“REILIENCY” - Psalm 121; Mark 6:1-13



A Sermon by Alex Evans, Pastor

Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Texts: Psalm 121; Mark 6:1-13


he world can be a crazy and uncertain place. All of us can, today, name anxieties, concerns, heartaches, and fear. Those heartaches and fears, anxieties and concerns emerge from our personal lives,  . . .  and they can emerge from larger issues – like the boys in the cave in Thailand - or political, or worldly issues of these days. 

ut, whenever we gather here – in this sacred place – to sing and pray, to hear God’s word, to worship and build community - we are always striving for two greater purposes: 1) we are seeking to trust God more fully and 2) we are seeking to serve God more effectively and faithfully with our lives. These remain always our goals as God’s faithful disciples – to trust God and to serve God more and more. 

In today’s lesson from the gospel, we have two very distinct and different stories of Jesus. Some people might want to take them separately. The first story is about FAILURE and REJECTION. The second story is about SUCCESS and TRANSFORMATION. And I think the stories go together for a very important reason – RESILIENCY – which is always an important word for people of faith and discipleship.

Listen now to the words of Mark 6:1-13:

He (Jesus) left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is 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. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief. 

Then he (Jesus) went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If 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.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Some of you know that I remain a fan of singer and songwriter, Bruce Springsteen. One of Springsteen’s most familiar hits is entitled, “My Hometown.” It’s about driving down the streets of town with his father, who would tussle his hair and say, “take a good look around – this is your hometown.” But the song shifts and names tensions and racial violence – troubled times had come to his “hometown.”  The song resonates so well because most of us have a sense of home, and hometown. Hometown is nice and nostalgic. . . . . But hometown can be complicated too. 

This story is about Jesus going to “his hometown.” The hometown of Jesus was Nazareth. The gospels differ on how Jesus happened to live in Nazareth. According to Luke, Nazareth was the home of Mary and Joseph before Jesus was born, but Jesus was born in Bethlehem because of a taxation census ordered by Caesar Augustus. Yet in Matthew, the home of Mary and Joseph when Jesus was born was Bethlehem, and the family moved to Nazareth after taking refuge in Egypt to flee from the viciousness of Herod. However, and whenever Jesus got there, the gospels agree that Jesus was from Nazareth. He was “Jesus of Nazareth,” not “Jesus of Bethlehem.” Nazareth was his hometown because he grew up there.

Archeology indicates that Nazareth was small – a village of maybe 300 people in the western region of Galilee in northern Israel. Most of the residents of that village were peasant farmers. And if the tradition is correct that Joseph and Jesus were carpenters, they would have been part of a skilled “working class” of artisans in Nazareth. To say that they were artisans does not mean that they were more middle class, or better off than peasants. Most often, artisans in those days came from peasant families who had lost their land. 

The passage says “on the Sabbath Jesus began to teach in the synagogue.” Since Nazareth was such a small town, it is not likely that there was a synagogue – there were probably no public buildings in the village. More likely, Jesus spoke as the village gathered on the Sabbath, not necessarily in a building. (see M. Borg, Meeting Jesus in Mark)

When Jesus spoke, it says, “many were astounded. They said, ‘where did this man get all of this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him?’” That initial response feels positive and open. 

But then there is an obvious shift in the reception of Jesus and it becomes very negative, moving toward rejection: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon? . . . . And they took offense at him.”

And then we have that memorable verse – words from Jesus that reflect reality and sadness, and his sense of rejection: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And it says, “. . . he was amazed at their unbelief.”

Jesus came to his own hometown, to his own people, even to his own family members, . . . and he was amazed at their unbelief. 

The gospel of John says it like this: “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.”(John 1:11)

There seems to be an issue, a complexity, in knowing and being related to Jesus, . . . and following Jesus. There seems to be almost a barrier between proximity to Jesus . . . and becoming what Jesus calls us to be – he came to his own, and his own people did not accept him.

The current issue of the Christian Century (July 4, 2018) has a picture of our president on the front cover. The headline asks: “Why do white evangelicals embrace Trump?” The article confirms that 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for the president – a statistic that has attracted enormous attention from the media, scholars, and others. The article asks: how could a group so concerned about personal morality vote for a thrice married, casino mogul? How could pro-family Christians vote for a man who admitted freely on tape to sexual assault? 

Here is what Deuteronomy says strongly to God’s people – when you come into the land, do not forget; it was God who brought you there. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, then do not exalt yourselves, forgetting the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 8:11f)

Walter Brueggemann puts it this way: When you are full, do not forget. Being full causes amnesia. Being comfortable causes indifference. Being secure makes us unresponsive. (A Gospel of Hope, p. 3)  

Sometimes those who claim to be closest to Jesus are the farthest away from Jesus. And this is what we always have to beware of. Sometimes those who claim to be his own people, his own family members, and feel some proprietary rights toward him, even those in the church, can be those very far away from Jesus. This is a prominent warning in the Scriptures. 

As we learn in other parts of the Bible, it is never about those who take the name of Jesus, or claim proximity to Jesus. It is always about those who do the will of God. As the book of James reminds us, “what good is it, if you say you have faith but do not have works.” Or, as Dallas Willard puts it so well: “We don’t believe something by merely saying we believe it, or even when we believe we believe it. We believe something when we ACT as if we believe it were true.” (M. Haugen, Just Courage, p 75)

Our calling is not to just say what we believe. Our calling is not to just talk about what we believe. Our calling is to act on it. Act with kindness. Act with compassion. Act with justice. Act with movement that brings about the kingdom of God – light, peace, joy, justice for all.

And this is where RESILIENCY comes in. RESILIENCY is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; RESILIENCY means an elasticity, an ability to bounce back and carry on. 

Jesus shows an amazing RESILIENCY, even when he is rejected, even as he finds discouragement among his own people. And Jesus calls us to RESILIENCY in discipleship. 

It says Jesus “went about among the villages teaching.” He was NOT going to be trapped by the rejection or the failure. He was NOT going to bediscouraged by his hometown and their limits on him. Hewas NOT going to be beaten down by their unbelief. “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two.” Jesus gave them – flawed as the disciples were – “the authority” that he had – authority over unclean spirits, authority to heal and cast out demons, authority to cleanse and cure. Jesus dares – flawed as they were – to commission them out to promote the love and healing, the redemption and hope of God’s reign. He did not just say go – go on your own power, try your best. He gave them his authority, his presence and power.

Jesus also said, “take nothing with you: no bread, no bag, no money in their belts.” They were to rely on God.

REMEMBER: the goal is always two-fold: to trust God more and more, and to serve God with our lives. Having everything creates amnesia – we forget to whom we belong and for whom we live. Being comfortable causes indifference. Being secure makes us unresponsive.

If you are wrestling with some sort of issue or decision, reflect for a moment and ask yourself, “Am I being brave or am I being safe?” In the end, it all depends on whether we think God can be trusted.

What are our lives fundamentally about?

Are we trusting God and serving God more and more each day?

It is so easy to get so caught up in the whirlwinds that encircle us. We fret over what might happen to our stuff, our reputation, our standing, our children, our ideology and our investments, our nation and world; and in the process we forget that our lives always belong to God and we are called to go, and to serve God. God promises always to be with us. God invites us to participate in the in-breaking of the reign of God in the world. All the things we value are never meant to be safeguarded. Everything about our lives – our money, our talents, our gifts and skills – are all to be used for God’s in-breaking – the coming of God’s light and love, peace and justice in the world. (See M. Haugen, Just Courage, p.107)

It is not by sheer will that we become brave, that we shift from successful in the world’s eyes to significant in serving God. This takes a constant reformation of our hearts. God does not call us to simply TRY to be brave, but to TRAIN to be brave. We will not arrive at it tomorrow, but hopefully by the grace of God, we will be more brave and more faithful, more trusting and more serving as we keep working on it. 

Again, it is about our RESILIENCY, our on-going commitment to be transformed as God’s faithful disciples. 

Some of you know the name William Sloan Coffin. He was at one time the Chaplain at Yale during the Vietnam War and Civil Rights crisis. He was the former preacher at Riverside Church in NYC. He was a long-time advocate for peace and justice. He was a critical patriot, loving the nation enough to speak for justice and God’s purposes.

The last book that Coffin wrote before he died was a fictitious book entitled, Letters to a Young Doubter, in which he engaged a bright college-student in an exchange of letters across a school year. This book gave Coffin a forum to talk about problems of faith, difficulties in personal life, and other issues. Throughout the book, Coffinkeeps urging the young man to “seek the common good rather than personal gain; to strive to be valuable, rather than successful, and to make a difference, not money.” All through his own life, Coffin was too well aware that unless we define ourselves by certain values, the world will quickly define us by its values. 

s the book unfolds, the student writes that he may take a job as a lifeguard at a suburban swimming pool in order “to make money to buy a car.” Coffin replies with some stern words: “I suggest you inscribe on the soft places of your heart these words – ‘the primary reward for human toil is not what you get for it, but what you become by it.’ As a suburban lifeguard you may become a car owner and even a bit more charming. But what else” will you become? . . . “Remember that the greatest perils to the planet arise not from the poor and ignorant for whom education is the answer; they are caused by the well-educated for whom self-interest is the problem. . . .  be sure that as you grow and learn, you are more and more concerned about your neighbors needs” (p.145).

esus calls us to be RESILIENT, especially as we seek to be formed, not in the ways of the world, but in the ways of trusting God and serving God.

o quote Coffin again – too many people have God frequently in their mouths, but not so frequently in their hearts. Instead of justifying our actions with godly talk, we should prove ourselves faithful with godly actions. We should express ourselves as fearless, vulnerable, dedicated, joyous followers of our Risen Lord (p. 174)

Jesus seeks RESILIENCY in the making of disciples.May God’s Spirit and grace so cover us that we are gifted and guided us in the ways of trusting God and serving God more and more. Amen

Prayer of Commitment: Holy God, make us instruments of your peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Alex Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during Sunday morning worship on July 8, 2018. This is a rough manuscript.