Saturday, July 04, 2009

Sermon on Mark 6:1-13, for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost. "Honor Jesus with your Heart."

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. In today’s Gospel we have a picture of Jesus being rejected in His hometown, and later how He prepares His disciples for similar rejection. But we also have a picture of how this rejection gave His Gospel, the good news, the momentum to scatter and spread to all sorts of new places. “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown,” Jesus said. Let’s honor Jesus today in our hearts by receiving His Gospel. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Many people live with a crippling fear of rejection. They won’t act to seize opportunity because they fear that they’ll be rejected. The anticipation of that pain holds them back from action. But thanks be to God that Jesus wasn’t controlled by any such fear of rejection! He faced harsh and real rejection again and again. In His hometown of Nazareth, among family and friends He’d known from childhood, He received a cold shoulder and a scoffing rebuff. When He taught difficult or challenging things, He watched the crowds dwindle and disappear. It seemed miracles drew them in, but when it came to the meat and substance of His Word, they were scandalized and left. But He wouldn’t stoop to just “wowing” and entertaining them with miracles to keep a crowd.

Despite all this rejection, His love and His willingness to reach the lost compelled Him to teach and to act compassionately, and to offer Himself as the True Path to God. Jesus came not in irresistible force and compulsion, driving everyone to believe in Him, but rather came with the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins, a humble message, but one that stirred up animosity and rejection. It was a message that they might take or leave—and many did leave it. The people of Nazareth that heard Him in the synagogue (note that they were churchgoers) were astonished at His teaching, but rejected it. So He simply moved on to the next villages when He was rejected. The questions of those who were astonished at Jesus’ teaching were all questions that doubted Jesus or tried to reduce Him to just an ordinary, uneducated neighbor. They were the “Who does He think He is?”...sort of questions. But in every place where Jesus is rejected, it only provides momentum for the Gospel of Jesus to go out to others…to the Gentiles, to other Jewish communities that will receive Him. The last half of the Gospel reading shows us that Jesus wasn’t the only one who experienced this pattern of rejection—that this would be true for His disciples as well, which is true down to this day.

Today people despise Christianity and Jesus Himself because they assume some reputation for Him that is inaccurate or less than the real thing. Just like the people of Nazareth reduced Him (in their minds) to just an “ordinary Joe.” Today many people think Jesus is the equivalent of the Christians’ favorite “self-help guru.” In this way He’s hardly different from Buddha or Confucius, or some other moral teacher who wants to lead us on the path of self-improvement. It’s no wonder that people think this way about Jesus, because so many parts of Christendom have acted as though this were Jesus mission and goal—to give us better self-esteem, to be more successful, to realize all our dreams, etc. And for all the people whose lives are rather well-adjusted and successful, and AREN’T drawn to self-help, then why should we be surprised that they don’t feel a need for Christ or Christianity?

We’re trying to “scratch an itch” that many don’t have. Jesus as a self-help guru is too mild mannered and unnecessary for most people to need Him. And so He’s easily brushed off as irrelevant to their lives and goals. They can get along quite well without Him, thank you very much! But is that an accurate picture of Jesus? No!!! His teaching shook people up. It awakened them to the fact that He was the presence of God’s kingdom among them, and that their hearts were woefully unprepared for God’s coming. They lived in self-security and contentment, thinking that their needs were met and that they were just O.K. with God. Even the synagogue—people who we might assume would be spiritual and right towards God—they turned away from Jesus too. They wanted to know and obey God on their terms. They thought Jesus was just an intruder and had nothing to teach them about God. But He was God Himself among them! Though they thought they were right with God, they were far from it! They had the outward appearance of believers, but they were lacking in faith. They attended the synagogue; probably considered themselves the “true” worshippers of YHWH, but wouldn’t honor God’s Prophet or hear His message.

But Jesus wasn’t and isn’t offering self help. In fact part of the problem is that we CAN’T help ourselves! That’s why God sent His Son! If we could solve our own problems provided that we were given the proper instructions, then Moses would’ve been all we needed! John 1:17 says, “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” It’s precisely our inability to keep and follow God’s Law and commands that made Jesus’ coming necessary. However, some of us may recognize no real problem within ourselves. The Jews of Nazareth apparently thought they had everything pretty well in order, since they turned away the Prophet Jesus. But it was sin and the unbelief in God that Jesus came to address. And these are problems that self-help cannot address. These are problems that undercut all our efforts and attempts at self-improvement. And the dangerous symptom of sin and unbelief is the spiritual blindness that hides this deficiency and weakness from our own eyes. The blindness that would cast the Son of God out of a place of worship, with no thanks for Him, and that would send His disciples packing from their villages. Blindness of heart that had no room for the message of repentance and self-denial, the recognition of our helpless condition before God. Spiritual blindness causes us to imagine our own life is good, while is considers God to be bad. Only a few in Jesus’ hometown had faith, and so were healed by Jesus on that day. Only a few opened their eyes, acknowledged their dependence on God, turned to Him and were healed.

So did this mean that Jesus was powerless in His hometown because they didn’t believe? No, it does say that He healed a few sick people. But Jesus marveled at their unbelief, and took His message elsewhere. I suppose that it would take a lot to astonish Jesus. He’s “seen it all” as the Son of God. But to meet such open and unrepentant unbelief despite His miracles, words, and wisdom, was truly astonishing. What more could be done for them to bring them to faith? Nothing, apparently. To do more miracles among them would’ve been wasted effort and He wasn’t out to gain a reputation of a magician or miracle worker. Faith was His goal.

Faith is His goal for us today. Jesus could’ve easily perpetuated the church by endowing it with the command and the power to do miracles. But even Jesus didn’t make that His primary goal. Rather He countered unbelief with teaching and acts of compassion. He moved on from places where He was rejected to new villages, and sent His disciples out to surrounding towns. His Word was the effective tool that the disciples carried to create faith and bring salvation to new people. They would find out whether people honored Jesus in their hearts by how they treated the disciples. If they rejected Jesus’ Word, and wouldn’t listen to them, they were to shake the dust from their feet, so as to have nothing to do with that village, and move on. But if they showed hospitality and receptiveness to hearing God’s Word, then the disciples were to stay in that home until they left. They weren’t to try to “upgrade” for better accommodations when they stayed in a town, but were to be satisfied with what they were given. They traveled very light, to depend on the hospitality of believers, and not become concerned with material things.

Today Jesus works in our hearts through His Word, creating in our hearts a place of hospitality and receptiveness for Him. We’re to honor Him in our hearts by believing in Him, and acknowledging Him for who He really is—the Son of God, the Prophet and Savior. Whether we’re self-secure like the churchgoers of Jesus’ hometown, and don’t see any need for the Gospel…Whether we think like them that we’re already right with God, and that our life is in order…Or whether we are the person who searches out self-help solutions and thinks that we can correct our own problems…we are in every case a person who needs to hear and believe Jesus’ message of repentance and forgiveness. Sometimes we feel that deep, longing need for God’s grace very sharply—other times we’re spiritually blind to it and feel quite self-sufficient. But it’s a simple fact that we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and are justified freely by His grace. May we never be scandalized or take offense at Jesus’ death on the cross as the way of our salvation. May we never take offense at the simplicity of the Gospel, and think of it as irrelevant to our lives. Instead, pray that God grant us receptive hearts for Jesus and His Word.

Thanks be to God that despite all the times we have ignored or rejected His Word, we’re gathered here to hear Jesus calling us through His Word, and that He still desires to grant us faith. May our prayer always be that He create in our heart a fitting dwelling place, receptive and hospitable to Jesus Christ. Keep us Lord from turning from you, or living in self-security. Take not your Holy Spirit from me, but restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me (Ps. 51:11-12). Guide us to always look to you in humble repentance, for you supply all our needs and bring us salvation. In your name we pray. Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
1. What kind of rejection did Jesus often experience in His ministry? What did He do when people wouldn’t listen?

2. What sort of people rejected Him, and what reasons or excuses did they give? What are some reasons people reject Jesus today? How have they “reduced” or misunderstood Him?

3. Why is the Gospel, the “good news,” something very different from “self-help?” If self-help were sufficient, what wouldn’t we need? (cf. John 1:17; Eph. 2:1; Rom. 5:6, 8:3).

4. What was Jesus’ real goal as He carried out His ministry?

5. In what way can we honor Jesus with our hearts? What will we do and how will the evidence of this be shown in our lives?

6. How does the example of the disciples teach us simplicity and contentment? While we aren’t given the same command to leave home and possessions, what does it teach us about what things are important in life?

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