2 Cor 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
6th Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s 08.07.18
Rev Tulo Raistrick
I wonder what are the things that you find yourself naturally enthusing about, the things that you want to share with others because they are just so good you don’t want others to miss out on.
Through sermons and through conversations some of you will already know what some of my things are: walks in the Peak District, history podcasts, cricket and the football world cup, park runs. I just want to tell people about them, and am delighted to take any opportunity to do so. You have been warned! I wonder what those things are for you?
But I confess that one of the things I find most important to me, one of the things that has made the greatest difference in my life – my faith – I find much harder to talk about, especially with people who are not part of the church. I clam up. I fear being rejected, or causing rejection, even when what I am doing is simply sharing what I believe, not telling people what they must believe. And the closer those people are to me, the better they know me, sometimes the harder it gets. Sharing our faith, especially with those who know us well, is difficult.
Even Jesus found that. Jesus had grown up in Nazareth, a small village of only about 400 people, where everyone knew each other. Everyone knew that his mother was Mary, that he had four younger brothers – James, Joseph, Judas and Simon – and a number of sisters still around in the village. They had no doubt bought chairs or tables from his carpentry shop, or asked him to fix a bit of joinery in their homes. His peers had played games with him as a child. His elders had watched him grow up.
So when Jesus returns to Nazareth for the first time after he has been causing quite a stir down in Capernaum with rumours of miracles and challenging teaching, there is understandable interest, and no doubt, a fair degree of good-natured banter. Mixed in with a little local pride – the boy next door’s done good.
But the warmth of the welcome soon turns cold. We are told that they took offence at him. They recognise the wisdom and authority of his teaching, the power of his healings, but they cannot equate that with the boy who grew up in their village and became a handyman. That doesn’t seem right. If God is to reveal himself to them, it won’t be through the boy next door. And so Jesus is rejected by his family, his childhood friends, his community. Even for Jesus sharing faith did not come easily.
But his response to the set-back is one that it is worth us all taking on board. Rather than being discouraged he redoubles his efforts. We are told that in response he went round teaching about God from village to village. Not only that, he sends out the twelve disciples to do the same. He gives them the same task.
Mark, throughout his gospel, no doubt at Peter’s own direction, has been quick to point out the flaws and failings of the disciples, and yet here we find Jesus entrusting them with a great responsibility – to go into communities and challenge and overcome evil, to bring healing, and to tell people to repent and prepare for the kingdom of God. It is interesting that Jesus didn’t wait for them to graduate from a theology course, or to have imbibed all his teaching, or even to have fully grasped who he is – this is still too early on in his ministry for that. He sends them out as they are.
And that has been his approach ever since, to send out his followers to tell others about him. For 2,000 years, we, the church, have been sent out, just as the first twelve disciples were. It is an incredible privilege, even if a somewhat daunting one.
The disciples were given three tasks.
Firstly, to have authority over evil spirits, to drive out demons. To challenge and address evil, in whatever form it may take. In biblical times there was a very strong belief in demon possession. I have lived in other parts of the world where that is still the case, and even in this country I have come across just on a couple of occasions situations where there has been a very tangible sense of evil, an evil that has needed to be confronted and challenged. The disciples were given authority to challenge such evil, to bring hope and light into situations of fear and darkness. For us today, by God’s grace, we may encounter such things rarely, if at all, but sadly evil and wrong manifests itself in other ways too – in greed, injustice, hatred, lust, slander, in the ways we treat and abuse others. Part of our calling as Christians is to stand up and oppose such evil, to say “enough is enough”. Look around you – are there situations where you need to take a stand today?
Secondly, the disciples were to go into communities bringing healing. That meant physical healing through prayer but it also meant bringing other forms of healing too – reconciliation to fractured relationships, love to the unloved, hope to those in despair. As Christians we should be sources of healing in our communities. Look around you today – how can you bring Christ’s healing into broken or hurting situations that you are aware of?
And thirdly, the disciples were to preach, to speak about Jesus. At such an early stage in the ministry of Jesus it is difficult to imagine what else the disciples would have been able to say other than to talk about their own encounters with Jesus, what they had witnessed, what he meant to them. They didn’t have a well-worked out theology, they didn’t have a clear message to communicate. But they could talk about what Jesus meant to them, this man who had totally transformed their lives, who had opened their eyes to seeing the world in fresh ways, this man who both loved them and awed them at the same time, this man who gave them hope and peace and meaning. “Come and find out more, come and meet him,” they could say.
I know we can find it difficult but as we begin to talk more freely to one another about what Christ means to us, whether in our home groups, or over tea and coffee, or in the knitting group, or wherever, we may find that it becomes easier to share with others beyond the church as well. I wonder – who could you share with about faith this week?
Two final things.
Christ would never have been rejected at Nazareth had he just descended from heaven as a fully-formed semi-human, semi-angelic being, full of mystery and totally unknowable. But God in Christ chose a different way. He chose to live his life fully among us, to live our life, to be fully integrated into our world, to communicate his love by action as well as word, by being as well as doing.
And he asks the same of the disciples too. He instructs them to travel light – only a staff and sandals – but no food or money by which means they could stay aloof from the villages they visited. When they arrived somewhere they had no choice but to rely on others, to live in people’s homes. For people to be able to see them up close and personal and decide whether the integrity of their lives matched the words of their message. At times that may lead to rejection, but living out the message is as important as speaking it – both are needed. That is true for us too: we are called to live open lives, lives of integrity, lives of transparency, lives that reflect the light of God within us.
And a final encouragement, maybe as you think of those in your family, or close friends, who have rejected or turned their backs on faith. Some of Jesus’ brothers we know shared the same bewilderment and scepticism as much of the rest of the village, and rejected Jesus at the time. However in later life we know that they came to believe. Indeed, James, one of his brothers, becomes the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and is key to holding the church together while Peter and Paul are off on their missionary journeys. We should not give up hope for those who we love. Keep praying. Things can change.
Christ knew that mission is hard, but he calls us to join him in the task: to challenge evil, to bring healing, to tell others of what he means to us. May God help each one of us to live out this calling.