Sermon for 4th July 2021 – from Karen White

Mark 6:1-13 Good News

I met a lovely lady and a dear friend in the supermarket this week and told her I was preaching this Sunday. Her advice to me was, “Well, don’t forget to smile. My mum used to say to me ‘the Gospel is Good News and should be preached joyfully, there are so many preachers who don’t smile and make it seem like a message of gloom and doom.’”

So, my friend, this one’s for you! I’ll try to stay cheerful throughout!

Yes, the Gospel is Good News. Jesus is Good News. Salvation and life eternal are Good News. If only people would accept that today and reach out to Jesus, they’d find the Good News in a world full of bad news and gloom and doom, right in front of them.  Yet, in our reading from Mark today its evident people don’t want to see or hear this Good News even when it is staring them in the face. We see Jesus is rejected. He has done all of these marvellous things – they’ve heard about them, they’ve witnessed some of the healings themselves but they still don’t believe who He is, and we’re told ‘Jesus is amazed.’ What does He have to do to prove who He is? Well, we all know the price He had to pay to show us who He really is.

What is even more surprising to Jesus in this passage is the people who reject Him are those who He has grown up with – people in His home town. He grew up there as a normal boy with His brothers and sisters and mother (we’re not quite sure what happened to His father), He has been away and done some marvellous things, and He returns to His own town to come and save and bring Good News to His own people.  Jesus is amazed at their unbelief, we are amazed.  But should we be, because isn’t this modelling exactly what happens in our society today? We love to bring people down, put them in their place. It doesn’t matter what great things they do or say, they’re getting above their station and need pulling down a peg or two. I’m sure we’ve all been on the receiving end of that. How sad is that! Why can’t we just marvel at the great job people do, give them a boost, without finding the negatives?  Those who’ve been in the teaching profession will be familiar with all this. You’re constantly open to criticism. At a parent’s evening you can get 29 out of 30 comments from parents who are pleased with what you’ve done, but it is always the 1 negative comment you remember.  When I was head of English at primary school I had to observe and give feedback on lessons but I was always told to find positive and negative things to feedback on so people had something to work on. Never was it considered there was a remote possibility a lesson could be perfect, because there’s always something to learn. Wouldn’t it be great though for once if we spent a whole day telling people the great things they are doing, and forget the negatives – but we don’t because we’re human, we’re not made like that and we don’t learn like that.

But here is Jesus – human, yet divine – He is perfect; He teaches perfect lessons and brings great News. Why wouldn’t people want to hear that? Why would they criticise that? He comes, in the words of Luke 4:18, to heal the broken-hearted, proclaim deliverance to the captives, recover sight to the blind, and to set people free. To offer truth, hope, peace, promise and salvation – to give meaning to life. Why do they reject him?

The answer to this lies in His preaching. He stands in the synagogue doing this, a task which was always undertaken by a rabbi or trainee rabbi. Not anyone could preach, just as today it is not permitted for just anyone to preach in the church, and here comes Jesus – a normal bloke to them – preaching. You can imagine their comments. Who on earth does he think he is? What makes Him think He is good enough to preach the Holy Scriptures in our synagogue? Isn’t he just a carpenter, the repair man?

As a carpenter, Jesus would have spent most of His time when He was among them repairing furniture and buildings. There would have been new work too, but most of the work would have been spent wandering around town looking for things to repair, or buildings to help with. Carpentry also included general building work. So this man to them was just the repair man – what right did he have to tell them how to live their lives?

And isn’t there an irony here. Jesus is the repair man, physically with wood but also spiritually with the wisdom of God; in miracles there is evidence He can and does repair people physically. He is the ultimate repair man – putting the universe back together after it is broken by sin.

Then, in His home town, Jesus tries to perform miracles and lay His hands on people but they don’t want to know. It’s not that He can’t, or that they have to have absolute faith in Him, or that He lacks compassion, but most likely many of them didn’t ask. If you don’t believe someone can heal you, why would you ask them to?  Jesus is completely taken aback by their lack of faith. But this was a sign to Him. He saw just how work much there was to do, and how little time there was to do it.  This is an intriguing story and many of us are comfortable in judging the silly Nazarenes who did not honour Jesus and were not open to His teaching. But aren’t we in fact like those people of Nazareth? We have known Jesus all our lives. We celebrate His birthday every year. We have watched Him grow through the Scriptures, we know His father and mother – He is extremely familiar to us, yet how hard is it to witness for Christ within our own families?

The wonderful Christian leader, Henri Nouwen, said this about ministering to his own family:  “I had a dream that I would be the priest of my family. Everybody would love me. I would baptize the children and bury my uncles and aunts, and I would be connected to everyone else. Now my mother has died, my father is 90 and becoming blind. My sister got separated from her husband and neither wants that much to do with me… One brother has a very shaky marriage… Another brother’s wife has cancer… And they ALL left the church. Nobody had their children baptized. They don’t even go to church.  They think I am an interesting medieval figure, but they don’t know what I am all about. When I come home, they say, “Just be our brother, don’t talk about religion.” That is a loss. I cannot be a minister, a priest for my own family. The little children don’t know anything (of) what their Uncle Henri is about. They know he is doing strange things, he goes to this church .. he has this white thing on. My own family, my own flesh! Wonderful people who have suffered a lot, but part of a culture that has moved away from the church. It took me a long time to not feel guilty about that, to not feel that it was my fault.”  How many of us feel guilt about not being able to share Christ with our families because we might be ridiculed or rejected?

Our Gospel reading reminds us that the community of faith is sometimes the hardest place for the Good News of Jesus to be heard. The disciples had great success in the villages where they were not known; they received the message, it was different. Today perhaps this is the case too. Many people believe they have heard all of this Jesus stuff before and they crave something new – perhaps that’s why so many move towards the newest spiritual craze.  But we are the people of God. We hear the message of Jesus and so we must believe it, live it and witness to Christ, proclaiming the Good News just as the disciples did. In this way we draw closer to Him, finding unconditional love and peace. We don’t need to earn it, to prove we are of worth.  In her book, Leaving Church, Barbara Brown Taylor speaks of her longing for the nearness of God. She thought the way to achieve this was through working harder, knowing more, never saying “no” to anyone, and ignoring her own needs. This was the pattern of her ministry until she discovered that it was not working for her. Only when she was able to accept God’s unconditional love did she achieve a sense of personal wholeness. When that finally happened, she discovered that the reality of being at peace with God made her more useful to the Kingdom than all of her efforts to be a “superstar” priest.  That’s the Good News. God’s love is unconditional and is for all of us, we don’t need to continue to strive to earn it, and that’s something to smile and be joyful about. 

Today I give thanks for my conversation with Brenda for providing me with the material for today’s sermon. I could have preached rejection, condemnation, judgement, shame, blame – so many of the negative aspects of the passage today – but the fact is the true message Christ wants us all to hear is that of love, forgiveness and hope.  You see, the Good News is we don’t have to prove who we are, we don’t need to try to put ourselves above others, we don’t need to gain status or be noticed by anyone, other than Christ. Christ is our Good News and we should be daily celebrating that He chose us to follow Him, that He loves us no matter who we are, He knows us and loves us. Let’s smile and celebrate the Good News today and pass it on to all we meet. Jesus has saved all of us, and loves us all. Alleluia!

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