Today's sermon is based on Ezekiel 2:1-7 and Mark 6:1-13
There are some similarities with last week's sermon as these two were preached to different congregations.
In this morning’s gospel reading, Jesus has just come back from doing great deeds of power in Galilee. He is now in his hometown and it would seem from this morning’s reading that the people are not amused.
I wonder if Jesus would have been better received if he had come into town as a healer? After all, he has just exorcised a demon-possessed man, healed a sick woman and raised a dead girl. And all of these people have not only been healed of their aliments, but possibly more importantly, they have been restored into their communities.
The occupation of ‘healer’ would have been a recognized occupation in first century Palestine. And the healing work that Jesus has just done in Galilee would most likely have been of great value to any community. Jesus wasn’t just dealing in home remedies for everyday complaints (and let’s not minimize their value in a pre-scientific culture); he’d just healed some pretty tough cases.
Ironically, the raising of the young girl might be the easiest of Jesus’ recent healings to explain away.But Jesus has also shown power over something which looks to us like schizophrenia and he’s healed a woman who has been hemorrhaging for 12 years. Jesus’ healing power works on the tough cases.
Jesus the Teacher
But Jesus didn’t come into his hometown as a healer. He came into his hometown as a teacher. And in today’s story Mark, unlike Luke, doesn’t even give us a hint what it was that Jesus was teaching in his hometown. But we are told of the effect of the teaching: the hearers recognize it as a powerful message and they reject it angrily.
Carpenters weren’t supposed to teach; who did Jesus think he was? The people of Jesus’ village knew all about him; I’ll bet some of them were pretty convinced that they actually knew Jesus better than he knew himself. These people knew that Jesus wasn’t a teacher and they knew that he wasn’t a healer either. It was almost inevitable that they would reject his message.
And, we are told, that Jesus wasn’t able to perform miracles because the people of Nazareth (I’m assuming) didn’t have faith in him and his teaching.
Faith in Jesus’ Teaching
I wonder what that means - Faith in Jesus and his teaching? From what Mark has to say, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that Jesus’ message might have been one of healing. And Luke’s account of the same story suggests a ‘healing’ message as well: the message that God is not just the God of Israel but of all people.
This is a message that has the power to heal not just individuals, but the world. But, of course, it is also a dangerous message.
Because if we open our worldview to others, if we open our minds to the idea that God might love other people as much as he loves us – that he is on their side as well as ours - then we lose a good deal of human-made security. We will have to give up the idea of building fences to keep other people out of our lives; be those fences literal ones of chain or stone or wood or even – dare I say it – of national borders. And we will have to be open to the possibility that God also works in the lives of people who we view as frightening or as our enemies.
But if we simply hear this teaching and we don’t apply it in practice because we don’t believe it or because it is too hard, then there isn’t going to be any healing in the world.
If countries continue to operate on the basis of Realpolitik – of deterrent force - then the world will not escape ongoing cycles of warfare. If communities do not seek forgiveness and understanding then strife between people of different ethnic groups will continue in many parts of the world – not least in Northern Ireland. If individuals do not forgive one another and treat one another as precious gifts of God, then families and communities will continue to be torn apart. Children & elders will continue to be abused, and family members will continue to suffer from mental illness, addiction and all manner of stress-related physical symptoms.
Healing is possible, but only if we believe in it enough to ask God for the grace to change.
Now that I think about it, maybe the people of Jesus’ hometown wouldn’t have embraced him if he had come to them as a healer. Because healing and repentance have always been linked together. And repentance means to turn around and go in a different direction. Repentance means to walk in God’s direction rather than to walk along the path of prevailing social values.
And going against the grain of the values of wider society is difficult. It requires us to give up a good deal of perceived safety and security. To embrace forgiveness rather than revenge requires us to give up safety and security. To risk relating to those who we find frightening requires us to give up safety and security. And – dare I say it - to risk believing that God loves people outside the church or outside of Christianity as much as he loves us requires us to give up safety and security.
If we think about ‘having faith in God’ in terms of repentance and in terms of seeing life in a way that is different from prevailing social values, it’s easy to see why faith can be difficult. It’s easy to see why living prophetically can be difficult. It’s easy to see why Ezekiel found it difficult to tell the people of Israel that God had allowed the exile to happen because of Israel’s unfaithfulness.
And it’s easy to see why Jesus warned the disciples that their message would be rejected by some people in the community. Nevertheless, Jesus called his disciples to go out into the community and to depend for their well-being on the very group of people who were liable to reject them.
At first glance, it might seem that there isn’t a lot of good news in today’s Gospel reading. But it wouldn’t be correct to take this portion of Mark’s gospel and look at it in isolation from the rest of the Gospel.
It is good news that God is a God of healing. This is not just a God who is a common garden-variety healer; this is also a Creator God whose desire is to heal everything that he has made.
As always, the good news is that Jesus is Lord and that Caesar is not Lord. Peace of body, mind and spirit – the Shalom of wholeness – comes from loving God and loving our neighbour as ourself. God’s peace is not the peace of Rome; it is not the peace that comes from might making right. God’s peace is the peace that comes from seeking to obey the law of God but also by living out that law in a loving way that takes account of circumstances and individual situations.
Because the good news is that God loves all of his creation and there is no one from whom he withholds the offer of his salvation.
Jesus showed us the way; as the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, Jesus showed us the character of God. But he didn’t just show us God’s character, he died and rose again so that we could enter into relationship with God.
And that, of course, is the very best news of all.
I pray that as we go from this place, that the Spirit will fill us with the courage to dare to get out into the community and tell those who do not know about the love of God. I pray we will be passionate about proclaiming this message even when it means that the message will not be gladly received. And I pray that, as we continue our journey as Christ’s disciples that we may continue to be amazed by hope, love and the peace that passes all understanding. Amen