May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Ps. 19:14).
Quick note on Sea Sunday before moving onto the sermon proper.
Prayer for Seafarers
Loving God, you give us everything. Hear us as we pray for seafarers who endure hardship, danger and discomfort to bring us the goods we use each day. Keep them safe in the palm of your hand and bring them through sunshine and storm to their homes and loved ones. Through Jesus Christ who stilled the storm and called seafarers to follow him. Amen.[i]
Who is this man Jesus of Nazareth who reveals the power of the kingdom?
What is it about familiarity that breeds contempt, as the saying goes?
Jesus’ rejection in his hometown of Nazareth proves that old adage to be true. After performing great miracles on both shores—and in the middle—of the Sea of Galilee, he returns to the town where he has grown up and lived an ordinary early life. He goes to the place where any Jewish teacher would go: to the synagogue, where he teaches the hometown crowd. Maybe it is the unexpectedness of the whole event that causes the reaction of the people—the fact that the locals are not expecting to see “little Jesus” who grew up around the corner, or “Jesus the carpenter” who had built their tables and benches, in the role of wise prophet of God. Obviously, his teaching astounds them but also strikes a nerve.
At first, they are amazed. “Where did this man get all this?” they ask. “What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!” (v. 2). But that is when the familiarity hits home and turns into contempt. “Is 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?” they ask. “And they took offense at him” (v. 3). In other words, they believe, it is still the Jesus we have always known—and we know he is just one of us, not any miracle worker.
Why such a negative, outrageous response to Jesus from the locals in Nazareth?
Like other places throughout Mark’s Gospel we see the humanity of Jesus in this reading. As any other human being would, Jesus reacts when the locals turn against him. Surely, it is not a flattering picture of the community in Nazareth orof Jesus himself. The people come across as mean-spirited, jealous, and even mocking. And Jesus responds to them with his own sharp words, words that have made their way into common language: “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own family, and in their own house” (v. 4). The charged exchange between Jesus and the townsfolk is a stark reminder of the humanity ofboththe neighbours and of Jesus himself.
Last year when I was doing my homiletics subject at St. Francis College Father Scott gave me the opportunity to preach at the 7:15 and the 9:00 services at St. Georges. I must admit I was very nervous because I was getting up to preach in front of my church family. I was lucky because the feedback I received from my family was positive.
Not so, for Jesus though, so let us ask ourselves these questions:
How would we have reacted, had we been in the position of the people in this story?
What would we think about a neighbour whom we believed to be just an ordinary, hardworking man turning into a miraculous teacher, let alone the supposed Son of God?
I would hazard a guess that we all would have our share of skepticism. After all, we tend to see what we expect to see and are slow to accept challenges to our preconceived assumptions. The locals of Nazareth expect to see the Jesus they have always known, the one who seems no different from them. When Jesus preaches with wisdom and performs deeds of power, the people of Nazareth cannot see beyond their own limited view of him.
The questions posed to us, then, are, whom do we take for granted?
What wisdom, what deeds of power are we missing because we make judgments about how and through whom God’s work can be done?
Because of the unbelief of the people of Nazareth, Mark tells us, Jesus is rendered powerless (v. 5). This is a troubling statement, for we know that God has endowed Jesus, as the Messiah, with God’s own power. Here again, however, we are reminded of the reality of Jesus’ humanity. Just as Jesus struggled against temptation in the desert at the beginning of his ministry and against the reality of his fate in the Garden of Gethsemane at the end of his ministry, here he struggles with the limitations of his full humanity: being rendered powerless by those who doubt his calling. But Jesus’ powerlessness is not primarily about him but about us:about those who are unwilling to believe the great things God can do.
So, what opportunities have you missed because you did not take notice of the answer to your prayer when it was staring you in the face?
Through trusty Mr. Google I tracked down this story that I heard many years ago regarding how God answers our prayers and how we sometimes doubt or miss the source of God’s answer to us.
A very religious man was once caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbour came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.” “No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”
A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.”
“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”
A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.”
“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”
All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the religious man drowned. When he arrived in heaven he demanded an audience with God. Ushered into God’s throne room he said, “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.”
“Yes you did my child” replied the Lord. “And I sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you never got in.” – Author: Unknown
Mark continues to raise in this text the question he repeatedly raises in his Gospel: who is this Jesus? When Jesus stills the storm on the Sea of Galilee, those in the boat with him wonder, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (4:41). When he brings Jairus’s daughter back to life, those who witness it are “overcome with amazement” (5:42). In this story it is not those who are encountering Jesus for the first time but those who have known him for years who are asking the same question about Jesus’ identity and responding to his teaching with amazement.
The story of Jesus’ own rejection at Nazareth sets up the mission of the twelve disciples. The reason for Mark’s inclusion of Jesus’ embarrassing experience at Nazareth at this particular point in the Gospel appears to be the preparation of the Twelve for what might be a mixed reception. The disciples are warned: “‘If 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’” (v. 11). We cannot help but be reminded of Jesus’ experience in Nazareth. Nevertheless, just as Jesus persists in his work by healing and curing even “a few sick people” amid the “unbelief” (vv. 5, 6) of the people of Nazareth, the disciples are commanded to persist in their own work in his name (v. 13). The word for us in this text is that we are not heldresponsible for the response to our ministries in Christ’s name, but only for our own faithfulness. With such assurance, we can witness boldly and faithfully.
So, our challenge now is how do we embrace our mission in our church and our wider community?
We have been working our Parish ‘Mission Action Plan’ over the past months.
I realise that we are not sent two by two with no money in our pockets, not knowing where we will lay our heads, or where our next meal comes from, but how do we individually and corporately put our plan into action?
Gracious God, we thank you that through your Word and Sacrament that we can answer the question. Who is this man Jesus of Nazareth who reveals the power of the kingdom? – Amen.
Byrne, Brendan. A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel. Strathfield, NSW: St. Pauls Publications, 2008.
Zink-Sawyer, Beverly “Proper Nine: Mark 6:1-13 – Homiletic Perspective.” In Feasting on the Word, Year B,, edited by David L. Bartlet and Barbara Brown Taylor Louisville: Westminster John Know Press, 2009.
[i]Bishop John prayer was found on the internet at http://imaginarydiocese.org/bishopjohn/2013/10/23/prayer-mission-to-seafarers/7 July 2018