Text: Mark 6:1-13
Date: Pentecost V (Proper 9) + 7/5/09
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
The Gospel text for this morning used to be divided into two readings on two consecutive Sundays, the first, verses 1-6 concerning Jesus’ rejection in his hometown, the second, verses 7-13 concerning His sending out of the twelve disciples on their “vicarage” or student intern mini-mission. The current lectionary has combined these two sections to be proclaimed together on this one Sunday. In placing these two incidents together the Evangelist, St. Mark, seems to be saying, first, that Jesus is rejectable especially when He does not meet a person’s expectations and therefore, secondly, His disciples and Church that He sends forth in His name should expect to experience and endure the same rejection by the world. As Jesus said in another place, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16), and, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). This, of course, flies in the face of all those these days who think that “if we only change the way we do things a little,” in other words change the message we’ve been sent to preach, “then people will let down their defenses a little and be more easily drawn to the Church.” As we consider this text, let’s do so, therefore, remembering the second petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Thy kingdom come, and how that kingdom comes all by itself without our prayer when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we can believe His holy Word.
The first part of Mark’s Gospel is all about the question of who Jesus is. You remember his disciples, after the calming of the storm on the sea at the end of chapter 4, asking, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). This is important because, unless you have met Jesus and have heard Him, how can you honestly either believe and follow Him or reject Him, except by a rash judgment based only on ignorance?
Today we hear of Jesus being rejected by the people of His own hometown of Nazareth. As was the usual practice Jesus was invited to speak in the synagogue on the Sabbath. This incident always reminds me of the time I was invited to preach the sermon in the historic hometown of the Lunneborg family in Milnor, North Dakota. Entering the pulpit I could see all those familiar faces—Uncle Eddie, Aunt Mary, cousins James and John and Harris and Betty—some with smiles on their faces, either obviously pleased to actually see a “Lunneborg” in the pulpit (sort of the “hometown-boy-made-good”) or, maybe, if not pride it could have been a little skepticism how this little “city kid” who used to visit only at the fourth of July and at harvest time could now say anything approaching the status of Word of God. It was the same with Jesus that day as the people began to gossip asking, maybe with a knowing grin on their faces, “Where did ‘this guy’ get these things?” You see, they didn’t apparently have as much of a problem with “these things” as with the guy saying them! “What right has He to act like a big, know-it-all rabbi?” They certainly wondered about the miracles He had been performing and what all that was about. “I mean, this is little Jesus, the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon; and his sisters are here.” So, because they thought they knew the real “him” they took offense at him, thinking, “Everyone else in his family is normal, but this guy is not.” Then Jesus spoke the quotable quote, the proverb, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” By the way, my family didn’t outright reject me that I know of, I just don’t know how much of what I said actually got through.
Then comes the strange and often misunderstood comment, “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.” Our first thought is that Jesus could do no mighty work there because the people did not believe in Him, as if personal faith has the ability to prevent, to turn on or off Jesus’ powers. But this is absolutely wrong and backwards. Rather, Jesus could do no mighty work there that would convince anyone or result in faith, so He didn’t bother, except for a few people off to the side.
I don’t know why we should be at all surprised at this fact, namely, that Jesus is rejectable, unless, that is, you buy into the false idea, false doctrine that man has a free will and can freely accept or reject Jesus by your own reason, strength or decision. No, such is the fallen nature that all men are, from birth, spiritually blind and spiritually dead. Not one person has even the least desire for or impulse toward God. By our own blind and dead human reason we all reject God and choose the darkness of sin and death. It is only as the light of God’s grace breaks through the darkness through God’s Word that the Holy Spirit can create or ignite the gift of faith, faith that gives spiritually enlightened reason and strength not to “accept” but to “receive” and believe in Jesus Christ. And that spiritual breakthrough happens “when and where it pleases God in those who hear the Gospel” (Augsburg Confession Art. V). We are never “in control” of who receives the gospel and believes, and, therefore, neither are we “at fault” necessarily when someone rejects the gospel.
As we say in the catechism, “The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer.” That is, the kingdom, the rule, the grace, mercy and peace of God was there that day and came to the people of the little town of Nazareth. That the people chose to reject it does not mean God’s kingdom didn’t come there. It just had not come with its grace and peace to them and to their benefit and blessing. That same kingdom, that same grace, mercy and peace of God that makes for the forgiveness of all your sins and the great and certain hope of salvation and eternal life is here now in the preaching of the Gospel. You may reject it. But if you find yourself believing and hoping for it, that is the evidence of the Holy Spirit working saving faith in your heart. “Rejoice, for great is your reward in heaven!”
Now if people can reject Christ, if people can mock Him, spit on Him, crucify Him, so it is for His Church.
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. They were, as we are, to say and do the same things that Jesus said and did because it is He who is doing to this day through His followers, the Church. And what are we authorized (and therefore expected!) to preach? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repentance of sin and forgiveness is our main and only message.
As for the details of taking nothing except a staff, no bread, no bag, no money, only sandals and one tunic, this was only for this training event. Clearly it was meant to teach us first and always to rely only on God for the strength and endurance and success of the mission. Later, you will remember, He sent them out again, but this time with supplies. So we don’t take anything more from this detail than that.
But these things we learn: to receive and accept the hospitality offered in whatever form and to whatever extent for the sake of the work of the Gospel.
What we should take away from the Word of God today is, first, thanksgiving that the Lord has come to us and implanted His gift of saving faith in us, faith in Jesus Christ who fulfilled all of God’s Law for us, on our behalf, and, nevertheless, died as the full and complete payment for the sins of the whole world and even our own sin. By faith in His death and resurrection, the kingdom of God is ours through God’s gracious declaration that we are thus justified in His eyes by faith in His Son, our Lord. And today we are privileged again to receive His body and blood for the strengthening of faith and the increase of our hope and love.
We should also take confidence in the Word of God and the means of grace, that His Word is fully sufficient to bring about true repentance and faith not only in ourselves but also in everyone to whom we are privileged to deliver the Word of God’s grace. For we too are sent to represent and to deliver the same word of repentance and faith, the same healing and spiritual cleansing of God to a sinful world in the name of the God of life and salvation.