6 Pentecost Proper B9
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 6:1-13 Sermon
July 8, 2012
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 351 "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"
TLH 499 "Look From Thy Sphere Of Endless Day"
TLH 310 "Thy Table I Approach"
WOV 721 "Go My Children With My Blessing"
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THE MESSENGER, OR THE MESSAGE?
TEXT (vs. 1-3): “ 1 [Jesus] went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, 'Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?' And they took offense at him.”
This morning, I'm going to share with you what was probably one of my most frustrating incidents during my 5 1/2 year ministry in Australia. In doing this, I'm not trying to put anybody down or infer that there were any bad intentions on anybody's part. I think everybody's heart was in the right place, and I believe that is important to realize. So here's the story about what happened.
About six years before I began my ministry there, my predecessor happened to be in Kmart one day. He wound up sharing his faith with one of the employees there. The Kmart employee along with his wife wound up going through adult confirmation classes, and they became members of the church. And they were great members too--young, full of enthusiasm, and they had a deep appreciation and love for their Saviour and the Christian faith. It was a good situation, and they became endeared to the congregation.
It wasn't long after that when my predecessor accepted a call to the United States, leaving the Australian congregations vacant for about a five-year period of time. During this time, this couple continued to grow in their faith, and this young man became interested in the ministry. So he began to do the prerequisites and preparations necessary for entering the seminary in the United States. He was planning to go to Bethany Seminary in Mankato, Minnesota, the very same seminary from which I graduated. That was definitely a noble aspiration on his part.
When I arrived in Australia early in 1989, this young man was just months away from completing all of his entrance requirements so he could enter the seminary in the autumn of 1989. So there was about a six-month period of time that he was an active member in my congregation. And I enjoyed having him there too. He and his wife proved to be a very delightful couple, and we became friends as well.
After they left for the United States, our congregation continued to pray for them and support them the best we could. We kept up on their progress, and regularly printed the letters they would send us in our newsletter. Everybody was proud of them.
As time progressed however, various things began to surface that caused me some great concern. This man and his wife, along with various members in the congregation had it in their heads that I was going to come and serve as their pastor until this man completed his seminary training. Then he would come back to Australia, become the pastor of his home congregation, and I would toddle off back to the United States, and everybody would live happily ever after.
I think you can see the problems starting to develop here. Red flags were popping up all over the place for me. Several Bible passages became very applicable in this case. The first of which was 1 Timothy chapter 3 verse 6 where Paul explains the qualifications of a pastor. Here's one on the list: "He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil."
Granted that the term "recent convert" is relative; so it's a matter of opinion as to how it is applied. Even though he didn't have a whole lot of background in the church, perhaps enough time had passed to where this wouldn't be an issue. That's what I was hoping for, anyway.
The second issue, and in my mind the biggest one, are the words of our Gospel lesson for this morning. Jesus is the prime example of what it is like to try to minister to people in one's home congregation. After Jesus is rejected and even threatened with death, he says in verse 4: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”
In fact, this is so important that God chose to address this issue in not just one of the gospels, but in three of them. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all recount this same incident.
Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth. He is there during the Sabbath, and so he visits his home congregation. As was often the case in those days, former members were given the honor of being the lectors, or lay readers during worship.
Luke’s gospel has a bit more detail, and we are told that he was handed the Isaiah scroll. He unrolled it, and read a section of messianic prophecy. He then concluded the reading by saying, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
This is the congregation that Jesus had attended as a boy, a teenager, and a young man. Those who were in attendance were people who knew him well. They were his teachers, his friends, his family, and those who might have helped care for him in his youth. Jesus had come with a message, and a very important one. He came to bring them the Gospel, and to show himself as the Saviour promised in the Old Testament. But as our Gospel lesson for today explains, they were not ready to receive him as the Messiah promised in the Scriptures. In their eyes, the messenger was the important thing, and not the message itself. And they just couldn't see past that.
You can just hear the people feeding the rumor mill, can't you? They would think about things like: "Yeah, Jesus was a pretty good kid, but that brother of his James is a real terror, always playing practical jokes and getting into mischief. And then there's Joses; boy he is always chasing after the ladies. And did you hear about Simon? He got caught stealing from one of the shops in town. And Judas seems to be spending way too much time in the bar; he's always drunk. And I heard that his sisters have taken up company with those heathen Roman soldiers."
Of course I doubt if any of that is true. But that's the way people's minds work, don't you agree? They'll look at a person, and judge them by some pretty faulty standards. Even though the person themselves might be okay, the shenanigans of the person's siblings become the issue. People obscure their minds with so much useless junk that the messenger is put in the spotlight, and the message is virtually ignored in the process.
Common sense would tell us that the people in Nazareth should have been proud of Jesus. He was popular. He went about healing people and doing other good things. He taught a message of salvation by grace. You would think that when Jesus returned to his hometown, they would give him a hero's welcome. Nazareth should have been just as proud of Jesus as Pawnee City is proud of Larry the Cable Guy. They should have erected a sign at the edge of town: "Nazareth: Home of Jesus, the great teacher and miracle worker." He at least deserved that much recognition and respect from the people.
The thing of it is that Nazareth was not all that far from the locations of Jesus' miracles. Last week we heard about Jesus raising Jairus's daughter from the dead. That happened in Capernaum, less than thirty miles from Nazareth. Cana, where Jesus turned water into wine, was less than six miles from Nazareth. Jesus taught and healed in the area all around Nazareth; and yet, when he was in Nazareth itself, he experienced rejection. In their stubborn arrogance, the Nazarenes refused to learn more about Jesus. Today's Gospel Lesson even tells us that Jesus "marveled because of their unbelief."
Jesus himself was astonished that people could be this way. Here were the people who schooled Jesus in the Scriptures. They studied their Old Testament. They definitely knew their Bible. And knowing it the way they did, they had no excuse for not acknowledging Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, and their Saviour.
Apathy and unbelief were running amok throughout the whole town. And why? It was because they had preconceived notions about Jesus. They refused to regard him in any other way than just the carpenter’s son who used to live there, and the oldest sibling amongst four brothers and his sisters. Even though he healed a few of the sick people there, they still refused to believe.
I’m sure Jesus would have felt disappointment and dejection. And so Jesus says in verse 4 of our text, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” Rejection by one’s own people has to hurt rather deeply.
Now before we condemn the Nazarenes, we might take an inventory of our own attitude toward learning about Jesus. Do we take the attitude that Jesus has nothing more to teach to us? The fact is that we are not much different than those people in Nazareth. The message that Jesus has for us is still offensive to many, even some who claim to be Christians. How sad it is that many who call themselves Christians are offended by the very teachings of the Christ they claim to worship.
In spite of the world's opposition, Jesus does not stop offering His gifts. He continued to send his disciples out to prepare the way for his ministry even though he knew they would experience opposition. He gave them the authority to bless those who received them and the authority to shake the dust off their feet against those who did not. The Lord did not withhold his gifts just because his disciples would experience rejection.
Jesus still offers those very same gifts today. When Jesus died on the cross, he did not die for perfect people. He died for sinners. Since the Bible tells us in Romans chapter 3, verse 23 that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," that means he died for everybody. He died for those who rejected him in Nazareth and he died for those who still reject him today. He offers his gifts to all, even those who reject him time and time again.
Jesus brings us the message of the Gospel, which is the full and free forgiveness of our sins. We have this through faith in him as our Saviour. That's the message.
But what does God say about the messenger? In Romans chapter 10, Paul reminds us about the message and how we regard those who bring it. Verses 9 and 13 read: "...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved....For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This is the good news of the Gospel! Now we add verse 15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” When the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, even the feet of those bringing that news of forgiveness and life are beautiful! What a change the Gospel makes!
I began today by telling you about one of the more stressful incidents of my ministry in Australia. I'd like to be able to tell you that there is a happy ending, but there really isn't, even though things started out okay.
Despite my warnings and the lack of a unanimous vote, this gentleman was issued a call from his home congregation. This left me to serve the Maryborough congregation by itself, which was 163 miles away. Each congregation had its own pastor now. When I accepted a call back to the United States, the Maryborough congregation called a new pastor. Discord broke out between the two congregations, and they split apart.
The Maryborough congregation still has the same pastor, and they have an active ministry. The congregation in Brisbane where this pastor was isn't faring as well. The pastor wound up leaving the congregation and the synod, and is now teaching seminary classes, as far as I know anyway. They have had at least a couple other pastors since then, and the group is struggling to stay afloat. They had to sell their lovely church building, and they now meet in the basement of the parsonage. God gave them a warning in Scripture, and they chose to ignore it.
We had a third congregation in South Australia that was beginning to grow quite nicely. They issued a call to this man before his home congregation did. But the synod stepped in and short-circuited the whole process so this man could return to his home church. That congregation in South Australia has now ceased to exist.
To contrast this situation, there have been two more men from Australia who went to the United States for seminary training. But they went with an entirely different attitude. They went to serve the Lord, however and wherever he would direct them. One of these men became a home missionary. He started a congregation in Minnesota, and is now starting a new congregation in Texas. The other man began serving in Arizona, and is now in Minnesota. Both are faithfully serving the Lord, and have been blessed with successful ministries, wives, and families. When the Lord's words are taken seriously and put into practice, then people are blessed in countless ways.
The criticisms I've shared with you today represent one of the frustrations that I've felt during my years in the ministry. I love the Australian people very much, and I hold no ill feelings toward anybody. And I'm looking forward to spending an eternity with them.
The bottom line here, is that God loves us. We make wrong decisions, we go our own way, or we think we know better than he does. But you know he never, ever stops loving us and caring for us. Every time we go to the throne of grace, we find forgiveness and hope. Our Saviour always welcomes us with open arms. Regardless of the messenger, we always find our hope in the message, which is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord.