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The Weird Realities of Faith We Overlook

July 8, 2018

THE WEIRD REALITIES OF FAITH 

WE OVERLOOK

July 8, 2018 (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost)

New Millennium Church

Little Rock, Arkansas

 

God of grace and powerful weakness,
at times your prophets were ignored, rejected, belittled, and unwelcome.
Trusting that we, too, are called to be prophets,
fill us with your Spirit,
and support us by your gentle hands,
that we may persevere in speaking your word
and living our faith. Amen.


Mark 6:1-13


6He left that place and came to his home town, 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.

 

This sermon is about how the way we think affects the way God’s power works.  That statement might seem weird.  After all, God’s power is God’s power, isn’t it?  What does the way we think have to do with God’s effective power in our living?  And how does this lesson fit into the series I began several weeks ago about the theology of abundance/sufficiency (Re-Thinking the Meaning of Enough on June 3 and The Perpetual Achievement Issue on June 17)?  

 

The first part of the passage deals with the return of Jesus to Nazareth, his home village.  By this time, word had spread throughout the Galilee region that he was a prophetic teacher and healer.  So one might have expected Jesus to deliver a profound teaching and heal many people when he returned to Nazareth and his hometown synagogue.  

 

Instead, Mark’s account agrees with those found in Matthew (Mt. 13:53-58) and Luke (Lk. 4:16-30).  Mark 6:5 reads:  And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.   In popular terms, the Nazareth visit was a “bust.”  

 

The passage also offers clues about why Jesus less effective in Nazareth.  When Jesus began to teach in his hometown synagogue, many people were “hung up” about his social history.  Memories of Jesus as a carpenter, a son of Mary, and a sibling of Mary’s other children (Mk. 6:3) hindered the Nazareth synagogue community from believing God could and would work through Jesus !   

 

Jesus failed to heal many people in his hometown because many people in his hometown synagogue were so fixated on his social history they couldn’t believe that God was working through him.   That unbelief amazed Jesus and prompted him to declare, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house” (Mk.6:4).  In other words, Jesus was rejected in his hometown as a teacher and healer by religious people whose faith was limited by their focus on his social history.   

 

Jesus wanted to teach and heal many people when he returned to his hometown.  However, God’s power operates through human faith.  Small-minded people – including small-minded religious people – hinder God’s liberating power!  What we know has the weird effect of hampering God’s power whenever we put more faith on what we know more than on what God can and desires to do!  

 

The weird reality is that often what we know prevents God from doing powerful things to liberate others.  

 

  • We know our inventory of inadequacies and limitations and remind ourselves we don’t have enough people, money, time, etc. Our inventory becomes the limit for what God can do.  Because we know what is in the inventory, we know God couldn’t possibly do all that needs to be done based on what we know we have to offer.
  • We know our record for mistakes, shortcomings, disappointments, and failures, and have more faith in that history than in the promise of God’s liberating power to overcome oppressive situations.
  • We know the history of other persons and have more faith in that knowledge than in what God wants to do and can do with them to liberate people and conditions.

 

That’s why a saying by Mark Twain has become one of my favorites.  “It ain’t what you know that gets you in trouble.  It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”  What the religious crowd in Nazareth knew “for sure” concerning the social history of Jesus stunted their faith in God’s power at work in Jesus!  

 

The same thing is true for us.  We can put so much emphasis on what we know about ourselves, our situations, and our limitations that our faith is stunted.  God can want to do liberating things with and through us.  God can be present and ready to do liberating things with us, through us, and for us.  Yet, because we trust what we know more than God, God is unable to do powerful things for many people.  Rather, God can only work on a few people “every now and then,” as the saying goes.   And in that sense, we worship what we know more than God.   

 

In Nazareth, Jesus was “amazed at their unbelief.”  Jesus had performed an exorcism of the demon named Legion which tormented a man who lived among tombs near Gerasa in the central region of Galilee (Mk. 5:1-20).  Jesus restored health to the daughter of a synagogue leader named Jairus after the daughter had been at the point of death.  A woman who suffered from hemorrhaging had been healed after she touched his outer garment (Mk. 5:21-43).  So, Jesus was not amazed about the power of God to liberate strangers – people who hardly knew him - from oppressive situations.  Instead, he was amazed at the unbelief of people in Nazareth who had known him first and longest.

 

In the same vein, I suspect Jesus may be amazed at the unbelief of religious people today.  Perhaps Jesus is amazed at the unbelief of people who put more weight on the Scripture verses they “know” than on the power and presence of God to deliver others from the oppressive situations caused by human wickedness.  Would Jesus be amazed at our unbelief were he to appear in this place of worship?  Perhaps the “unbelief” of religious people who “know” Jesus explains why so few people are liberated from oppression in our time and place.  

 

 Jesus didn’t dwell on the rejection he suffered at Nazareth.  Instead, he called twelve key disciples and sent them to villages throughout Galilee in teams of two.  He shared his authority with them over demonic forces.  

 

And, Jesus dispatched his first disciples in a way that required them to walk by faith in the abundance of God’s provision.  They were to travel as peasants rather than as celebrities.  They were to accept hospitality, be prepared to encounter rejection, yet not dwell on rejection.  In other words, Jesus sent his disciples trusting what God can always do – enable ordinary faithful people to do extraordinary things.  

 

We have no reason to doubt God wants to do extraordinary things that liberate many people from oppression.  God still wants much truth to be told.  

 

But God cannot do as much as God wants to do unless and until the people who claim to know God stop acting like the religious folks at Nazareth.  Until we put more faith in God’s power and purposes than in what we “know” about situations and people, God’s power in us will be frustrated, handicapped, and compromised.  Until then, our unbelief, like that of the people at Nazareth, will amaze God.    

 

Are you living in the power of what you “know” or in the power of what God wants to and can do in your life and through others you “know” so well?  

 

Amen.

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2018