"Encouraging God’s Power and Presence"

Date Sunday July 08, 2018
Service 7th Sunday after Pentecost
Text Text: Mark 6:1-13
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Previous Sermon "Jesus Changes Everything"
Next Sermon "Remember the Cost"

     Listen again to verses 5 and 6 of today’s Gospel reading: “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

     I’ve always fussed about the inconsistency of Jesus doing “no deed of power” in his hometown, except that he “cured” a few sick people; did Jesus help none or some? But, really, that’s not the point. The issue is that the unbelief of the people in Nazareth limited what he could do among them.

     This is a concept with which we may struggle because, as more than one commentator pointed out, it flies in the face of our belief that grace prevails – it’s all up to God – what I do does not matter when in comes to God accomplishing God’s purposes. While that’s true when it comes to our eternal destiny, to our being God’s loved and forgiven children, it’s also the case that when it comes to God’s will and ways being done in our lives and our world, our attitudes and actions do matter.

     It’s like this story told by the Rev. Anthony Robinson, which originated with journalist Tom Friedman who used it to explain why the Middle East peace process seemed frequently stuck. It’s a story about a man named Sam Goldberg.

     Every week when the results of the lottery were announced, Goldberg prayed to God, “God, why don’t I ever win the lottery? What have I don wrong? I’ve been a good man. Why shouldn’t I win?” Again, the next week when the lottery winner was announced, Goldberg was disappointed and cried out to God. “What will it take, Lord? I am a righteous man, an honorable man, a hard-working man. Would it be so hard for you, just once, to let me win the lottery?” The clouds parted, the heavens opened, and a voice came forth out of the heavens. The voice said, “Goldberg, give me a chance – buy a ticket!” (1)

     The people of Nazareth refused to buy a ticket; they would not do their part by acknowledging the power and presence of God at work in Jesus. Why? There are some complex explanations given by Bible scholars, but I think it boils down to human nature.

     Jesus’ culture had cemented him in the status into which he was born – to them he would always be a poor man, a manual laborer with no formal education, whose father, Joseph, may not be living since he’s not mentioned. They may say, “Who does Jesus think he is? Why is traveling around, instead of staying home and taking care of Mary and his sisters, as a good oldest son should do? Did you hear the wild rumors about miracles he has done? We can’t be expected to believe that! And, besides, if he’s doing such amazing things, why not here in his own hometown? Aren't we good enough for him?”  They both honor and reject the hometown boy.

     Since the announcement of Akron’s hometown hero leaving for California has been in the news this week, and his previous departure eight years ago has been rehashed, I have noticed a parallel in the first time Lebron James left Cleveland for Florida in 2010 with today's Gospel. On the one hand, people praised him as an astounding basketball player, but on the other hand they indicated that if his talents were not going to be put to use here, in his home area, nowhere else deserved him. There was certainly an undertone of, “Who does he think he is?”

     His departure is being more graciously received this time, why is that? It's because he gave people what they wanted, he met their expectations by leading the hometown team to a championship, exhilarating the hometown crowd. Letting go also is not as difficult since Akron has benefited from his generosity.

      BUT, that’s not the case for Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson; either the hometown folks expect nothing of him, or they are upset that he has not met their expectations. They are annoyed that he spending time in Capernaum (Florida?) and that strange land of the Gerasenes (California?) , rather than focusing on the place where he grw up. So, they limit what Jesus can do among them.

     Think about this in the context of the previous two Gospel lessons – both last Sunday and the Sunday before. In both the key factor that triggered God’s power being revealed, and leading to change, was that those who were overwhelmed asked Jesus for help, and help arrived.

     That is not the case for the people of Nazareth, so no deeds of power were done among them – they missed out. What about us, do we miss out? Are we indifferent to God’s power at work among us? Pastor Robinson, who I mentioned earlier, also quotes writer Frederick Buechner who tells about his encounter with Agnes Sanford, a Christian healer.

     “The most vivid image she presented,” writes Buechner, “was of Jesus standing in church services all over Christendom with his hands tied behind his back, unable to do any mighty works because the ministers who led the services either did not expect him to do them or didn’t dare ask him to do them….” (2)

     So, are we, not just the clergy, but all of us, tying Jesus’ hands? I’m not referring just to healing, but to how we might be inhibiting God’s work in our lives, church, community and world. Are we resisting God’s activity in our lives? Perhaps that happens through our behavior, or attitude, or priorities, all of which get in the way of our responding to Jesus. Maybe we are hesitant to embrace an opportunity to which God is calling us, afraid that we will fail or that too much will be required of us. Or, it could be that we are unwilling to turn to Jesus and ask for help?

     The question is this: how can we encourage, not limit, Jesus’ power and presence in our lives? To use today’s metaphors, will we buy a ticket and untie his hands? I want to close today with those questions floating in the air, and also with a prayer written by Pastor Meredith Musaus, and shared by Pastor David Lose. (3)

     Let us pray: Your church is composed of people like me. I help make it what it is. It will be friendly, if I am. Its pews will be filled, if I help fill them. It will do great work, if I work. It will make generous gifts to many causes, if I am a generous giver. It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship, if I invite and bring them. It will be a church where people grow in faith and serve you, if I am open to such growth and service. Therefore, with your help Lord, we shall dedicate ourselves to being all the things you want your church to be. AMEN”

 

(1)   “Buying the Ticket” by the Rev. Anthony Robinson, UCC, Mark 6:1-13. July 8, 2012, www.day1.org

(2)   Same as #1

(3)   “Something to Do” by David Lose, July 2, 2012, www.workingpreacher.org