Fifth Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 9B (7/5/2009)

First Words / Last Words

Lessons:     Ezekiel 2:1-5     Psalm 123     2 Corinthians 12:2-10     St. Mark 6:1-13     Semicontinuous Series:         2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10         Psalm 48

Prayer of the Day:     God of the covenant, in our baptism you call us to proclaim the coming of your kingdom. Give us the courage you gave the apostles, that we may faithfully witness to your love and peace in every circumstance of life, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

6:1He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.4Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house."5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.6And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.10He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.11If 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."12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

St. Mark 6:1-13 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

This week's Gospel lesson always reminds me of the first time I returned to preach at my home congregation. I grew up in a river valley town, literally built on the side of the bluff that rises up above the west shore of the St. Croix River, on the eastern edge of Minnesota. My home church is built near that bluff. I was excited about the opportunity to preach my first sermon there... that is until I studied the text for the day and found that it was this same story about Jesus being rejected by his people when he returned home to minister to them. (Only it was St. Luke's version of the story, which ended when the townspeople spirited him out of the synagogue and tried to throw him over a cliff.) As you probably can guess, my enthusiasm for the task waned a bit as I imagined the congregation re­spond­ing to my sermon by tossing me over the cliff.

Jesus began to teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and his fellow citizens were astonished. They responded by asking one another: "What is this wis­dom that has been given to him?" "What is this power that he seems to have?" "Isn't this Mary's son? A carpenter from down the street? Who is he, that he is able to do all of this?" And so, as our lesson says, "They took offense at him." They heard what he had to say. They saw what he was able to do. But they chose not to believe in him. On this occasion Jesus came to the people of his hometown. He gave them the opportunity to embrace him or reject him. They chose to reject him - simply because he was one of their own. And so Jesus appropriately ended his teaching among them by saying, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their home­town, and among their own kin, and in their own house."

This week's Gospel lesson teaches us about the ways of our God. God often chooses to work through the simple and the unassuming. A self conscious Hebrew named Moses frees Israel from Pharaoh's control, and leads them out of their slavery in Egypt. A humble shepherd boy named David becomes the great­est King in the history of Israel. A slow witted, fearful fisherman named Peter becomes the rock on which God builds the Church. And most importantly, a simple, uneducated, small town carpenter named Jesus is the one in whom God becomes enfleshed to save the world. Anyone who is thinking strategically would reject this concept of leadership out of hand. But faith embraces it.

That is what this lesson is finally about: faith. The townspeople of Nazareth didn't have faith, and thus were unable to experience God in their very midst. And things haven't changed all that much in the years since. People still experience the wonder of God's presence, yet don't believe. The birth of a child. The beauty of a Rocky Mountain sunset. The caring presence of a friend. The warm smile on a dark day.  The word that is proclaimed in the midst of God's people. The bread and wine that is broken and shared around this table.

All these are ways that the presence of God is simply, humbly known in our midst. The question is: Do you see that? Do you believe that? My prayer is that you do. Amen.

Exploring This Week's Gospel:

  1. What was the initial reaction of the hometown crowd to the first sermon of Jesus?
  2. Why did their response to him change, as they began to take offense at him?
  3. Why were the disciples able to have such a powerful ministry?

Connecting with This Week's Gospel:

  1. When has God been present in my life in a way that I might have overlooked?
  2. When has God worked through me to be present in another's life?
  3. How might I discipline myself to be more attentive to God's presence in this world?