Don’s Speeches and Writings

Sermon Delivered to Dighton United Methodist Church
Scripture: 2nd Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-3

July 9, 2006

We just heard how Jesus was rejected and shut out by his home town folks. They couldn’t believe he could have anything to share with them that really mattered. That is probably an important message for a brand-new lay speaker to hear as he delivers his first message before his friends and neighbors. Was it just coincidence that scriptural passage was scheduled for this week?It may be surprising that Jesus was rejected, and yet we know that’s just the way that folks are. We tend to deny or overlook the potential in that which is too familiar. A man must be at least 50 miles away from home before he can be regarded as an expert. It has also been said that prophets are best when they are far away and long ago, but here the people of Nazareth had of one of their own in their midst, speaking with great authority. But they didn’t know Jesus as we now do. They didn’t know him as Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah. To them he was just Jesus, the apprentice carpenter from down the street, saying and doing things he had no right to be saying and doing. And don’t you just know that after he spoke in the synagogue that day, there was someone that said, “I’m sorry, but that new preacher just didn’t do a thing for me.” But their rejection of Jesus isn’t the most surprising thing about this passage. The really surpising, even amazing thing, is this: “He could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” He was able to physically heal a few folks who were open to his touch, but it is obvious that he intended and wanted to do much more. He wanted to minister to the spiritual needs of the people, to provide them with spiritual growth and healing, which is so much more important than physical growth and healing. And yet, “he could do no deed of power there”, and “he was amazed at their unbelief”. Wow. The power of Jesus, the power of God, was blocked by the resistance, the indifference, the unbelief, of the people. Isn’t that something? Divine power can be effective only when we are open to it and have faith. The current slogan of the United Methodist Church is surely true. We must have open hearts and open minds in order for the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. Divine power is not unilateral, but instead it is relational. It depends on openness on our part. Its effect depends on our response and our faith. It has been said that God’s power goes unused if we are not faithful enough to accept what God offers us. One summer a drought threatened the crops in a small community. On a hot, dry and windy Sunday, the pastor told his congregation “There isn’t anything that will save us except to believe in the power of Jesus and pray for rain. Go home, pray, believe, and come back next Sunday ready to thank God for sending rain.” The people did as they were told and returned to church the following Sunday. But when the pastor saw them he was greatly saddened. “Go back home,” he said, “We can’t worship today. You do not yet believe.” “But,” they protested, “we prayed, and we do believe.” “Oh yeah,” said the pastor, “Then where are your umbrellas?” Are we like that congregation? How deep is our faith?

So does this mean that if we only have enough faith then our prayers will be answered, and we will be healed and the rains will come? No, the example of Paul is a demonstration that this isn’t true. Paul has some serious affliction that is bothering him greatly. Bible scholars have speculated about what this might have been, but no one knows for sure. It might have been a chronic disease such as malaria, or maybe migraines, epilepsy, partial paralysis, or even continual temptation. But whatever it was, he doesn’t just pray to God about it, he pleads with God to remove it, not once but three times. Well, God answers his prayer, but his answer is no. In effect God tells him, “I love you and I know your affliction is serious, but I want you to learn to deal with it. I know you have the capacity to be an effective apostle even in spite of your affliction, and in the end it will make you stronger.” So we can’t expect that our prayers will always be answered in the way we want them to be answered, no matter how much faith we have, but a hardened heart and a stiff neck makes it very difficult for divine power to operate in our lives. It occurs to me that we are like the Nazarenes in another way as well. Think about our prayer list for an average Sunday. Usually it is composed mostly of requests for healing and comfort for those suffering physical infirmities. Physical wellbeing is important and shouldn’t be overlooked, but just like in the case of the Nazarenes, Jesus wants to do much more in our lives than merely heal us physically. The unanswered question is whether we will let him.

When we hear that Jesus was amazed at their unbelief we can sense the disappointment he must have felt. But he accepts it and moves on. He organizes his disciples to go out into the surrounding towns in groups of two and spread his message. But look at how he tells them to prepare. He says take nothing but a walking staff. No food, no money, not even a spare tunic. Isn’t that strange? Why would he do that? He is setting his disciples up to be dependent on the people they will be ministering to. They have no food or money, so they are going to have to depend on strangers in the towns they visit to provide for their daily needs of food and shelter. How will that happen? They will have to make friends; they will have to develop relationships with the folks in those towns. And Jesus understands that then the townspeople will be more receptive to the disciples’ message. He understands that when the disciples are willing to humble themselves to the point of being dependent on others that they begin to form a real relationship with them. And when a relationship exists, the townspeople are more open and willing to be ministered to. Instead of self-sufficiency, Jesus wanted to emphasize and demonstrate communal dependency. Note also that by sending the disciples out in this fashion, Jesus is encouraging them to have faith as well… faith that God, working through the folks in the towns they visit, will provide for their daily needs.

We know that as Christians each of us is called to be in ministry to others. And although we sometimes like to pretend that the Great Commission, “go into the world and make disciples of all nations” applies only to pastors and missionaries, we know that Jesus was actually speaking to each of us who would call ourselves Christians. And yet we find ways to rationalize our inaction. I can’t address a crowd, we say, but Moses was a lousy public speaker. We are distracted by physical problems, but Paul persevered in spite of his afflictions. We may say we are too old, but Abraham was quite old. When we concentrate on excuses such as these we are falling into the same trap that the Nazarenes did when they overlooked the potential in Jesus. We are overlooking the potential in ourselves. But God knows it is there, and he is ready to use that potential if we will only have faith. God doesn’t see you in terms of who you are right now and where you’ve been, he sees you in terms of who you can be. Let it not be said of us that “he could no deed of power there”.