Sermon July 4, 2021, “Jesus, the Great Delegator”

Gospel Reading:

            Mark 6: 1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On 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! Is 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 offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If 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.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise to you Lord Christ.

Sermon          “Jesus, the Great Delegator”

            It had to have been kind of awkward! He left his hometown as a carpenter and now he’s coming back with followers. He’s now a teacher who offers healings, casts out demons, and gives teachings beyond this world. Is this the same guy, they might have wondered? The people of Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, certainly questioned him. “Where did he get that wisdom and power? Isn’t this the simple carpenter, Mary’s son?” The people were astounded at what they saw in Jesus. It’s his first visit back home and you would expect the people to be delighted, but there was no horse or donkey for him to ride on. There was no “welcome home” parade or party. Instead, they just questioned him, just like in the first chapter of Mark when he taught in the synagogue, the people were “astounded, for he taught them as one having authority.”

            They knew about this Jesus. He was a carpenter from Nazareth. No mention of a father, only Mary, which would have been scandalous during that time and siblings, whom these people would have known. So what did Jesus do? How did he respond? By referring to himself as a “prophet.” Quite the claim from a carpenter. Yet God calls whomever God desires. We’re all called to serve, from the carpenter who no one thought much of to the shepherd boy of Israel.

            Israel’s greatest king, David, was called by God to serve. He was Jesse’s youngest son whose brothers were fighting in battle. Yet David stayed at home tending sheep. Someone who might have been overlooked, the youngest, a simple shepherd, who battled the great Philistine, was simply a human who was used by God for God’s purposes. Even though we know that David had his faults, he was still called by God. And in 2 Samuel, we find a very different king serving the people. While Saul’s rule was “power over,” David is described as a shepherd, as one “who led out Israel and brought it in.” It’s clear that David’s calling is not to simply hold onto power for the sake of authority, but to use it for the good of God’s people.

            Don’t we see this in the Good Shepherd, Jesus, whose authority was questioned in his hometown? Jesus didn’t seek to rule with “power over,” but instead invited others to join him in his mission. When he sends out the twelve, they are to go forth with authority, which is a shared power among the believers. It’s for the good of God’s people.

            While this feels like an awkward moment in the Gospel of Mark, one where Jesus is faced with criticism and questioning by his hometown folk, he does something remarkable next. He makes it about the mission, not just him. In the very beginning of this Gospel, Mark introduces us to Jesus as the one who is the long awaited anointed one, the Messiah, the Son of God. Then what does he do in Mark 6 after the buildup in the Gospel of who Jesus is? He delegates his transforming, lifesaving, worldwide, messianic, kingdom of God mission to a group of regular, ordinary, common people.

            There’s a fishermen and a former tax collector who worked for the empire, for Rome, and an ex-Zealot who were all about overthrowing Rome not to mention the women who were following Jesus. And these are the people Jesus entrusts the mission to. They are quite ordinary, not religious, with no authority or power, and they don’t seem to get it. From the very beginning, they don’t seem to understand Jesus’ teachings or mission as they are just as surprised as others in the Gospel at Jesus’ healings, miracles and teachings, yet they are chosen by Jesus to serve.

            God has always been in the business of calling the ordinary, the common, the carpenters, the shepherds, the tax collectors, the fishermen, the sinners and saints, to the missionaries of the Good News of Jesus. Maybe God is even crazy enough to call us to the mission too.

            When God calls us forth to continue the transforming and saving work of Jesus, we bring very little, only ourselves and our willingness to serve. Only a staff and a pair of sandals would suffice for the first disciples. That’s all they needed for the missionary travel ahead. Many street preachers during that time would carry those items and a bag for their begging, but Jesus’ disciples would rely on the hospitality and gifts of households. They would be sent with a faith that God would provide through others being called to serve too.

            What do you bring with you for the service which God has called you to? Maybe not a bag or money, not even bread, but we’ll be provided with the bread of life in a few minutes, we don’t even take a staff or tunics, but what we do bring is ourselves and our faith and trust that God will guide us.

            Now you might be thinking, but I don’t have any training or much knowledge to bring. There are lots of things I still don’t understand. I still have questions and doubts. I wrestle with faith. I’m not even sure how I feel about the church or the bible. I don’t know even know about this work that God is calling me to. Yet, you’re here! On 4th of July of all days. It’s a holiday weekend and you are here. And you are called. And you are sent to carry on the work of Jesus.

            It’s pretty amazing that God chooses to call ordinary, common people, you and me, to bring healing, life, and love into the world. No, it’s all on us. Instead, God called Jesus, David, the disciples, you and me to do the miraculous healing work of the Kingdom of God. God doesn’t work solo, instead God invites us to join God in this work and God calls us to be faithful. As the retired United Methodist Bishop, Will Willimon put it, “Jesus is the Great Delegator. The Savior who chooses not to save the world by himself.”  

            On Monday, during the board meeting of the Upper Room Recovery Community, I had the chance to offer the opening devotion, which I’m always happy to do. I shared a quote by the late priest and spiritual author, Henri Nouwen, who wrote:

We are not called to save the world, solve all problems, and help all people. But we each have our own unique call, in our families, in our work, in our world. We have to keep asking God to help us see clearly what our call is and to give us the strength to live out that call with trust. Then we will discover that our faithfulness to a small task is the most healing response to the illnesses of our time.”

            Our invitation is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus, heal the ills of the world, rid the world of evil, and do it in every small task. Don’t worry about your gifts or abilities to do this work, all you need to know and all you need to trust is your calling to this Jesus work.

All week I have been trying to find this great quote about the work we are called to do. I asked Pastor Emily and she couldn’t think of it either. I searched and searched and finally found the ancient Jewish teaching that states: “Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

We are disciples not because of our faith in Jesus, but because of Jesus’ faith in us and in what we can do to bring the beloved community, the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven. It’s quite the claim of Jesus and from us. God has called us ordinary, common folk to the amazing work of the divine. May you do this work now, not tomorrow, but now, trusting that Jesus, the Great Delegator, has given his mission to us.            Amen.

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