Our series this month is called “To the Nations.” God calls us to take the good news of Jesus to the world – “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” is what Jesus said. Bring people you know and people you don’t know into this amazing relationship with God that you have. God empowers us and gives us authority to do this. All of the gospels describe how Jesus gathered a small group of twelve disciples, taught them, developed a close relationship with them and sent them out. Let’s listen to how it started:
Mark 6:1-13. He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is 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?’ And they took offence at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If 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.’ 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
I know you’ve all seen it. At the end of the “Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy clicks the heels of her ruby slippers together and says…. “There’s no place like home.”
Let’s think about home. How many of you are living in the place where you grew up? You might be aware that things have changed over the years, but it’s possible that it happened so slowly you didn’t notice. Many of us notice changes to our home towns after living “away” for several years. Coming back to places where I’ve lived can be shocking for me sometimes, things have changed so much. Since I left Medina, Ohio many years ago, it has quadrupled in size and so many things are different (to me) now. The places where I used to get ice cream with my friends are all gone. Other people live in all of our family’s houses. The church where I grew up has new pews. It bothers me if I think about it too much! That wasn’t supposed to happen! It gives meaning to the title of the book by Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again.
That can be a hard thing for some folks to hear, that you can’t go home again. Those words only mean that you become used to the way things are, things change, and it unsettles you. Everything changes, even you! It’s so much easier to live in the past because you know where you’ve been. It’s harder to face the future because the changes that happen can be beyond our control, and that’s scary.
I remember talking to a woman who said she stopped going to her church because the minister said something that had offended her daughter. When I asked what that was, she said that her daughter had come back from college after 4 years (like a generation to a teenager) and was surprised at how different the church seemed. After a worship service, she told this to the minister at the door and he said, “Well, you can’t go home again,” in a half-kidding way (in his mind, he was quoting the book title), and she had taken offense that someone would actually come right out and say that things change, even in the church. To her, he was absolutely insensitive. She was also very troubled that the family who moved into her family’s house had taken down a wall in her bedroom and changed the space. It might seem silly, but maybe you can empathize. Change unsettles us.
You just heard that Jesus had trouble going home too. This story picks up on the ministry tour Jesus took through Galilee in northern Israel, an area which is like a county to us, just after he raised a young girl from the dead (Mark 5:21-43). The people who knew about it were amazed. The story doesn’t say what town it was where this happened, and the people there apparently didn’t know Jesus very well. But they must have been happy he stopped by. He had an impact and left an impression. There were at least a few people in that place who were able to grasp who he was: the Son of God.
But the people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth didn’t accept him, even in God’s place, in the synagogue. The moment Jesus stood up to read and speak, things got noisy. “Where’d he get all this? If that’s who I think it is, why, he’s the one who helped build our house. I think he made some of our furniture. O yeah, he’s the one who fixed my dad’s plow. I know his family. His brothers and sisters are all members of the synagogue. He used to sit right in that pew over there. I don’t know him that well, but who does he think he is?”
Luke recorded what he said there in Nazareth:
Luke 418 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
Then he said, “This scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” And people got ticked.
Was Jesus disappointed? Probably. Maybe even a little angry. And all he did was stand up in the synagogue and teach. Was he was saying some things the people didn’t want to hear? Were they just blinded to who this is? Resistant to God? Or, was it just jealousy?
The story said that all he could do in Nazareth, his hometown, was heal some sick people. Now, healing some sick people seems like a pretty good thing to do, but Mark makes it sound like it’s no big deal. “Jesus couldn’t do much of anything in Nazareth except heal a few sick people,” he says. Well, if that wasn’t such a great thing, then what did Jesus want to do that would have been better? He wanted them to believe.
The issue for these people was their faith. Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of “Man” (human one) came to town and tried to demonstrate who he was. He wanted people to believe in him and follow him.
In the book of Acts, Jesus ascends and the Holy Spirit comes. Then the Spirit sends Christians out to do what Jesus did: bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
It’s not complicated. There may come a time when the the Spirit may need someone like you and me to say to someone else, “I’m a believer in Jesus and I can’t imagine life any other way.” That person may simply need to know that you believe, because they want to believe too.
There may be moments when the Spirit calls on us to offer forgiveness to someone in the name of Jesus. The Spirit may call on us to take a stand against racism or some other form of oppression. And every Christian should be secure enough to hear the words, “Well, that might be good for you, but I don’t believe in Jesus” without stepping back from their faith or finding ways to dilute the things they believe. It’s not easy, but God gives an inner security to people who practice faith, even confidence when rejection happens.
Standing by in the synagogue in Nazareth watching this rejection happen are the followers of Jesus, who are all from other places, other towns. They were strangers there; he was not. I wonder how they were feeling when this was happening, when Jesus was getting rejected. What were they thinking and feeling? Maybe they were sneaking toward the back of the room, sort of gradually. Maybe pretending they were reading their bulletins or staring at the ceiling. I imagine that they were at least a little surprised. I wonder what the conversation was like when they left. I can hear Jesus as he walks alongside Peter and says under his breath, “I think that went well, don’t you?”
I think Jesus intentionally brought his followers to his home town, to Nazareth. It was an object lesson, as if to show his followers that “this is what can happen to you, too.”
Immediately following this visit home, Jesus sent his disciples off to preach and teach. He gave them authority over “unclean spirits.” He says, “Go.” The followers of Christ are always doing battle with unclean spirits, and it’s not for the faint of heart. And even Jesus couldn’t deal with a negative attitude.
The young people among us are heading off to new adventures. There are people among us who have heard the call to go, and they’ve gone. They come back every now and then for a visit. We’ll ask them – how are you doing? How’s the adventure going? Who did you meet? What have you learned? How has God changed you? And they should ask us the same questions.
And when Jesus comes back, he’ll ask “Church, how are you doing? Have you been growing in your faith? Where have you gone? Are you winning the war against the unclean spirits? You have authority, you know.”
We are here because somebody somewhere, at some time in our lives, had the courage to share the gospel with us. And it will always be our turn to share the faith with somebody else. And Jesus may send you to a place where you never thought you would go!
O God, we thank you for believers with courage. We thank you for those who set examples for us by stepping out to follow you. We ask only that in some small way, we can walk that path of faith too.
Lord, give us also the vision to see the work that needs to be done. Help us know who needs to hear the good news. Give us the wisdom to know needs when we see them, and to step outside of our safe places to do something about them. At risk or in safety, we are yours, for the sake of Jesus. Amen.