July 8, 2018 – 7th Sunday after Pentecost
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
As we read through the Gospels on Sunday mornings, some of the lessons highlight Jesus’ extraordinary powers. For instance, two weeks ago you heard Mark’s account of Jesus rebuking the wind and sea during a great windstorm that threatened to capsize the boat he and his disciples were traveling in. And last week, Mark’s account of healing the hemorrhaging woman and raising Jairus’ young daughter from death. Other lessons clearly show us Jesus’ humanity, how he was affected by the people among whom he lived and ministered. This morning’s lesson is a good illustration of Jesus’ humanity which offers us important guidance about being followers of Jesus in the church and in the world.
Our reading from Mark’s Gospel begins with Jesus entering his small home town, Nazareth. He has been traveling with his disciples, healing many people with physical diseases and with “demons” or “unclean spirits.” Mark makes it quite clear that Jesus’ reputation as a healer was widespread. Everywhere he went crowds gathered, and he was nearly overwhelmed by the people seeking to touch him and be touched by him. Surely Jesus’ reputation had reached Nazareth.
What happened when Jesus arrived home and taught in his local synagogue? He might have expected a warm and enthusiastic welcome. Instead, he met with prejudice and scorn. Yes, the people admitted, Jesus spoke wisely and did impressive deeds of power. That couldn’t be denied. But the questions they ask reveal their skepticism: “Where did this man get all this?” In other words, does his power come from God or from a force of evil contrary to God? We may remember another accusation made against Jesus that he had cast out demons by the power of the ruler of demons – Satan – not God. “Is this not the carpenter?” Isn’t he just a carpenter, a builder for hire? Nothing impressive there! “The son of Mary” – by identifying Jesus as the son of his mother rather than his father they are questioning his legitimacy in an insulting way. “The brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon” – Jesus is just another villager like his siblings, no one special.
What was the result of the people’s disbelief? Jesus “could do no deeds of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” Jesus’ power to do good and his ability to exercise his gifts were thwarted by rejection. “And he was amazed at their unbelief.” Jesus was astonished, perhaps even bewildered, by this experience. How could the people not recognize and appreciate his speaking with authority in the synagogue and his life-changing acts of healing? We might wonder what Jesus could have done in Nazareth if he had been welcomed and encouraged. We might wonder if his hometown residents ever thought about how wrong they had been about Jesus, if those who were sick ever thought with regret about how Jesus might have healed them.
The event described in today’s lesson took place in the synagogue at Nazareth. It was a turning point in Jesus’ life. He never entered a synagogue again. He continued to teach, but in the open air. He worshipped in the Temple in Jerusalem, but he never returned to teach and pray in a local synagogue. For those of us meeting in a church – a place where we gather for religious worship and instruction, which is what happened then and happens now in Jewish synagogues – we might do well to think carefully about this fact of Jesus’ ministry.
First of all, do we accept and welcome Jesus as one who speaks with authority about God and God’s guidance for how to orient ourselves toward God and to live our lives? This is an important question for us. Are we listening, really listening, to Jesus? During the hour we spend each week in church are we paying attention to the Gospel, with our minds and hearts and souls? During the remaining 167 hours of the week how much time do we spend reading scripture and thinking about its lessons, praying that we might follow our Lord and live according to God’s ways? Do we honestly think that the teaching of Christ is relevant in the 21st century world or are we skeptical? Do we truly desire to “put on the mind of Christ” or are we more interested in other minds? I invite us to consider these questions honestly.
We believe that every member of the church is called to serve God and follow Jesus. As the catechism in The Book of Common Prayer puts it (page 855): “The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons,” and “the ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.”
Each of us has been given gifts of ministry, and we are called to offer these gifts in both the church and the world. In light of this morning’s Gospel lesson I invite us to consider how we receive the gifts of others in this parish. Do we appreciate and value one another’s ministry? Do we encourage one another and support one another? Do we help each other to offer our gifts for the benefit of all? Or do we take people and their service of the church for granted? Are we quick to criticize mistakes? Are we happy to let others give as much as they are willing to give, inwardly glad that we don’t have to pick up the slack?
Our ministry and service in the church is absolutely affected by other people. The account of Jesus’ reception in Nazareth shows us that even he couldn’t offer all he had to offer because of the response of the people. How much more are we liable to be discouraged by others! Attitudes in the church can “kill” ministry – criticism, a focus on what is unimportant, unnecessary conflict, cliques, an unwillingness to help and give generously so that others struggle to do what needs to be done. When people’s gifts for ministry are not recognized and valued and encouraged openly, the gifts lose power. Do you see, then, how important it is for us to encourage one another and support one another and appreciate one another here in the church? We need God’s gifts to thrive, for the sake of each and every one of us and for the work we might do in the world in Jesus’ name.
We begin the work of reconciliation in the church, and we are meant to carry on that work in the world. Again, I invite us to consider how we relate to the other human beings with whom we share life in this time. As we live our daily lives, at home, at work, in the grocery store and in the bank, everywhere we go and with everyone we meet, could we be recognized as ambassadors of Christ? Does our behavior reflect these two portions of our baptismal vows – our promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons and our promise to respect the dignity of every human being? Do we move through the world with humility, gratitude, and hearts of compassion? Do we ever consider what courage it may take a person whom we meet here or anywhere to get up and face another day? Are we quick to criticize or empathize?
One of the hymns I love is Hymn 458. Listen to these words: “My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me, love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.” May the Lord help us to be the lovely human beings we are called to be, to the glory of God and for the sake of the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.