Saturday, July 4, 2015

Take nothing but Jesus with you

Mark 6: 1-13

There are two connected stories in today’s reading from Mark. In the first story, Jesus goes home to preach and teach in the synagogue. No doubt he has become famous, and it’s nice to have the hometown boy come and preach.
When I made the decision to go to seminary, people said to me that they’d like for me to come back and be their pastor. I said, that probably wouldn’t work. I’d prefer to come “home” to retire. Obviously that was before we moved to Florida and my body said it likes Florida winters better than southwest Michigan winters!
People say, “You can’t go home again.”  It’s true; while we are away, home changes, and isn’t home anymore.
Jesus went home to preach, and most of them didn’t like what he had to say. He talked about change in a place and time where change didn’t happen much, except for births and deaths. People were restricted to their roles: once a baker, always a baker; once a stone mason, always a stone mason; once a grain miller, always a grain miller. There were no opportunities to change class, to increase income, to go to college or trade school to get a better-paying career.
So, here was Jesus. He had probably been a star student in Torah school. He may have been known to make a few healings happen. But, perhaps he never shared his new, radical ideas with the people of Nazareth. He never before talked with women outside his family; he never before challenged the temple practices; he never before reminded people to take care of the poor.
So here he is with his new message. Women are people. Forgiveness comes from God, whether you pay the temple priests or not. It was easy to forget the messages from the prophets to take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan.
People who knew him “when” wondered who this Jesus really was. Some who knew him slightly wondered, “Isn’t this Mary’s son?” They don’t mention Joseph – was he dead by now? Was Mary a single mother? Notice also that Jesus has brothers and sisters, lots of them!
The townsfolks didn’t like what Jesus was saying and doing. Jesus reminded the folks that prophets are not welcome where they are well known.
Amazingly, after this rejection in his hometown, Jesus gathers the disciples and sends them out, two by two, to preach and teach and heal. He knows they risk rejection, and warns them about it. He tells them, “In the towns where the people refuse to listen to you, leave the town and shake the dust from your sandals so they know you reject them as well.”
He sends them out empty-handed. Take no purse or wallet. Take no extra clothes. Take no food. You will be totally dependent upon the kindness of strangers – the people in the towns you visit. And you will be dependent upon God, through the authority I give you to heal and cast out demons.
Here’s how I imagine this worked.
James and John go down to the seashore and start a conversation with some fishermen. They explain that they are fishermen, too. They sit down and helped mend nets. After they talk and mend a while, they ask if the fishermen have heard about Jesus and how he wants to reach – catch – folks like them.
Martha and Mary go to the well and themselves to the women they find there. They go to the women’s homes and help mix and knead and shape bread. They tell the women about how Jesus talks to women as if women have as much value as men. They tell the parable about the reign of God growing the way a bit of yeast makes the dough rise.
Matthew the tax collector and Judas find the local banker. They talk about money, and the power it has in their lives. They ask the banker what he values most. Then they tell him Jesus’ parable about the field with a great treasure buried in it. Would the banker sell all he had to buy the field and own the great treasure? Then they tell the banker about the great treasure of a relationship with God as Jesus describes it.
Andrew and Simon Peter find a beggar with a badly crippled leg. They ask him what his life is like. They tell him that he can be healed if he wants to be made well. They tell him about Jesus, and heal the man, in Jesus’ name.
They all went out in the same way. They took nothing but Jesus with them. They found some people to get to know, and began by talking about what they had in common. They found a need in the person’s life and related how Jesus could make their life better, make them well and whole. Can you imagine their amazement at what they were able to do?!
… We, too, are sent out. We are just like the first disciples, sent to tell people how much God loves them, how readily Jesus forgives them, how having a relationship with God leads to a much better life.
Some of us travel pretty light, others carry the world, just in case. What do you always have in your pockets? In your purse? … money, ID, car keys, cell phone, candy, bandages, safety pins, pain medicine. …  What if, before we began to talk with someone about Jesus, we left all that stuff behind? What if we took only Jesus with us?
Imagine what could happen if we used the same method the first disciples used.  Imagine trusting Jesus to guide the conversation, putting words in our mouths and belief in the hearts of those with whom we were chatting. Imagine discovering that they don’t have a relationship with God, and finding a way that Jesus could fill that gap in their lives.   
I have a hunch most of us would resist sharing Jesus, because, deep down, we don’t believe that Jesus will really show up. We fear rejection, and so we anticipate it. We don’t see the possibility of acceptance. We are too skeptical – and so, we are more like the people of Jesus’ hometown than we want to believe.
 This week, pray. Pray for God to show you someone who needs Jesus, and to also show you how to reach them. Pray for the confidence to open your mouths and speak. When the opportunity arises, tell someone about the Jesus who loves you and all people.

Please pray with me. This week, O Lord, we know we need you. Give us words, give us courage, give us the faith to conquer our fears and take your message to those who need you the most. We pray in your holy and powerful name. Amen