A sermon for 12 July 2015
A reading from the gospel of Mark 6:6b-16. Remember this takes place right after Jesus has been rejected in his hometown. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Then Jesus went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.””
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
I read a story this week about a Christian woman who is a clerk at a bookstore. Every morning she gets herself up out of bed, says a little prayer, makes sure she puts on the precious cross necklace her mother gave her years back for her confirmation; then dutifully heads out her door to the bookshop. Every day, week after week, month after month, year after year this is what she does. She still is a part of the church – goes to worship every Sunday she can, when her boss doesn’t schedule her for the Sunday morning rush. Their bookstore, after all, has a wonderful, jam-packed-on-Sunday-morning café. . . . Well, the story goes that one morning as she is getting all set behind the bookstore counter, she looks up to see an oddly dressed man. He’s a Hasidic Jew – these are the ultra-orthodox Jews who take great delight in observing God’s commandments (www.judaism.about.com). Their clothing sets them apart. The men wear long black coats over white shirts, black pants, and black shoes. You can see the knotted fringe peeking out on all four corners of a vest-like garment called a tallit. Under their tall black hats, you’ll always find a yarmulke which reminds that God is constantly above them (www.mobile.dudamobile.com/site/orthodox-jews/clothing-for-men). On that morning at the bookstore counter, the man intently looked into the eyes of the Christian book clerk. After politely asking if she could help him, the man responded: “I want to know about Jesus.” Another one for the religious section, the woman thought. She said: “You’ll find the books on religion upstairs on the far back wall of the store.” She was about to go on to her next task when the man leaned in closer. “I don’t want a book,” the man said. “Please: tell me what you believe.” (Story from Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 3, p. 216, Michael L. Lindvall).
I’m guessing that it’s not often we find ourselves in similar situations. After all, it’s been said that Americans would rather ask about sex, politics, and another’s salary rather than what someone believes about God. . . . But if we did find ourselves asked about our faith, what would we be ready to say? Would we be ready to tell about what God in Christ has done for us? Would we be able to make our faith make sense to a post-modern person who is searching for meaning in life today? Could we tell about the Holy Spirit of God always living in us? Would we be able to make real the life, death, and life again of Christ because we can speak not only about what we have read in a book, but also about what we have experienced in our own lives – the many ways we have been raised to new life throughout the living of our days? What would you say if you were asked: “Please: tell me what you believe.”
Those first disciples didn’t get a chance to think about it. After witnessing with their own eyes the unbelief of Jesus’ hometown, he gathers them up. Pairing them two-by-two in a way that sounds reminiscent of the animals of Noah’s ark, Jesus sends them out. We’re never really told where he tells them to go. And we’re not really sure how long they go away. He is very clear about the way they should dress – simply, traveling light so that they have to depend upon the kind of hospitality expected throughout the land of God’s chosen people. Perhaps they’d be known in the little villages to which they’d travel. After all, Galilee isn’t too terribly big and Jesus already has been out teaching, healing, and meeting those who were hungry to hear. One biblical commentator says of this mission that they, like us, aren’t sent “’to get them on our side’ or even ‘to grow the church,’ but simply to tell others about the God who has come to mean so much to us” . . . From the heart, Jesus sends us out to speak. In our own words, without any sense of shame (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 3, p. 216, Michael L. Lindvall). . . . The tricky thing is that it’s not just words these disciples are sent to speak. Actions are to go along with what they say. They’ve been given the power to be about healing in this world. Acting in ways that bring peace and hope and restoration to those in need. It’s words and actions, actions and words congruent with Christ that give powerful witness. One without the other is empty and will fall on deaf ears. . . . The legend about the great Hindu peace-seeker Mahatma Ghandi reminds of that. For it’s attributed to Ghandi that he once claimed that he’d consider becoming a Christian if he ever met a follower of Christ who truly was seeking to emulate Christ each day.
It’s still like that. To begin with, we’re still sent. I know it’s easier to relegate Christ’s mission to his first disciples. In days gone by the church believed it was just foreign missionaries or ordained pastors who were to be out there for Christ each day. I’m not really sure how we came to such conclusions in the past few centuries, but it certainly seems we did. One of the hallmarks of the Protestant Reformation is the priesthood of all believers. This was the Protestant revolt that proudly claimed that every Christian, in our baptism and confirmation vows has promised to be a faithful disciple of Christ. We’ve all promised to be in the world as one who follows Christ – not just priests upon whom the Pope’s favor rests. We ALL are to live as those in whom the ways of Christ can be seen. We’ve promised to live each day in a way that shows the merciful love of God. In our baptisms we’ve been engrafted into the body of Christ – we’ve been included in God’s family not alone for our own sake, but also for the sake of everyone we meet in this world who too needs to experience (through us) the gracious love of God. How ever did life in the church become the norm of walling ourselves in our sanctuaries and fellowship halls to dutifully perform all sorts of ministry programs for ourselves and others like us who might come to darken our doors?
I have a feeling God might be just a little bit glad those kind of days are coming to an end. Because today we see it in our own families, in our neighborhoods, and all over our city. People are starving for meaning in their lives – some of them are aware of it and some of them are not. You’ve heard me say it before that research shows that the fastest growing religious group in America over the past ten years has been the NONES: those who might be interested, but claim NO religious affiliation. It’s staggering to read descriptions of these NONES. This data is from 2012, so it’s a few years old. But in 2012, 33 million people in the U.S.A. claimed they have no religious affiliation in particular. Yet, two-thirds of them say they believe in God, more than half of them say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth, and one-in-five of them say they pray every day (www.pewforum.org/2012/10/09/nones-on-the-rise). We’re failing them. We’re failing God if we’re not even willing to try. . . . Everywhere we turn we can see people living in the shallow end of life driven by anxiety because they’re listening more to the whims of our consumer culture than the Spirit of God that is dying to be alive in them. They’re not worried about eternity; they want to know how this Christ, whom we claim to follow, has made any compelling difference in our lives today. How is he the rudder that guides our thoughts, words, and deeds every day? How has he given purpose to the way we live and the way we face our death? . . . We can bemoan the changes we’ve experienced in this world, or we can see it as the opportunity for us to become fully alive regarding God’s work in each one of our lives. For now, finally, surrounded by those who desperately need the good news of the God who brings life out of every death and lives in us each day, now we have the opportunity to show in word and deed just what it is that we believe. Just what it is that puts peace in our souls and joy in our hearts. Finally, we have the chance to become again the disciples of Christ who are sent out into this world for the sake of Life! Truly to be the church heartily living the mission of God each day!
Sent out in Christ’s name, may our hands, our hearts, our minds, our mouths be ready to make the earth the place in which the kingdom of God is seen!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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