“Called and Sent”
July 8, 2018 – Year B – 7th Sunday after Pentecost
At my first church after I was ordained, I moved into the manse and then walked down the street to the 1 corner grocery store to pick up some food. At the checkout I introduced myself to the teller and told her I was the new United Church minister. She grunted at me and told me the total amount of my purchase. What a welcome to my new community! It turned out that the teller was a member of the church and served as the treasurer on the Board. It was a beginning that was to continue for 2 long years. 2 years later I shook the dust off my feet and head off to a new community where I stayed 8 years.
To the people of Nazareth, Jesus is a known quantity. They have him pegged – he’s a carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon and unnamed sisters who are living in town. No room has been left for new insights, or a fresh breeze of God’s Spirit. Jesus is drained of power by the negativity of the people of his home town, and not able to do any miracles while in their midst. So, Jesus quickly moves on to other villages where God’s power can be manifest, where God’s work can be done.
This gospel story takes on special significance when we reflect on the life of Christian churches over time. Negativity, back biting, gossip, put downs of others, all corrode health of a faith community. It drains energy and resiliency. Power and strength is sapped. Unfortunately, too many churches have not learned to communicate lovingly. And this has destroyed the power of God’s enlivening message. So, dust is shaken off the feet and the faithful move on.
I am proud of you and all the people who consider this church their spiritual home. You do a good job of direct communication. If you have concerns, you speak to members of the Ministry and Personnel Committee or the Council Chairperson. You commit yourselves to the way of love rather than hurtful bickering.
Just imagine what it must have been like for Jesus to come home, ready to share his healing ministry. But, the hometown crowd wouldn’t listen to his pronouncements in the synagogue or open themselves to the healing power that Jesus offered.
There was an evangelist in a small, small church in rural Canada. He wanted to have a revival in his little community. He preached a long fiery sermon and at the end of it he called out for those who had been converted to come forward to the alter – the altar call. The finale of every revival.
“Come forward,” he said. “Anyone who has had a change of heart, who has accepted Jesus.”
No one came. It was a small town and they all knew each other, and it was just too embarrassing.
So, the preacher tried again. “Anyone who wants to reaffirm their commitment to Christ come on down. Come on. Come forward.”
Again, no one came. So, the preacher got mad. He’d put all his work into the revival and preached his heart out and by golly those people were gonna show some spirit. “All right,” he shouted, “Anyone who wants to stay with Satan, stay in the pews!”
The people were caught. They were confused and embarrassed and nobody moved.
So, there they sat. It was a hot summer night. The preacher and the congregation were caught in a stalemate. For the preacher, it was a disaster.
That evening, the preacher prayed long and hard. When he finally stopped talking, he felt a warm presence around him, and then, yes, he was sure he heard it. There was a deep, loving, jolly chuckle.
The evangelist had not listen early on to God’s word of warning. He did not heed the wisdom of, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
As we re-examine the account in the Gospel of Mark it is interesting to note that Jesus does not encourage his disciples to stay on and try to persuade those who are not ready to receive his message. They are only responsible for delivering the message: they are not responsible for how others responded. They are to shake the dust off their feet and move on.
That is the plight of the Christian church today. Countless preachers are pronouncing the message of Christ’s transforming love, to nearly empty churches. There are few people hearing, experiencing, and living Jesus’ life-changing message. Instead of filling churches, today’s audience too easily falls into the “spiritual but not religious” category and fail to even try attending a Christian worship service. They pre-judge. And sadly, they are missing the vibrant excitement of knowing Jesus in a deep and personal way.
I cannot imagine someone who listened to Jesus preach, saying, “I’m sorry, that new preacher just didn’t do a thing for me. I don’t think I will listen to him again.” After all, he is a carpenter. He is Mary’s son. And yet, our gospel text reports that Jesus and his Good News was dismissed.
How might we bring the Christian message to life? Here are a few suggestions. Acts of grace and service are subtle but effective ways of living the Christ message. Sending notes of care and kindness are messages of Christ’s charity. Telling others about the impact attending church has on your life, is Christian witness. Being good listeners to those who need an attentive ear is faithful leadership. Acting justly and living with integrity is following the Christ path.
Our text from the Gospel of Mark reveals Jesus in a very different way than the rest of the Gospels. Rather than being strong and dramatic, we see Jesus moving away from his home community, out to the villages where he was more warmly welcomed. Sage advise was offered concerning simple evangelism.
As followers of Jesus, we too are reminded to offer God’s love filled message. But if it is not received, we are to move on to a more receptive audience. Let us step out with courage. Amen.