You Gotta Believe

You Gotta Believe!
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
July 5, 2015

Mark 6: 1-13 (CEB)
Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him. 2On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? 3Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.
4Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” 5He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6He was appalled by their disbelief.

Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching.

7He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. 8He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. 9He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts. 10He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 11If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. 13They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.

As I began to write my sermon this week, I found that I had trouble figuring out where to start because there are so many things I would like to say to you all; so much I want to share as we begin our time together. But as I thought about it, I finally decided that there will be plenty of time to say all those things in the coming years; plenty of time to share with you all that is in my mind and on my heart, and I imagine that in the interim, as we live life together, God will place even more on my heart. So, I am excited to begin our time together. For all sorts of reasons, it is my hope that we will share many years together in ministry; for the sake of this church and all who are a part of it, for the good of this community, for my own personal well-being, but…most of all, so that I have plenty of time to get all this stuff off my chest!

I really am so excited to begin this journey with you this morning, and I really do hope that it is a journey that will last many years. I am excited about the thought of Owen, who just turned four months last week, growing up in this church. I look forward to you all getting to know our 10-year-old, Mary Ellen, and her bright, joyful personality, and my husband, Ken, who passionately serves at East Ridge United Methodist Church. And I am excited to get to know about each of you and to share in your walk as disciples.

So, for starters, you can all take a breath and relax because I did not choose this guiding scripture passage from Mark this morning to infer that somehow I am like Jesus and you are like the hometown Nazarenes rejecting whatever message I may bring. These words from Mark are the gospel reading in this week’s lectionary, but this Scripture is also appropriate for this time of transition we are all experiencing right now. And what I want us to find in this passage this morning is a word about faith.

You know, when Jesus was going around preaching and teaching, the message he was sharing was radical. People were watching and waiting for a prophet and a Messiah, so for someone to claim to be the Messiah was a big deal in and of itself. But Jesus’ message was especially unique because it was not the message the people were expecting. They thought the Messiah would be a conquering hero who would smite their enemies. It was never expected that the Messiah would come saying he must die at the hands of his enemies. So I imagine that Nazareth wasn’t the only place where Jesus and his message were rejected. That’s part of the reason that Jesus gave his disciples these instructions about preaching and teaching, and “shaking the dust from [their] feet” when the message was rejected. But here’s the thing, even knowing that his message was unpopular, Jesus preached it anyway. Even with the knowledge that his disciples would not be well-received in every place, he sent them out to preach and teach anyway. The call to repent and enter God’s kingdom was vital, Jesus knew it, and he knew that message must be shared, even if it offended.

And here’s the thing, my friends, that message is just as vital today as it was 2,000 years ago. And you know what? The message of God’s kingdom is still just as offensive today, too. Unfortunately, though, it seems that the span of time has increased our complacency, has softened the call of Christ and the urgency of the message. We don’t want to offend people, do we? So rather than taking the message to the world and shaking the dust off our feet when we are rejected, we’ve decided we’re just not going to share the message anymore. The problem, though, is that church isn’t like it “used to be”, is it? Sixty or seventy years ago, all anyone had to do was fling open the doors of a church and people would flock in, eager to listen to the words of Christ. But things don’t really work that way anymore. People aren’t flocking to churches the way they used to. So that means that if they are to hear the life-changing message of Christ, we have to take it to them, right where they are.

Still, though, there’s even more to this work we are called to do. Even as we work at sharing Christ’s message in the world, we also have to believe that Christ has the power to change lives. You see, even as we sit here in church today and every Sunday, we still might be people like those people in Jesus’ hometown who were skeptical about his word. We might have doubts about the call to repentance, and Christ’s ability to heal and to save the lost souls of this world. Just consider how Christ’s work might be hindered because of our skepticism. Mark tells us that in Nazareth Jesus was “unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them.” If we take seriously the commissioning of Jesus to go out and do his work in the world, we will undoubtedly be met by skeptics. However, if we fully believe in the power of Christ’s message to change lives, it will not only make our work more effective, it will also give us the strength to endure the opposition and skepticism we will sometimes encounter. We have to have faith in Christ and all that Christ can do!

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.

And great things can happen for us, for this church, and especially for God’s kingdom if we will simply believe that it is possible! 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 to continue the ministry that Jesus started.

This kind of evangelism that Jesus has called us, his disciples to, is not easy by any means. It requires us at times to step out of the comfort zone of the church and our circle of friends and to 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. Statistics show that 85% of unchurched people who receive a personal invitation to attend church will respond positively to that invitation. But if that isn’t your thing, there are other things to do; offer love to your co-worker whose life has been one struggle after another for months on end. Find a way to serve a neighbor in need. Even in my short time here at Wesley Memorial, I have seen already how you are seriously invested in following God’s commission. 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 career criminal walks through the doors of the church, we welcome him without judgment and share Christ’s unconditional love with him. Or when we fall victim to the crimes of another, we visit that person in jail and offer forgiveness.

Taking Christ’s message into the world and doing Christ’s work in our community isn’t always easy; sometimes it’s hard just to think about it, 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 step beyond these walls and out into the real world with Christ’s message. 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 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. And I am excited about sharing in this work with each of you here at Wesley Memorial. 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!

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