Children’s Moment-Jesus traveling around with his friends – hometown doesn’t like what he had to say, but he does his best anyway.
Ezekeil 2:1-5 and Mark 6:1-13
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Summer can often be the time performance evaluations occur. Numbers, statistics, measurements, goal setting, review of past work, goals for the next year: however it gets done, it is a continuing of a life-long cultural obsession. When we are born, we were weighed, measured, examined, and our growth chart begun. With the birth of our children, the process continues. Are they growing and developing within average standard deviations from the mean?
When children finally begin public school, a different set of benchmarks begins to add up, measuring against a set of standards for which current and later success may be projected. Like every student ever born, the question will be asked, did they pass the grade? Can we send them out into the world knowing what they know and hope and pray they will do the right thing and find fulfillment, happiness, and enjoyable work?
When Jesus sends out the disciples, they are empowered to do what Jesus did. How did they do that? How did they know that the power of God was at work in their lives and ministry in the name of Jesus? Was it just belief? By what measurement could they tell of their progress? Mark tells us: they went out and proclaimed that all should repent; they cast out many demons, and anointed many with oil and healed them. Verse 30 tells us “The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught.” In Matthew’s account, there are many more instructions and some teaching that Jesus includes before sending the twelve out. In Luke, however, there is a second sending out: Jesus sends out seventy, or seventy-two, depending on the manuscript, and Luke records: “they all return with joy.” Jesus celebrates with them, affirming their calling and their ministry; all of which sets up the teaching story of the Good Samaritan. Now return to Mark’s account: sparse as it is, and poignant for the telling. Jesus sends out the 12, and they do what he has been doing: calling for repentance, performing healing, and teaching.
Now let me ask you a hard question. How do we know the power of God is at work in our lives and the ministries of our churches in the name of Jesus Christ? Are we going out and proclaiming repentance, casting out demons, and anointing with oil and healing people? Are there those in our lives to whom we have passed on the legacy of our faith while we are yet alive to see it at work? By what measure do we know God’s power is at work in us?
In 2 Samuel, we read that Saul failed to meet God’s requirements to be Israel’s king. If you are a king, you are shepherd of your people. You have kingly duties and your kingdom ultimately thrives or falls with your work; which is measurable and has accountability built in on a large scale. Obviously, there was some sort of standard or set of expectations in place for Israel. Ultimately, God rejected Saul as king, and David was called and anointed to become king instead.
In Ezekiel, we read of a different calling: God calls Ezekiel to be a prophet. A prophet’s job is a little different. A prophet was called to speak God’s word. God would speak to the prophet, and the prophet was supposed to say “Thus says the LORD God: …” and then let the people know what God requires. In Ezekiel’s case, the rest was up to each individual hearer. He was not called to measure how many repented, turning back to God, he was called simply to speak God’s word, regardless of the result. Commentator Leanne Pearce Reed writes,
“What a challenging word for today’s preachers! Many spend countless hours honing their craft in the hope of transforming lives. They hope that their words will not be in vain, but will bear fruit in the lives of their listeners. They carefully consider: What is the “take home” message? What metaphors best convey a point? What stories might touch people’s hearts?
These are not Ezekiel’s concerns. For him, the measure of success is not the outcome, but his faithfulness. Ezekiel’s commission suggests that he may plant seeds, but the harvest is up to God. This text provides a helpful antidote to human pride, in which we place the weight of the world on our own shoulders and hold ourselves responsible for every result. It reminds us that God is the one ultimately in charge. God calls each one of us to particular work, and our faithfulness to that call matters more than the outcome.”
Again, in the words of Leanne,
“Of course, preachers are not the only ones who need this message. The church is not immune to the compulsion to measure success… Many churches count how many people attend worship and Sunday school; they track the numbers in their cash flow reports and benevolence giving. This information may serve valuable purposes. But to churches preoccupied with numbers and results, Ezekiel’s commission encourages a return to the heart of the matter: What is God calling us to do? And are we faithful to that call?”
Today’s reading in the Gospel of Mark may shed some light on that issue. Jesus is preaching in his hometown, at his home synagogue, after having been away for some time doing his miracle preaching tour. He’s gathered some buddies from all walks of life who have been traveling about with him, and now he comes home with them in tow. At first, his home community is amazed at his teaching. Then they take offense. Last year I preached on Matthew’s account of this same story, and ruminated some on why they took offence – how everything they know about their homeboy blocked them from accepting his new career. Consequently, even though his teaching is amazing, he could not do many deeds of power, only heal a few sick.
This text in Mark’s account illuminates the powerlessness of Jesus, as a byproduct of the unbelief of the community, which is a very troubling concept indeed. Hasn’t God given Jesus, as Messiah, God’s own power? Well, yes; but as Commentator Beverly Zink-Sawyer reminds us, in this case the powerlessness of Jesus
“Is not primarily about him, but about us: about those who are unwilling to believe the great things God can do. [Perhaps] the story of Jesus’ own rejection at Nazareth sets up the mission of the twelve disciples. [Perhaps] The reason for Mark’s inclusion of [this story of Jesus] at Nazareth [is to prepare] the Twelve for what might be a mixed reception…. 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) (emphasis added).
And so, I submit, are we. … May all glory and power and dominion be unto the one who lived, died, and rose again for us, even him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 Reed, Leanne Pearce. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).
 Zink-Sawyer, Beverly. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).