Sunday, July 8, 2012

Pentecost 6, Series B

Sermon on Mark 6:1-13
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
July 8, 2012 (The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Series B)

It’s not the normal practice in the Missouri Synod for a young candidate from one of the Seminaries to be assigned to the church where he grew up.  Some of the people in the congregation may have a hard time thinking of him as the pastor rather than as the kid who misbehaved in Sunday School way back when.  But the real problem Jesus encounters with his own hometown of Nazareth is not simply a problem of how people react to a pastor who once was a kid they knew.  The problem is one of unbelief.  The real difficulty we see illustrated in today’s Gospel lesson is that people often find it hard to understand that God works through human beings.  How could such a wonderful message come through such an ordinary messenger?  This difficulty is only intensified when the messenger is someone they already know.

But that doesn’t excuse their reaction.  No, Jesus wasn’t just simply the carpenter’s boy from down the street.  He was—and is—the Son of God.  And even if he were just a “local boy made good,” so to speak, the Word He preached would still be the Word of God.  They ought to have listened and heeded his words even then.  How much more so since this “carpenter” was really God’s own Son!  But of course, the reaction of Nazareth to Jesus’ words and His actions as the Messiah is only a small part of the larger rejection Jesus experienced.  The entire Jewish nation was His own country, and they rejected Him, with a few exceptions, and their religious and political leaders nailed Him to a tree.  Since He was born of Mary and was made man, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was also human like all of us.  And even though the Jewish leaders were the ones directly responsible for His trial and crucifixion, the responsibility rests upon all of us, for ultimately all of our sins caused Him to give up His life on the cross.  We are all His kinsmen and neighbors and relatives, and we are all the same as those people in Nazareth who were offended because He was more than He seemed to be.

The interesting thing about this story is that Jesus did not get discouraged or give up when his hometown rejected Him, he simply went on with His ministry.  He left Nazareth behind and went to other places where the people also needed to hear the message of salvation.  Even when He knew that His message would eventually lead to His death, Jesus kept preaching.  He did not put concern for His own well-being before the needs of those He came to save, even though we know from the way He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane that he did feel the pain and the anguish of being rejected by men, stricken, smitten, and afflicted.  Indeed, that was the whole purpose of Christ’s ministry: to suffer.  To take upon Himself the griefs and sorrows and sins of all men and wash them away in His own blood.  This includes the sins of those people in Nazareth who rejected Him, those Jewish leaders who nailed him to the cross, as well as all of us.  It was His entire purpose in coming to this world to suffer for us to take away our sins.  And so, when He experiences rejection in His ministry, it is a sign that He is actually doing something right.  Instead of being a sign of failure, Jesus’ rejection by men is exactly what is supposed to happen.

But that doesn’t excuse those who reject Him.  What Jesus said about a prophet being without honor among His own people and relatives was a severe word of judgment against them.  And when He left Nazareth behind, it was not simply because He thought He would be more successful elsewhere; it was as a word of judgment against them.  The worst judgment God can give against a person or a group of people is to abandon them to their own devices, to give them what they think they want rather than what they need.  That’s precisely what hell is.  Think about it.  In hell, God gives those who are there what they thought they wanted, namely to be free from dependence upon Him, instead of what they need for their body and their soul.  Of course, as it turns out, being independent of God is a lot less pleasant than they thought it would be.  There is good reason why hell is described as eternal pain and torment.  That is what is left when God is not the one who provides our needs.  And so when God abandons a group of people to their own devices, as Jesus symbolically did when He left Nazareth behind without doing many miracles, It’s very serious.

Speaking of those miracles, by the way, isn’t it interesting that Jesus couldn’t do many miracles there, except heal a few people?  What does that mean?  Healing people seems to me to be a pretty great miracle, but our text says that He couldn’t do many great miracles there.  The answer is that bodily healings and other supernatural events aren’t even close to the miracle that takes place when a person is translated from unbelief to faith, from death into life.  It was because of their unbelief that Jesus couldn’t eternally heal them, that is to say, He couldn’t save them from their sins.
Of course we know that Jesus’ ministry did not stop with His death or His resurrection or even His ascension.  His ministry goes on today through you and me.  Through me, a pastor called to preach the Gospel and to distribute Christ’s sacraments to His people, and through you, Christians called to live as God’s hands and His mouths wherever you find yourselves in your day-to-day lives.  But because it’s precisely Christ’s ministry that is carried out through us, it’s not surprising that we experience many of the same difficulties and ever persecution that Jesus did.

But since it’s His ministry, He is with us and working through us.  Let the world do what it will.  “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife.  Let these all be gone; they yet have nothing won.  The Kingdom ours remaineth.”  If we end up suffering for the sake of the Gospel, those sufferings give us a picture, an icon, if you will, of Christ’s sufferings on our behalf.  Indeed, our suffering and our pain, not just those brought on by the world’s reaction to the Gospel but also the various hurts and illnesses and sorrows that go along with life in a sinful world, these sufferings may sometimes be the strongest witness to Him we can give.  In showing that God can sustain us in faith even through our trials and tribulations, we show that it is all to His glory and not our own.  God works the greatest works through the lowliest means.  In our simple Christian confession of faith, and in our day-to-day lives, He shines forth as the One who is strong to save and to preserve.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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