We’re Only Human

We’re Only Human

Grace United Methodist Church

July 5, 2008

Mark 6: 1-13 (NRSV)

He 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.

You know, it’s funny the things you think about when you’re moving and getting settled into a new place. One of the things I’ve found myself chuckling about the last few weeks is all the yard sales and flea markets that pop up around the South, particularly in the summer months. There’s nothing like the warm summer months and a move to get you thinking about yard sales. Did you ever wonder why yard sales and flea markets are so prevalent? I don’t know that I had really thought about that before, but that question has been swirling through my head in recent weeks. See, not all thoughts in a pastor’s head are deep and profound! I guess I first started wondering that as I would drive up and down Rossville Boulevard between my home and my previous job at First-Centenary church. Everyday, there were usually several people set up in the under-used parking lots lining Rossville Boulevard. They would open up their vans or cars and place a variety of assorted trinkets on any flat surface they could find. The more “established” vendors have portable tables or clothes racks that they carry with them. And as often as I would see these makeshift flea markets, I would see potential buyers browsing the wares. So why does this work? Surely each of us who has ever set up a yard sale or joined in on a flea market must know the value of that endeavor, otherwise we would not be seeing so many of them!

So what’s the key to the success of the yard sale or flea market? I think it all comes down to that well-known phrase, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Or perhaps this one, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Herein, my friends, is the secret to the success of the yard sale. Several weeks ago, as I was packing my house in Rossville and preparing for the move, I went down into the basement to assess my furniture situation. I had down there an entertainment center that my parents had passed on to me when I moved to Rossville. It served my needs for a time, but then when I purchased my first TV, it no longer worked for me. So, it went into storage, really no better than trash for me at that point. In preparation for the move, I took the entertainment center to a local thrift store and donated it. The people there were so excited to receive it, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. What I saw as completely useless was seen as ideal by another.

In a sense, this is the message from Mark today. We see what we expect to see, we get what we ask for. Mark tells us of Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth. Jesus is preaching in the synagogue among his hometown pals, but his old buddies are not very receptive of him. They hear Jesus teaching and they begin to murmur, “Where did this man get all this? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary!” In Jesus’ time, men did what they were trained to do, usually following their father’s profession, and nothing more. Any attempts to “climb the social ladder” were looked down upon. And Jesus’ acquaintances in Nazareth thought that by teaching in the synagogue, Jesus was trying to be something that he was not. The people of Nazareth saw Jesus as nothing more than a carpenter, and so they expected nothing great from him, they rejected him. Because Jesus’ hometown pals in Nazareth expected nothing great from Jesus, Mark tells us that Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except to lay hands on a few sick people and cure them.” Most of the time, we will see exactly what we want to see, and nothing more.

Here’s another way to think about it. Throughout the last few weeks, we have been almost completely without rain, rain which we now very much need. No doubt, many of us have been praying for rain at least some recently. When we pray for rain, that would indicate that we believe God has the power to make rain. But how many of us finish our prayer asking God for rain and then walk out the door without an umbrella in our hand because it is a clear and sunny day? When we do that, it doesn’t seem to me that we really believe God has the power to make it rain. In the same way, the people in the synagogue at Nazareth didn’t really believe that Jesus had the power to do miracles, and so he did not, and he left amazed at their unbelief.

We know that Jesus had the power to do miracles. We have the Gospel writings telling us the stories of Jesus’ many miracles, and Jesus knew he could do miracles too. So, when Jesus is rejected in Nazareth, he just moves on to the next town and begins teaching, and he sends the disciples out in pairs to do the same thing. Not only are we to have faith in Jesus Christ and his power to do miracles, we too, as Jesus’ disciples are do have faith in our own abilities to share in Jesus’ authority and teach the message of God’s love.

In 1973, the New York Mets found themselves in last place at the end of the month of August. Baseball fans were writing off the team. Once again, a reputation preceded them: they were a group of young talented players and a few veterans that always just seemed to fall short. Then Tug McGraw, a skilled relief pitcher, rallied his teammates and their fans behind the slogan, “You Gotta Believe.” And that Mets team did believe, winning 21 of their last 29 games and going from worst to first. The Mets won the pennant in 1973 because the team had faith and the fans had faith; all heard the rallying call and responded. When the season seemed like a complete loss, they were able to redeem it. Great things happened simply because they believed it was possible.

When we begin to believe in the power of Jesus Christ, our individual worth as people of God, and in the worth of others too, might it just be that miracles can happen? Miracles from a shoddy 1973 baseball team; miracles from Mary’s boy, the carpenter, who has just returned home to Nazareth; and maybe even miracles from us. [1]

Jesus expects that we are indeed capable of great things. This is shown in the fact that immediately following his rejection in Nazareth, Jesus goes elsewhere to continue teaching and preaching, and he commissions the disciples and gives them the authority to do the same thing. And we, as now modern-day disciples of Jesus Christ also have that same commission to be out and about in this world driving out “unclean spirits” through teaching and healing, just as Jesus did. Likely, most of us doubt our abilities to do this, just as the people in Nazareth doubted Jesus’ authority to stand before them in the synagogue. Yet, we have an obligation to “take up our cross” (including the cross of our doubt) and continue the ministry that Jesus started, and Jesus has given us the power to do just that.

This kind of evangelism that Jesus has called us, his disciples to, is not easy by any means. It requires us to at times step out of the comfort zone of the church and our circle of friends and be in places where we might not normally go and without all the amenities and trappings of normal life. Jesus tells us that we are to leave behind all but the barest of necessities and to rely on the hospitality of those we meet. Society is much different now than it was 2000 years ago, but the truth is no less the same. We have to abandon all those things of this world that hinder our work as disciples and we are to offer all of ourselves for the building up of God’s kingdom. We put our own desires aside and we put God’s will first.

So what does that look like? It is an invitation to that unchurched friend or neighbor to join you for worship or Bible study, or maybe simply prayer. It is the offer of love to the co-worker whose life has been one struggle after another for months on end. I have seen already how each of you is capable of this, and even already invested in following God’s commission in this way. It is so apparent to me that you love Christ and you love this church; that you are willing to make personal sacrifices for the sake of God’s church and its mission in this world. For truly great things to happen, we have believe in our own ability to make a difference and we must continue in those personal sacrifices as ones commissioned by Christ. Not only do we interact with our friends and co-workers, but when God puts in our path a woman who is battered and bruised from domestic violence, we must show compassion. When a pedophile walks through the doors of the church, we teach him about Jesus’ love for the children and how that was representative of Jesus’ love for all people. Or when we fall victim to the crimes of another, we visit that person in jail and offer forgiveness.

None of these things are easy; they’re not even easy to think about, but this is part of following Jesus’ commission. We serve Jesus by doing something tough and spreading the good news in even the hard-to-reach parts of the world and our society. We have to leave the smoothly-paved, comfortable path, and face the rocks, ruts, and roots that are a reality of our modern society.  This may sound like an impossible task, but I think we humans are more capable than we realize, particularly when we go in the name and with the authority of Jesus Christ. As Paul says in his letter to the Philippians, “We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.”

We just “gotta believe.” We have to recognize that often there is more to life than what we see on the surface. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” We have to have faith in the power of the risen Christ and our own abilities as disciples sent by that same Christ. I think that when we really get down to it, we will find that we are capable of facing even the toughest of situations as we seek to fulfill Jesus’ commission and carry out his work in this world. Indeed, we are only human, but we are sent with the power and authority of Jesus to be about ministry in this time and place. When we believe this, and live like we believe it, then truly great things are possible!

[1] Mark Zaineddin, “Mark 6: 1-13, Gleanings from the Text,” at Join the Feast, http://jointhefeast.blogspot.com/2009/06/july-5-2009-mark-61-13-mark-zaineddin.html (accessed 6-30-2009).

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