Moving On

Mark 6:1-13

1He 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 offence 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 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.

At times, Jesus had a pretty dry sense of humor. In the tenth chapter of Mark, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about a man who couldn’t bring himself to give up everything he had and follow Jesus. You know the story. Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Peter responds, “Lord, we have left everything to follow you.”

And Jesus seems to be assuring him that all will be well by saying, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”

It all sounds reassuring…except the ‘persecutions’ part. Why does Jesus include that? We’re good with a hundredfold of everything else – houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, fields – but persecutions doesn’t fit there, does it?

But Jesus knew that as rewarding as it can be to be a disciple – in the present and in the future – that persecution is a part of discipleship.

It doesn’t seem to make sense; we think that sharing good news and doing good works will always be well-received, but they aren’t.

  • Whenever Jesus performed some great healing, there was a divided reaction: some folks were amazed and rejoiced at what they witnessed; others were angry and dismissive.
  • Some folks thought of Jesus as a prophet, a man of God, a messiah; others thought of him as an agent of the devil.
  • When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, many people came to believe in him; but the Sanhedrin were outraged and started looking for ways to kill him.

So if we are faithful disciples who follow in Jesus’ footsteps, we should expect the same divided reaction to our ministry. Some will love us; some will hate us.

Because just as there are plenty of people in the world who are receptive to the word of God, there are plenty of people who are NOT.  

Today’s Gospel reading is about how those of us who choose to align ourselves with God should relate with those who choose not to.

Why do people close their minds and their hearts to God? Why do they close their ears to Truth?

We could probably spend half the day talking about it, but if we could narrow it down to a single word, the word would be pride.

Not good pride but rather bad pride. Psychologists recognize that there is a positive side to pride, the pride that makes us feel good about ourselves when we accomplish something good, or even make the effort to accomplish something good. There’s a little voice inside of us that says, “You’re doing a good thing!”

But there is a bad pride, an irrational pride that tells us that we’re better than others not  because of anything we’ve done but because of the color of our skin or the place of our birth or the school we attended or our intellectual potential or our good looks. All of these are just blessings from God that should be used to serve others, but we take them as attributes that put us above others, which is why when someone who is smarter or better looking, or richer or with a more famous family name, when someone like that comes along we feel jealous. We think that they’re taking attention away from us. It’s vanity.

It all started when a serpent whispered into the woman’s ear,

“Go ahead. It won’t hurt you. And it’ll make you just like God.”

Isn’t that how false pride manifests itself? You will be just like God, high above everyone else (or at least above you folks).

And false pride is a hard thing to overcome; it’s why the people like Paul talk about being dead to themselves an alive in Christ.  

It’s why Jesus says, “Those who seek to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my sake or the sake of the gospel will gain it!”

Jesus is talking about complete surrender to God, and being conscious enough to know that there’s a lot that we need to surrender, and we have lots of hiding places – things that we don’t want God or anyone else to see, things we don’t want to see in ourselves.

Things that prevent us from experiencing God’s love and grace fully.

And our task as disciples is to grow to love God and love like God.

And if you’re not facing those sources of false pride, you’re not growing.

What qualifies you to be a disciple of Jesus? Your willingness to walk with him, which means your willingness to listen to him and to hear what he has to say about your soul.

It takes courage, and not everyone has that kind of courage.

I imagine that the episode we read about in the gospel lesson today was one of the hardest of times for Jesus, because he loved people; not just the ones who believed in him, he loved the ones who rejected him as well. And it would have been hard for him to encounter people who were so closed minded, so resistant to the Spirit of God, people who were stuck in themselves and couldn’t change.

It would have been hard for the disciples too, but for a different reason.

The disciples were more amazed by Jesus’ deeds than they were by his words. For the disciples, success was measured by the number of miracles that were being done and the number of people who were believing in Jesus.

How blind people were seeing; how lame were walking; how many demons were fleeing; and how big was the crowd who came to listen to Jesus?

It was all about numbers. And there are plenty of Christians today who think more in terms of numbers than they do in terms of hearts being changed.

And looking at the numbers, the ministry had been pretty successful.

Sure there were the Pharisees and priests and the scribes who were upset about the timing of his miracles, but there were still miracles.

But now, something has gone wrong, and it’s happened in the worst possible location: Jesus’ hometown! You’d think it would be embarrassing for Jesus, if pride was a big thing for him.

But it wasn’t. Jesus knew that there would always be critics and scoffers, sneers and jeers. Perhaps more so in your hometown, especially if you were the son of a carpenter, and your siblings are James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and he’s got sisters, too. And I’ve heard stories about his brothers and sisters.

I read an article that middle schoolers were creating TikTok accounts for their teachers – without the teachers consent or knowledge. Thirteen year old children were saying terrible things about people they really didn’t know, and they were drawing a big audience among their classmates.

The truth is that I too have made fun of teachers. I’ve ridiculed people who I hardly knew. I’ve made fun of people’s mannerisms. I’ve felt superior to others. I’ve hated others.

This is why for Jesus, the main focus of his ministry was always the message, not the miracles, and the message was “REPENT.” I’ve repented quite a bit, and there’s still plenty for which I can repent.

And I have found that if I take a little time each day to ask God, “God, what’s wrong with me?”

he’ll usually gives me 2 or 3 answers.

But there are simply those people who will not repent, and they are truly and pitifully blind.

And the point is that, as disciples we have to deal with that.

And so after spending some time in Nazareth, Jesus says “Let’s move on.”

And not long after that, Jesus tells you, “You’re going out on your own, boys.”

WHAT?! “That’s right, you’re going out, with very little. You’re going to rely on the kindness of strangers, so that you will know that any success you have is not attributable to you alone.

And your priority will be to spread the word: REPENT! Why is that good news? Because God wants to save your soul!

But …

“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.” 

You don’t need to kick dust at them. Some people like to do that.  Be amazed at their lack of faith, but don’t talk about it with all your neighbors.

You just need to move on, because other people need to hear what you have to say.

A church’s priority needs to be getting that message out there.

And we can present that message in a thousand ways – by forgiving as we forgive, by helping and healing others, by speaking of the love of God, by telling the stories of Jesus, or by reminding people how important it is to REPENT.

But we should always be looking for ways of presenting the message. Melba and I walked through Sheepshead Bay one day, and it was very hard to engage people who were busy, going from here to there. We gave out some information about the church, but we both realized that we needed to “move on” from that strategy. I’ve sat in front of the church on Wednesdays, and been able to engage people in conversation, to hear their struggles, to pray with them, and to hear their ideas for growing our church. It has been fruitful, but I’m ready to move on to something new, because the church cannot sit still. And it needs you.

Jesus needs you to clear all the baggage that drags you down and makes it hard for you to follow Jesus (some of us are carrying so much baggage!). Get rid of it and let’s start changing hearts, changing lives, starting with our own and reaching out with Christ’s love to the many souls that feel so hollow and lifeless. Let’s fill them with joy and purpose!

And let us not get bogged down by those who ignore us or those who mock us or those who despise us. We don’t need to dwell on them, and we can’t afford to waste our time with it.

And let us not get bogged down with division among ourselves. We need each other, and we need to appreciate each other, not compete with each other. There is so much at stake. Lives depend on us and our zeal, our passion to stay on task and get the message of God’s love out to the community.

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