you ain't seen nothing yet (Mark 6:1-6)
Sixth Sunday After Pentecost (Year B)
St. Luke's International Hospital Chapel
July 8, 2012– 10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist
We read in Mark's Gospel this morning: "Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith" (Mark 6:6). I wonder what Jesus would think about our faith…
Let's take a minute to get the big picture of what's going on here. Jesus was sent by God to save mankind from the bondage of evil. Are you with me so far? Look around, the world isn't supposed to be like this. Won't God do something about it? He has, and that "something" is Jesus.
Even before Jesus was born, his mission was clear. The angel Gabriel told both Mary and Joseph: "You are to call the child 'Jesus'" (Luke 1:31; Matthew 1:21). His name means "God saves" or "God heals"—the original word has both meanings. And both are true: God is interested in our bodies as much as our souls.
So that's the mission assigned to the Son of God. But when the Son came into the world, He came as a man, 100% human. He gave up all power and privilege as the Son— "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor" (2 Corinthians 8:9).
So Jesus was fully human, like you and me. Although unlike us, He enjoyed unbroken communion with the heavenly Father. Sin breaks or blocks the connection between us and God, but Jesus was without sin. So He lived always knowing the love of God, always taking delight in doing the will of God.
In all other respects, though, He was pretty much a normal guy. A 1st century Palestinian Jew who learned carpentry from his step-father, Joseph. That's why we hear almost nothing about Jesus' life growing up. He lived a normal life in Nazareth, a town of maybe a few hundred people, and worked construction in the area.
But then, at around age 30, Jesus goes off to be baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist. At his baptism, we read that Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit, and hears a voice from heaven saying to him: "You are my Son, my beloved" (Mark 1:11).
This is where things really kick off. Jesus has always known the Father's love, always known He had a mission to do in the world. But at last, He has the POWER to do it.
The Holy Spirit is the source of Jesus' power. NOT his special status as the Son of God. He put all that aside: "Though he was in the form of God, Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men" (Phil 2:6-7). So Jesus came into the world as a tiny baby born in a stable. For the first 30 years of His life, Jesus never performed any healings or other miracles. He was a normal guy.
But now, as a normal guy, He is filled with the Holy Spirit. So now He can get to work.
Jesus goes back to His hometown, Nazareth. He's probably eager to share the good news with the people He grew up with. Mark's Gospel is heavy on the action, but Luke reports what Jesus said in his hometown synagogue. He reads from the Book of Isaiah:
"God's Spirit is on me. He's chosen me to proclaim good news to the poor. He sent me to announce freedom for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind. He sent me to set the oppressed free. To announce 'This is God's year to act!'" (Luke 4:18-19)
Jesus tells His fellow Nazarenes: What Isaiah said 400 years ago is happening NOW. God is on the move. God has launched His big rescue operation, to free us from our enslavement to the powers that control this world. God's Kingdom is advancing, the kingdom of darkness is receding.
And all of this is starting with Yours Truly.
And they're all like, huh? What is he TALKING about? Where does he get off talking that way? He's just a construction worker! We know his family!
"And they took offense at him" (Mark 6:2-3).
The people of Nazareth can't imagine that someone who grew up in their little hamlet could be the promised Savior. Familiarity breeds contempt. They know Jesus too well; He can't be special.
Besides, for more than 20 years Jesus lived in Nazareth and never did miracles before. He never claimed to be the Savior before.
+ + +
It's never happened before. It's always been this way. These are phrases one often hears in church.
I grew up in a Christian family but left the faith in high school. When I came back to Christ, one thing I was forced to realize was that, although I thought I already knew all about God and Jesus and Christianity, in fact, I didn't. I had to start from the beginning and reask the basic questions, relearn so many things. I'm still learning.
And I had to open my mind to the possibility that God could do new and unexpected things. Eventually I had to open my mind to the possibility that God wanted to do new and unexpected things IN MY LIFE.
Look around you. Do you know anybody here? We're a fairly normal lot, don't you think? A few of us are a bit strange, but…all and all, plain vanilla.
Do you think God is capable of doing something new and unexpected through the people gathered here today?
Do you think God is capable of doing something new and unexpected through you?
+ + +
What changed in Jesus' life was that He was filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
But it was never only about Jesus. Next week, we'll read about Jesus sending out the Twelve Disciples to do exactly the same thing that He's doing: proclaim the good news of the Kingdom, and heal the sick and deliver people from evil powers:
"They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them" (Mark 6:12-13).
In this way, God's Kingdom advances, and the kingdom of darkness recedes.
And it's not just the Twelve, either. Later, Jesus sends out Seventy Two plain vanilla disciples—we don't even know their names: Proclaim the good news and heal the sick.
And after Pentecost, the mission continues. First Peter and John, then Philip, then Annanias, then Paul—and on and on, Jesus' followers go out to the ends of the earth. Always doing two things: Proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom, the good news that God is acting to rescue mankind from enslavement to evil, and then backing up their proclamation by praying for people to be healed and set free from bondage.
Tertullian, a Church leader of the early 3rd century, urged all Christians to continue in the ministry of Jesus. He said the noblest life is "to exorcise evil spirits—to perform cures—to live to God."
(Tertullian even argued that doing such things was more exciting than going to plays or sports events! (Tertullian, "De Spectaculis," Ch. 29) If I told you that praying for people was more exciting than watching the Olympics, would you believe me?)
+ + +
Jesus focused on a ministry of healing and deliverance to clearly show that God's Kingdom was advancing, and the kingdom of darkness was receding. It wasn't just words, it was His words backed up by His actions. Through His ministry, lives were changed. Through the ministry of His followers, lives were changed.
The source of power for Jesus' followers is the same source as for Jesus Himself: the Holy Spirit. If we are to follow Jesus, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit just as Jesus was.
We need the Holy Spirit for two reasons. First, we need the Holy Spirit to change us. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). The Holy Spirit works on our hearts to make us more like Jesus, more full of life, more open to God's joy and peace.
But we also need the Holy Spirit so that we can really help people. The Spirit gives us courage to pray boldly for people who are in need, wisdom to give counsel to those who have lost their way, love to encourage those who are anxious or in doubt.
Without the Spirit, we can be kind and supportive. With the Spirit we can see people being healed and lives changed. That's the difference.
But perhaps most of all we need the Spirit to open our eyes and our hearts to the plans God has in store for us. God is capable of doing something new and unexpected through this chapel, through us, through you, through me.
Come, Holy Spirit, and help us to believe in our hearts what we say with our lips:
"Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen" (Ephesians 3:20,21, at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer)