by John Jewell
Gospel: Mark 6:1-13
Have you ever been sent to do something important for someone else?
When I was a small lad, my dad sent me on an errand to pick up the daily paper for him at Joe's lunch. It was an easy enough mission and I felt rather important that my dad would trust me to bring home the paper he loved to read after dinner.
Should be no problem - right?
Wrong. Joe's Lunch was a dangerous place. There was a pinball machine at Joe's Lunch and it happened to be the very first pinball machine in our small mining town in Northern Ontario. All the kids were gathering to see this amazing new toy that promised lots of fun for a nickel. The newspaper was also a nickel. (You're wondering how long ago the paper was five cents no doubt!)
When I entered the restaurant, hang-out, community center -- there were four or five kids standing around the pinball machine and my friend Jimmy Turner was taking his turn. I squeezed into the group and watched in amazement as the silver ball went this way and that, setting off bells and whistles. Jimmy was really good at using the flipper to knock the ball all the way back to the top of the game. I had never had a turn at the machine and the nickel I was clutching was beginning to burn a hole in my hand.
Then it happened!
Jimmy's turn was over and he turned to me and asked, "Want to try?" Jackie Scott didn't like that Jimmy was going to let me play before the others -- but no one would actually stand up to Jimmy. Before I knew it, my nickel was delivered to the hungry mouth of the pinball game. (There were a few adults in town who thought this new fangled game was an instrument of the devil created to lead little children astray and I fear I added to the evidence that day.)
There were some important lessons learned that day. The game was actually no fun at all. I played with anxiety as I pictured going home to my father with no newspaper. The failure of performing the mission was compounded. I was late for supper because I wandered around wondering what I would say to my dad. Then I got the brilliant idea to tell him I lost the nickel.
Big mistake! He had called the Turner's to see if I was there and Jimmy answered the phone and explained that the last time he saw me, I was playing pinball!
I did not have a pleasant evening in my room completing my dad's assignment to me to, "think about trust."
Throughout our lives, all of us will have times when we are sent to accomplish something for someone else. When we re sent to do something important, we are the recipients of the sender's trust. The greater the mission, the greater the trust.
That was the greatest lesson -- albeit a hard one -- of the "great pinball debacle." (As my obnoxious brother Michael likes to call it.) The most difficult part of the whole experience was that horrible feeling inside of having disappointed my father.
Today's scripture readings are about being sent. Not only that, they tell the story of how the Lord has placed an absolutely amazing amount of trust in us! We know that the trust of God in us is great because we have been sent into a difficult world. Just as Joe's lunch was a tough place for a little boy to enter with a nickel in his hand - so the world you and I must enter as representatives is a tough place.
As we look at the story of Jesus sending out the disciples in the gospel of Mark, there are three barriers to the mission which they encounter. We can learn from their experience because we will encounter the very same barriers if we take seriously the commission of Jesus Christ to "...go into all the world."
Two of the barriers are external - things we will face in the world. The third barrier is an internal one - something we will face within ourselves.
1. The barrier of unbelief
When Jesus went to do ministry in his home town of Nazareth, he encountered an unbelief that amazed even him. Thus the well known quote, "A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among his own relatives and in his own household." [6:4]
One of the barriers we will face when we enter our world as sent persons is the unbelief of the world. Even Jesus is amazed at the unbelief of the people in his hometown.
Many of us have been raised in the Christian tradition. To say that we believe in Jesus Christ "goes with the territory," as they say. But, in an increasingly unchurched culture, acquaintance with Christ is generally nominal at best.
And there's more... when we take the essential biblical meaning of believing in Christ, it means much more than simply subscribing to the idea that Jesus is somehow the Son of God. It is not a passive concept, but an active one. To believe in Christ means to place our trust in Christ. It includes the idea of a commitment to be a follower of Christ.
Dare we say it? Unbelief in the biblical sense seems to have impacted, not just our culture, but our churches as well. The level of knowledge about the basic stories of the bible took a nose-dive in the twentieth century. (A century is a rather short period of time in the long history of God's people.)
I remember a student in a confirmation class who illustrates the point. I asked the class how many remembered the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors. A third of the class remembered, the rest did not. The student I'm referring to said, "I've never heard of Joseph!"
The barrier of unbelief is one we will encounter when we take seriously the fact that the Lord wants to send us to bring the good news to our world.
2. The barrier of resistance
There is more than unbelief in our world. We will also encounter resistance to the whole message of Christ. Jesus' hometown folk not only did not believe, "...they took offense at him."
It is as though there has been a progression in the Western world particularly with respect to the Christian faith. We've moved from a culture that was friendly to Christianity, to one that is neutral to Christianity, to a time when much of the culture is unfriendly to Christianity. Jesus warned his followers from the very beginning that the world would give his followers the same treatment he had received.
"If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world--therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'Servants are not greater than their master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. (John 15:18-20)
Have you ever noticed that it is okay to refer to God in our society or even to Buddha or Mohammed - but often, people take offence if the name of Jesus is mentioned. (To be sure, it may be that some of this has been because some who present themselves as followers of Jesus have been particularly obnoxious -- but the fact remains that taking offense at the name of Jesus is not uncommon.
If you take seriously the fact that you are one of the sent ones of Christ, you will encounter resistance.
3. The barrier of temporality
There is an old gospel song that includes the lines:
This world is not my home,
I'm just a passing through,
My treasures are laid up,
somewhere beyond the blue,
The angels beckon me,
from heaven's open door,
And I can't feel at home
in this world anymore."
Jesus warned his disciples, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." [Matt. 8:20] Now he sends them out without the support of the world. They are to depend solely upon their trust in him and on the provision of those who receive their message and ministry.
We are limited, temporal beings and the most important things in life are not the fading treasures of this world, but the forever treasures of spiritual things. When we become the sent ones of Christ, we turn away from the world's standards of success and well being to the standards of Jesus Christ.
We must, in the words of the great German Theologian and pastor, Dieitrich Bonhoeffer, consider The Cost of Discipleship.
Ah - but there are also three things that we have been given that empower our "being sent." These are the things that will overcome the barriers. We dare not enter this dangerous world on our own apart from the empowering gifts of Christ.
1. We have the authority of Christ
The heart of Jesus' commission to his followers was that he called them, he sent them and most of all - he gave them authority over the barriers they would face. The true sense of the word authority used here is "power."
Though they went without the provisions of the world, they were given the power of Christ.
2. We have the community of Christ
Here's something absolutely essential to the well being of those who are sent by Christ. Jesus did not send his disciples out alone. They went in pairs. Remember his words, "For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." [Matt. 18:20]
We are not only given the power of Christ, we are given the community of Christ. One of my all time favorite sayings is that, "There is no such thing as a Lone Ranger Christian." We get into trouble when we try to maintain a healthy spirituality on our own.
There is a story of a pastor from many decades ago who went to visit a man who had not been in church for a long time. The man greeted his pastor with the words, "I suppose you've come to give me a scolding about being away from church." The pastor said, "No, I've just come to talk."
They went inside and sat in front of the fireplace as they talked baseball and the weather and how the harvest looked good for this year. As they talked, the pastor took the poker from beside the fireplace and pulled one glowing ember away from the fire and continued talking.
As they talked, the ember which had been aflame, then aglow finally turned dark while the rest of the fire continued to burn and glow. Then the pastor took his leave and went home.
The man was in church the following Sunday.
Without community we, like the lone ember, will loose our glow.
3. We have the fruit of our ministry
There is wisdom in the old saying, "The proof is in the pudding." It does not rank up there with E=mc˛ - but it is true. When all is said and done, the proof of authentic discipleship is in the fruit of ministry.
Those who are sent and empowered by Christ will find themselves casting out demons and bringing health and wholeness where there is sickness. The demons that plague our world with oppression, hatred and bondage will give way when confronted by Christ in the person of his disciples. Disease and brokenness will give way to healing when ministered to by those who are the sent ones of the Lord.
What a wonderful thing it is to be so valued and so trusted by the Lord of Life that he sends us to a world in need.
And God never gives up on us.
I think I learned that in part from my dad. Just about two or three weeks after the Joe's Lunch Debacle, my dad gave me a five dollar bill and sent me to buy him a box of cigars at Nuggent's Drug Store.
Nothing he ever did brought about a stronger commitment to being worthy of his trust like that one act. I marched past Joe's Lunch, past Jimmy Turner and my friends with a determination that not even the gates of hell would prevent me from faithfully carrying out my father's mission!
Isn't it wonderful to be so valued and trusted by a God so great?
Reflection on the Gospel Reading: Mark 6: 1-13
Jesus and his disciples come to Nazareth after a series of amazing healing miracles. The disciples of Jesus must have been in a state of euphoria. What an amazing tour this was! There was the calming of the sea when they were stunned and exclaimed, "Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey him?" [Mk.4:41] Then the healing of the Gadarene demoniac, the woman with the hemorrhage and the raising of Jarius' daughter. They must surely have felt that the kingdom would come swiftly. How wonderful it was to be on the winning team.
Then came Nazareth. The townspeople of Nazareth were surprised that this "local lad" was teaching and doing all that he was. "Why - isn't this Mary's son? Doesn't he work with his hands just as we do? He's nobody special."
Jesus is amazed at the response. Interesting statement for Mark to make. Jesus taught frequently about his ultimate rejection and crucifixion which would come at the hands of his opposition - so how is he "amazed"? This provides wonderful insight into Jesus' humanity and his identification with us. There is a sense in which we can know something is going to take place, but when it happens, we are still amazed. It is not so much that Jesus did not expect the rejection - but it is startling when people who had been a part of his upbringing suddenly take this great offense at him.
The teaching mission goes on and in some ways this event in Nazareth is a "reality check" for the disciples. Not everyone is going to be thrilled with the ministry of Christ and ultimately with the ministry of Christ's followers. They are commissioned and sent out into the real world where they must bring the ministry and message of Jesus Christ to everyone. Some will receive and some will not receive - but all must hear and witness the call of God to repent and believe the good news.
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