of the townsfolk.

What is a little surprising is that Jesus seems surprised. Perhaps he thought that people who knew him from childhood would be pleased to have a prophet among them.            In this incident, he learned another aspect of human nature and it dismayed him. Sadly, their attitude dismayed him to the point where he could do little for them. He cured a few who came to him, but he had little power to help many. This incident re-enforces what Jesus had said to others who came to him for help and healing. ‘Your faith has made you whole.’ The faith of an individual, and in some cases, the faith of people who pleaded on behalf of someone else, enabled Jesus to call on God’s healing power. This is an important reminder to us that our healing FROM God is also dependent on our faith IN God.

This does not mean that God will always answer our prayers as we wish. Healing is not only a matter of physical health. Healing is about well-being of spirit and mind and body. Each Sunday we pray for God’s healing for people who are ill, or grieving, or fearful or in any kind of distress. They ask for our prayers because they believe in God’s power to heal and to comfort them. We pray for them and for ourselves because we have faith in God’s compassion for all people, but we are human like the people of Nazareth. Sometimes we are not willing to listen to Christ’s message of healing and wholeness if the message requires repentance and change.

After his experience in Nazareth, Jesus was more aware of the problems his disciples might encounter as he sent them out to preach and to heal in his name. People claiming to possess healing powers were common at that time. Many men and women claimed to cure illness and to cast out demons. Would people believe that his disciples were preaching his message of repentance, and healing the sick and the lame in his name? People may not believe that ordinary folk like fishermen could have miraculous powers. This may be why Jesus gave specific instructions to his disciples. Without money or extra clothing, the disciples would appear to be missionaries devoted to the work of Jesus, and in this way seem more trustworthy than someone who had a comfortable living.

Does this fit with our idea of mission work today? Do we react more willingly to people who come to us with the message of Jesus if they have few possessions and are in need of our generosity? Or do we react with suspicion of their motives? On the other hand, would we be more willing to listen to someone who is well-dressed and has credentials from a large organization? There are many kinds of people in our world today preaching the message of Jesus, and claiming to heal people in the name of Jesus. There are people who give up a comfortable way of life so that they can bring God’s love to poor and destitute people in many areas of the world. Also there are preachers who have accumulated considerable wealth for themselves and for their huge organizations.

In today’s world, what does it mean to follow the example of the disciples in our gospel story? How many of us can give up all we have, take no provisions, and go out into a hostile place to live the mission of Jesus? Taking no provisions seems foolish. Giving away all we have seems irresponsible. However, amassing a large organization of financial resources for property, assets and sophisticated communication networks does not fit the image of what Jesus had in mind for his disciples.

Fortunately there are many ways in which we can be disciples of the mission of Jesus within our own means, in our neighbourhood and in our global village. Our means of living the mission of Jesus is hampered only by our lack of will. A disciple of Jesus does not need money or possessions or even the proper clothes. The only real asset on the mission of Jesus is a companion, at least one other person who shares our belief in Jesus and our faith in God. The only real asset of Christ’s universal church is the people who have faith in God’s universal love, and have the desire to make the peaceful mission of Jesus a reality. In today’s multi-cultural, multi-faith world, that mission can be challenging and discouraging. Even Jesus was discouraged at times, particularly when he preached to people who knew him but would not listen, like the people of Nazareth. Jesus did not give up. He went to the next town, to the next challenge, and to the next opportunity to bring God’s healing and hope to any one who would believe in him and in the power of God’s faithful love.

May God strengthen our resolve to carry the mission of Jesus into our time and wherever God is calling us to go.   Amen.

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