God Sends Us

Sermon for July 8, 2012
Based on Mark 6:1-13
By Pastor Michael Cromer

I have returned to my childhood home in Severn, Maryland just one time since moving to Pennsylvania over 35 years ago.  I returned to Severn in 1982 to attend my tenth year high school reunion.  After ten years I was somewhat excited, but also apprehensive about seeing some of my former class mates and my friends from the neighborhood in which I grew up.  I wasn’t sure what to expect. The visit and the reunion were less than enjoyable. A number of my classmates had died, and many of them were not only married and divorced once, but as many as three times by the age of 28.  Many of the students with which I graduated could not be located and therefore did not attend the reunion.  The elite from my class still spent the evening together and the geeks, myself included, sat at our own table just like we always had in the school cafeteria ten years ago as teenagers. Nothing much had changed in that regard. A friend’s wife sitting at my table, intoxicated and obnoxious, spent the evening saying embarrassing and suggestive things to me. It was not a night to remember and I vowed that I would never attend another high school reunion and I have kept that promise to myself. Sometimes it is best to leave things as only a memory because often our expectations do not match reality.  I wasn’t the same person the people from my past remembered and they were not the same people I remembered. Most everyone had changed and we had little in common.

When Jesus returned for a short stay at his hometown of Nazareth, a town with a population between 1,600 and 2,000 people, perhaps he too was expecting his hometown reunion to be much more pleasant.  After all he had grown up in Nazareth with his parents Mary and Joseph and his extended family.  He had lived there for around twenty five years. Perhaps he was looking forward to seeing old friends, and people he had worked for as a carpenter. But Jesus was not returning home simply for a reunion.  He was, you might say, on a business trip. He was doing the business of his heavenly Father. He and his disciples came to preach to the people of Nazareth during the early months of his public ministry. Jesus had just performed miracles in a nearby town.  He had healed a woman of a twelve year blood flow and had raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

On the Sabbath Jesus and his disciples went to the synagogue in Nazareth. The service was attended by many. After he had spoken the townspeople who heard him speak were astounded at the things he had said. They were astounded because the Jesus they remembered had no such wisdom in the past, he previously had no such power as he displayed that day. Or at least that is what they thought. The townspeople that knew Jesus only knew him as a boy growing up and as a young man, the son of Mary and Joseph.  How could two ordinary, average people like Mary and Joseph have produced a child with the knowledge Jesus now appeared to have?  Neither one of his parents were educated or wealthy.  It reminds me of something my father said to me upon my graduating from seminary.  He said that I must have been the only member of the family who had any brains.  What he was saying was that he never believed that anyone from his family would ever be smart enough to earn a Master’s Degree. Not only were the people who heard Jesus speak surprised they were also offended. Who does he think he is anyway, coming back home acting like he knows more than us?  We see his brothers and sisters in town most every day.  They’re just like us and so is he.  How could Jesus be any different than the rest of that family?

Sometimes we cannot recognize something or someone special because of our own short sightedness. Sometimes we refuse to believe that we could be wrong about something or someone. If we think that there is no more to people than the little we know about them we may never know who they really are and what they are capable of achieving. The people who heard Jesus speak, the same townspeople who he grew up around, had determined who Jesus was by his family, his humble profession as a carpenter, and his humble social status.  It did not occur to them that perhaps something had happened to Jesus during the time he was away.  It didn’t occur to them that he could be different than the man they remembered.  They knew all the facts about this guy and they didn’t add up.  At least that is what they believed and their minds were closed to learning more about him.  What they were missing is that a person is not who they were in the past.  A person is always the best that they have become in the present.  There was probably a bit of jealousy going on as well.  People then and even today are often resentful and jealous of anyone who rises from their humble beginnings to a place of prominence.

Jesus’ brothers and sisters are mentioned in this scripture in addition to his parents.  People are often surprised that Jesus had brothers and sisters. Scholars are not sure exactly who these brothers and sisters of Jesus really were.  They may have been cousins, or the half-brothers, and half-sisters from his father Joseph from a previous marriage.  Remember that Joseph was considerably older than Mary and could have had a family before he met her. There is very little information about Joseph in the bible.  The church in its desire to portray Mary as always being a virgin has not wanted her to be the birth mother of other children other than Jesus.  All of this is speculation but we what we do know is that Jesus came from a very large family. And even Jesus’ family was unsure and concerned over who he had become and tried to council him.  His refusal to listen to his family further alienated him from them and was seen as disrespectful by the townspeople.  But Jesus, remained humble as always. He said although prophets are usually honored, they are not always honored in their hometown, nor by their family, sometimes they are not even honored in their own home.  He was not claiming to be a prophet himself but simple stating a fact about prophets. Despite his great wisdom and understanding of people Jesus was amazed at the townspeople’s reaction to him.

When Jesus performed his previous miracles he made it clear that one must have faith in order for miracles to occur.  Faith was in short supply among the people of Nazareth. Therefore, there were not many miracles performed in Nazareth.  Only a few people were healed of illness. The disciples Jesus had chosen to follow him on this first journey must have been puzzled and amazed that Jesus was not well received by the people who had known him most of his life. His disciples were ready to get to the business of changing people’s lives and telling people about creating God’s Kingdom in the world.  Here they were in a town that had plenty of need and yet few in Nazareth were interested in receiving what Jesus and his disciples had to offer them.  But the town’s lack of faith and interest didn’t deter Jesus. It didn’t keep him from moving forward. If this town wasn’t ready to hear the good news there were other towns ready for a change.  It reminds me of something one of my seminary professors told us as future ministers, “If you ever find yourself as the pastor of a church in which people are not interested in hearing what you have to say, don’t waste your time there.  Move on to another church.” Jesus and his disciples moved on to other villages.

Up to this time Jesus was more often heard saying “come”, now he was saying “go”. He told his disciples that now that you have come to me it is time for you to go out into the world for me. Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs. He gave them the spiritual power they needed to do what needed to be done to drive out “unclean spirits”.  It was often the practice in early Christianity to send out two brothers as missionaries.  The men were sent out in pairs because of the many dangers that they were likely to face on the road. Jesus sent his disciples out with little more than spiritual power.   He was specific in what he permitted them to take with them.  They could take a staff, a stick used to aid them in walking.  A staff was also useful as a weapon against wild animals and thieves. They could take a pair of sandals to protect their feet, and one tunic, the robe they wore.  Not two tunics specifically only one tunic. A second tunic would have provided extra warmth in the cold. But Jesus did not want his disciples to rely on the warmth of a robe but on the warmth provided by someone’s home. By insisting that they take only these few things they would have to trust that God would provide them with the rest.  No money, no bread, nothing extra.  And yes, one more thing. Once you have been invited to stay at someone’s home, don’t move to someone else’s home just because you got a better offer from someone whose home was more comfortable.  Stay where you are. Be grateful for where you are. And if some of the people you encounter don’t welcome you and are not interested in what you have to offer them, when you leave shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.

That last instruction “to shake off the dust as a testimony against them” is often misunderstood as cursing the people who deny you. But what Jesus meant was when people are not interested in what you have to say you are not responsible for their lack of interest. Shake off the dust of that town and move on to the next.  The disciples were not responsible for their results, only their efforts.  As the saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water, but….”  You can lead a person to the gospel but you can’t make them believe it or accept its’ truth.  Despite being sent out on their own the disciples were never separate from Jesus.  They were always connected. They were extensions of Jesus.  They were extensions of Jesus just as you and I are extensions of Jesus even today as followers of Christ. Fortunately for us, we are allowed a few more luxuries than a staff, a pair of sandals and a robe while taking the gospel into the world. That would be something to complain about if we had those restrictions. What we do have that the disciples had is the spiritual power to do what Jesus and his disciples did and more. We have been given the power it takes to preach the gospel.  We have been given the power and the ability to tell people about the good news of God’s Kingdom that is to come.  We have been given the power to tell the world the good news of how our lives can be so much more joyful and rewarding if we follow Christ.

Like the people that Jesus and his disciples encountered there will be people who are not interested in what we have to say as followers of Christ.  Just as the disciples were not responsible for the people not interested in hearing the good news neither are we.  The only thing God expects from us is that we at least try to spread the gospel with our words and how we live our lives.  That does not mean beating people over the head with a bible hoping they will get it. It does not mean acting holy and self-righteous.  It does not mean boasting that you go to church and quoting scripture and telling everyone you read the bible every day. It means being yourself.  Jesus was more successful in changing people’s lives by simply being himself.  He did not come across as superior, or a hero, or a self-righteous religious man even though people tried to make me so.

Living as Christ has taught us to live means following the instructions God has lovingly given us in the bible; instructions and guidelines that help us to live whole and productive lives.  Lives that reflect the joy of living in Christ are more powerful in bringing change to people’s lives than any other way especially today in a world where so many people, both rich and poor, young and old, are so miserable and yet have little or no interest in organized religion. The best way to reach others with the gospel is in the streets, being living examples of what Christianity is all about. Like the disciples God has empowered us to cast out the demons of fear, hopelessness, and despair and anything that robs God’s people of the kind of life God intended for all of us to live. Be a disciple of Christ and go where he sends you having faith that God has given you everything you need to do so.