Sermon for Mark 6:1-13
Jesus comes home to preach, and it’s a fight! To jump to the chase, they were scandalized – made angry – by whatever he said. How angry? Mark doesn’t say. But Luke does. There, the people get so angry that they actually chase Jesus out to a cliff to try and throw him over. How’s that for a hometown reception! Now, at the same time, maybe you’ve also noticed over these weeks – Jesus is all about the miracles – calming storms and healing diseases and resurrecting children. So, who cares what Jesus says, these miracles should blow our minds, right? Raising the dead? Can you even imagine? And they don’t HAVE to imagine it – don’t they SEE it? Naah, these people are so blind with anger that they don’t even see anything but a target on Jesus. Why are they so pissed off with Jesus? Probably because they’re hearing big time condemnation from him – you messed up, and now God’s going to take his blessings elsewhere, to other people who aren’t even Jews! Wow – do you think God’s chosen people are maybe a little enraged?
But the thing is, Jesus really IS condemning them. I mean, praise God from whom all blessings flow, but not for you, you sinners! Does that feel like gospel to you? Not so much. Is this the Jesus we want to know or tell others about? The Jesus that judges? Better yet, how about the church that judges, since we’re the body of Christ? I am certain many of us here have a horror story about THAT one. Case in point, what are we arguing about right now? Same-sex marriage and bound conscience. Some argue that we’re all made in God’s image, that Jesus said not one word about sexual orientation, so how can we judge others as second class citizens? And some argue that scripture gives a clear judgment of sin to homosexuality, and did Jesus not call us all to repentance? Regardless which way you swing, chances are you feel pretty strongly about it, deep down. But the thing is, what we’re really convicted about is that we know EXACTLY what Jesus would say, and he’s just GOT to agree with us.
So, maybe that’s exactly why Jesus never tells us what we expect to hear. He certainly didn’t tell his hometown what they expected to hear. No, what he tells us instead is what we NEED to hear, the gospel, the good news. But what makes good news good news? That it contradicts bad news. And here’s the bad news – we’re not unlike those people in his hometown. In fact, we’re more like them than we can bear to admit, with our expectations and our demands and our stubborn need to be right. We’re such stiff-necked people that we’re hell-bent on trying to make Jesus say what we want him to say. We do it with scripture all the time. But don’t we need to be, given what’s at stake? In our marriage debate, we need Jesus to agree with us, that our opponents are either wrongly condemning, or condoning sin. But Jesus doesn’t say either of those things. He’s an equal-opportunity offender, because he just calls us all sinners. After all, what does he send out his disciples to do? To win arguments? No, he sends them out to proclaim that all should repent, that all should change their mind and heart, and that includes us.
Now, a funny thing about this call to repentance – it’s Christ’s command. Change your mind and your heart. But the thing is, we’re not very good at that. So we look to Jesus to tell us how to do it, and all we hear is Jesus like a broken record – Repent. Repent. Thanks Jesus, but that’s really not helpful. But what if Jesus keeps telling us the same thing over and over BECAUSE we just can’t do it? Yet if that’s the case, then isn’t that the same thing as Jesus setting us up to fail? THAT would be a hard truth, wouldn’t it? It sure doesn’t make for good evangelism. Repent! Oh wait, you CAN’T! Yeah, people are going to flock in for that one. But wait, maybe God will help us. Give us authority over the unclean spirits. Give us charisma and convincing words. Well, Jesus had miracles, and how did that work in his hometown? He was amazed at their unbelief. So if that’s the case, then why in the world did he tell his disciples to take nothing for their journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money, no nothing of any use? Because they’re going to win people over with their humility and helplessness? Well, just ask any martyr how that’s worked for them.
And worst of all, Jesus commands – 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. Why, isn’t that the worst judgment of all? Just, give up? Abandon others to their own hell, like Jesus abandoned his hometown? We can’t be that callous, can we? What about compassion? The God of mercy? Jesus, you can’t mean what you say! But if we don’t obey, then why wouldn’t Jesus just do the same to us? Shake the dust off his feet as a testimony against us? After all, for every time we’ve ever swallowed our words in just this way, in the name of compassion, at the same time haven’t we also rejected Jesus? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust? Our dust?
Well, brothers and sisters, this is not at all what Jesus does to us. No, he goes far beyond our wildest expectations. And where Jesus goes, he needs no bread, no money, not a single thing of this world. Because he goes straight to the cross, to suffer and die, for our sake. For the sake of the whole world. And in the face of our stubbornness and unbelief, he does not shake the dust off his feet against us. He gives his feet, his hands, his side, to be pierced on behalf of us. And he does not judge, but calls out to his Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
They lay Jesus body in a tomb, leaving him to the dust. But out of the dust, after three days, he is risen, ascending to heaven and soon sending the Holy Spirit to us, the very Spirit by which he calmed and healed and resurrected. And by this Spirit we repent – the very thing we could not do for ourselves. And this is not the same thing as being better people. The Spirit doesn’t just stop with our hearts and minds, because they were hardened before, and they’ll be hardened again. No, out of the dust and death of our sin and brokenness, God’s Spirit raises us too, to new life, every day. We are daily made an entirely new creation, filled with faith, forgiven and freed to serve others, in spite of our hearts and minds.
And that’s why we don’t have to deny our brokenness any more, or fear our judgment. Because the crazy thing about faith isn’t just that we trust Christ’s word for us will be yes. It’s because we trust Christ clings to us so tightly, because we trust that we are a new creation, that we can finally look down into the deep, dark chasm of our brokenness, and never again be consumed by it. Christ promises us that, in our baptism. We still see the chasm, but we’re free.
It’s in THIS freedom, that we proclaim that all should repent, even though we know we’ll fail to convince anyone. Because the Spirit has, in fact, already given us the ONLY thing we need – Christ’s word of forgiveness. By this word, the Spirit will lead others to repentance, and raise them to new life, just like us. And the thing is, we don’t have to see it to trust that it’s happening. The disciples didn’t always see it either. Yet, isn’t it a miracle when we do see even the most stubborn person led to repentance? You get to see it every time you look in a mirror!
But wait – there’s more! This word of forgiveness doesn’t just come from you or me, or even the whole church – it comes from Jesus himself, and we’re all drawn and moved by one Spirit. We are not alone in this journey, but surrounded by a host of witnesses, and our call to repent is never a burden for any one of us.
Friends, this is why we don’t have to fear contentious issues like same-sex marriage. We don’t have to judge each other. We can merely call each other to repentance, and offer each other Christ’s word of forgiveness. And we trust that the Spirit is moving through us, unbinding our consciences and drawing us toward the beloved community, where we are all named and claimed as God’s children, where we all dine together at Christ’s table, sharing his body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, in spite of our differences. So no, we don’t know exactly what our community will look like when all is said and done. But for sure we know this – our demons will be cast out, we will be healed, God’s justice will roll down like a mighty river for all of us beyond our wildest dreams, and God knows we will believe it all. Amen.