Receiving or Rejecting the Word–"Repent"

Text: Mark 6:1-13
Date: Pentecost VI + Proper 9B + 7/5/15

The call to salvation of the Christian gospel begins with the word “repent.” When the prophet Ezekiel was called, summoned, commissioned by God he was sent to preach repentance “to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me,” said the Lord (Ezek 2:3). When John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the Lord he “appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). The first sermon Jesus preached was identical to John’s saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Today we hear of our Lord sending out the twelve to proclaim “that people should repent” (Mark 6:12). Martin Luther said as of first importance that the Christian life consists in daily repentance. And so today, as every Sunday and every day, we hear the call again, “Repent.” We need to hear that divine summons because we sin daily, “Repent.” The community of those around us need to hear that call, for all have sinned, “Repent.” The whole world and especially our nation needs to hear the command, though leaders and people, all clans, all races, all mobs, all gangs be flying off the tracks of morality and sanity, “Repent.”

But there’s a problem with preaching and proclaiming and hearing that same command over and over again, “Repent, repent, repent.” And the problem is, we get bored of it. We think we know that already. We think we’ve already done that. That’s like the problem in the first half of today’s Gospel telling us of Jesus’ attempt to teach and preach in His own home synagogue.

You see, Mark says, the people weren’t really listening to His teaching. Why? Well for one thing because they thought they already knew Him and didn’t expect anything more from a guy that grew up among them “back in the day” as a carpenter and the son of a carpenter, back then one of the most inconsistent, part-time jobs you could ask for. You only needed to be smart enough to remember to “measure twice, cut once.”

Oh, they were impressed at first. But was it really what He said, His word that impressed them? Or were they only filled with a little hometown pride as this kid they knew, “the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon” and sisters, too, had now grown up to do nothing less than preaching in their synagogue? They noticed a certain wisdom. They had heard of mighty works done by his hands as Mark told us last week of the raising of Jairus’ daughter. But their pride quickly turned “and they took offense at him.” Why?

We’re told by scholars that back then family or community honor was a shared thing so much so that if anyone became more honorable it would have the effect of diminishing the honor of everybody else. I guess we’d use the word “jealousy.” And so “they took offense at him.” So Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” He called Himself a prophet! As He preached, and certainly He preached repentance, some may have begun to think, “just who does He think He is?!” The effect was they shut Him off. They quit listening. This “offense” revealed nothing less than unbelief on their part. And I can tell you that when the people quit listening there is nothing else that can be done but to leave and go elsewhere.

Our nation, it seems, has for the most part quit listening. Worse than that many are rebelling against what up to now has been a cornerstone of our republic, the Judeo-Christian faith. It seems that there is increasing rejection of this faith in our country even as at the same time the Word is being heard and joyfully received by thousands on the continent of Africa. One of the largest Lutheran church bodies in the world is the Ethiopian Evangelical (Lutheran) Church Mekane Yesus with more than 6 million members. Just this past May 3,000 of their pastors “lined up under the hot sun, crowding and pushing forward” to pick up a copy of The Book of Concord translated into their language of Amharic by the Lutheran Heritage Foundation.

Do we turn off our ears to the Word of God whether out of boredom or presumption or, or just unbelief? Repent!

I experienced a perfect example of this at our District Convention this past week. I was sitting next to a man, the lay delegate from Our Savior congregation in Grand Rapids. I’ve always been impressed with that congregation, their pastor and the principal of their school (my old college roommate). Their former retired pastor, Eugene Krieger, used to attend our study group in DeWitt until the Lord called Him to His nearer presence in heaven not that long ago.

I told the man how much I appreciated and enjoyed Pastor Krieger. To my surprise the man responded, saying, “I hated him!” Whoa! What did I just uncork? “Yeah,” he said, “a number of us felt and I complained to him that he uses words that are way above our heads and that he preaches too long.” But then the man told me how Pastor Krieger spoke with him and told him that before he comes to church next Sunday he needs to pray about it and pray for his pastor. He did. And then he said, all of a sudden his sermons made more sense and they didn’t seem as long either. Pastor Krieger had called the man to repentance. “From then on,” he said, “Pastor and I became closest of friends and I’ve served as an elder and other things in the church to this day.”

Wow! (What a relief!) This guy, first, really knew how to get my attention and, second, pleased and impressed me with his confession and witness of the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart.

Do we shut off God’s Word coming into our ears before it gets into our hearts? Do we set up detours by our own assumptions, hurts, or sinful attitudes? Repent!

Now sometimes the call to repentance itself is rejected. Mark tells us “the strange” that Jesus “could do no mighty work there,” except, well, come to think of it He did lay his hands on a few sick people and healed them. But Jesus “marveled because of their unbelief.” So He left town. “He went about among the villages teaching.”

In the second half of today’s Gospel Jesus sends out the Twelve disciples to begin to learn how they will be carrying on His mission and ministry of proclaiming repentance into the future and He prepares them to know that they, too, will experience the same sort of rejection but that it shouldn’t stop them.

He sent them out two by two and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He told them that there will be some who will listen to them. But then He warned them that some would not listen, saying, “If any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” When St. Paul was opposed and reviled by certain people in Corinth, “he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’” (Acts 18:6).

So there is a time to leave, to move on. “So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent.”

The issue here is as in the parable of the Sower (Mark 4). Jesus’ hometown people were like the hard path where the seed fell. As the birds came and devoured that seed, so the word of Jesus was rejected and taken away. As God said to Ezekiel, “And whether they hear or refuse to hear…they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezek 2:5). That knowledge is as the dust shaken off and left behind, a testimony of their rejection of God.

Repent. It sounds like a bad word. But it’s not. We learn to love that word, to love to repent because it is only as we empty ourselves of ourselves that we can be filled with God and His forgiveness and salvation. “If we confess our sins God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So, to say it again, repent and believe the gospel for the kingdom, the reign and rule of God has come.