Things Change 7-8-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 6:1-13, I explore the rejection that Jesus faces in his hometown. Often our tendency to resist change blinds us to the invitation that God offers into a new reality.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/things-change-7-8-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Just a couple of weeks ago, my hometown of Graettinger celebrated their 125th anniversary. I wasn’t able to make it back to town, but I heard about many of the different things that went on…one of which included an all-school reunion. Now granted, I’m not sure how many of the 24 members of the Graettinger class of 1997 attended…I’m guessing a few…but I was thinking about that…and about the fact that my class hasn’t done an overly great job of having reunions.  We missed the 5 year…I skipped the 10 year. We missed the 15 year…and I think since our 20th was just last year everyone probably thought “let’s just wait till the all school next year.”

And so, with that track-record…I have yet to attend any of my class reunions…but I have been to one…and it gave me the opportunity to take an objective look back in time, as I tagged along to the 15 year reunion of the Manson Northwest Webster graduating class of 1997…my wife’s class. She and I road-tripped towards the booming metropolis of Manson, IA. And after a bit of driving around town, which is a small town about the same size as Underwood, and giving her the chance to see her old neighborhood, we parked the car and walked into the local bowling alley which was serving as the sight of the reunion.

Now, I should mention the fact that I did not know anyone that was going to be there. So this is where the objective part came in for me. We walked in, being one of the first to arrive…and over the course of the next half hour approximately 25 members of my wife’s class along with some of their spouses came through the door. And for the most part I just sat back and went into people watching mode for the duration of the evening.

It was fascinating. Some had stayed put in this small town, never leaving. Others had spread out a little ways but were still easily in driving distance, others had moved across the country, but then ended up “moving back home.” And a few, my wife included, have completely relocated to another region, but managed to make it back for the reunion.

But regardless of where members of the class put down roots…they all seemed to share a bit of a common trait…in my “objective” observational opinion…they never left high school. Everyone fell into the old cliques pretty quickly…gravitating towards those that they were comfortable with in school…mostly ignoring everyone outside of those old social circles beyond the polite greetings initially offered up upon arriving.  I can’t help but think at the 15 year mark, there’s a lot of truth that old saying that “some things never change.” (pause)

But you know what…I also can’t help but think that saying is wrong…because things do change. We might not notice it when we’re in the midst of it…but changes do happen…they happen in communities…and they happen in the lives of individuals.

The only problem is that we tend to forget this fact, until something or someone comes along that brings us face to face with it. And its possible that the best example of this is when someone “comes home” after years of being away…and we just can’t see them in a new role…but we think they are still the same person that they were when we knew them.

Now I can speak to this from personal experience…because if you had asked 20 years ago about a wise cracking blond kid from the class of 97, no one in my hometown would have anticipated that I would become a pastor…and when I bump into people at synod events, I still hear comments to that effect…and it would seem that I’ve got this in common with Jesus in today’s story.

He comes back to his hometown….and he finds himself bogged down in old expectations.  Granted…maybe its understandable. Nazareth, where Jesus spent most of his formative years…was tiny…I’ve seen the remains and the whole town is all of about 100 feet across. They estimate that the population was probably only a few hundred people…I’m guessing everyone knew each other.

Now imagine yourselves in first century Israel. There’s not a ton of excitement going on…but word is spreading around the region that there’s this new rabbi on the scene. He’s traveling around…hitting all the towns. He’s teaching, he’s even healing and casting out demons. There’s even rumors of miracles that the guy is performing.  And then you hear he’s coming your way…that he’s gonna be teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath…probably worth checking out.

And so, as Jesus makes his way into town along with his entourage of disciples…pops into the synagogue and starts teaching…people start squawking. (pause) WAIT A SEC…THIS IS THE GUY? That’s Jesus…known him for years. I remember when he was knee-high to a grasshopper. Dude’s a carpenter…learned it from Joseph. He helped put the roof on my house a few years back. That’s his mom right there…his brothers too.  (pause)

Now we hear that the people are in awe of what Jesus is up to…maybe in a good way or maybe not so good…but it seems, based on this whole deal, that they can’t quite wrap their heads around things…around the amazing stories that they’ve heard. About the miracles and the radical teachings about the kingdom of heaven coming near that Jesus has been embodying up to this point…I don’t know if the stories that had spread around had called Jesus by name, so that when the source comes strolling back into town they’re shocked to find it’s the young man who grew up playing in their neighborhood…or on the flip side if they had heard it and couldn’t quite believe it was him until he showed up again…but clearly something’s going on…and we hear that they took offence at him. That they were scandalized by it…you can even say they were tripped up at this new reality that Jesus was bringing about right here in their midst.

Their apparent reaction is so extreme that it Jesus compares his reception with that of the Old Testament prophets, and how they were often ignored or worse…and its even to the point where miracles aren’t happening…and it all seems to boil down what Mark calls their Unbelief.

That’s actually a pretty good description…its literally the opposite of believing…apistis in case you want a little Greek…Jesus is amazed…and probably not overly happy…at their lack of faith.

But if that’s the case…then just what is it that they are supposed to believe?  That he is who he says he is? That maybe, just maybe there’s something divine at work within this man that they thought they knew?  That maybe when he says the kingdom of heaven has come near…that it has done so in the flesh of this person that they’re scoffing at?  That maybe just maybe that which is divine and so utterly other than we are has made the choice to come among us…AS ONE OF US…that the divine will be found amongst and even within the human?

Maybe that is kind of a tall tale…but what if its true? Just what does that mean for those people on that day…or even for us today….that we might turn from unbelief to belief…from a lack of faith in the good news that Jesus has brought forth into faith….and not only that, but just how might that happen?

I think that’s a big question right there…especially for us in the church now in the 21st century…as we continue to look forward into an unknown future, within a society that doesn’t really seem to care if we’re around or not…with individuals who have either been burned by the church…or they’ve got zero experience with it…or perhaps worse yet, the only things they hear are the judgmental wrath that tends to get spewed around on social media or on the news by people who seem to have missed the utter magnitude of just what the gospel really means. (pause)

I think we all wrestle with that don’t we? How can we make this make sense to someone else…something that is so meaningful to us…something that has changed our lives….its changed our perspectives…this idea…or this concept…or maybe we just call it the truth of our own existence that there is something out there…we call it God…that takes so much love and delight in us as individuals who exist bearing the divine image of that thing we call God, that we are chosen and claimed as children even in the midst of the brokenness that is a part of us…that’s the gospel…while we were sinners, Christ died for us.

That’s it.  And it seems so simple…and it just kinda makes sense doesn’t it…and I don’t know about you…but this mind blowing truth of God’s grace changes everything…and once you’ve have seen you can’t unsee…once you have heard you can’t unhear.

But perhaps the biggest problem that we face is the desire that we have to MAKE others see and hear that which we have experienced…to somehow force them to have the same experience with the divine that we have had…because if we can make that happen…well then their faith will be the same as ours. (pause)

But that’s not how this works is it? How many of us can “make” someone else believe?  How’s your track record? How many people have you willed into believing this stuff? How many can you claim on your evangelism scoreboard?  (pause) I’ll be honest…if you say any number larger than zero, you’re lying to yourself…because we can’t do it…and in fact I believe we can’t even do it for ourselves. Others will disagree with me on this and you are entitled to…but I believe that faith…that believing in Jesus…that trusting God’s love is for you now as you are…it’s a gift…its not of you…and we find this if we explore the only other time that the idea of “unbelief” comes up in Mark’s Gospel.

There’s a story, its in chapter 9, when man comes up to Jesus, utterly desperate for someone to help his son who is possessed by a demon. And he asks Jesus for help…Jesus tells him, all things are possible for those who believe…and the man responds “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”

That guy gets it…that the reality of the kingdom of heaven is WAY bigger than we can comprehend…and that even when we come face to face with it, it might be too big for us to handle…and so we look to the one who is able to do something it…for the Lord is the source of belief…God is the source of faith…not us.

That’s the beauty…all of this stems from God. Its not of us. The promise comes from God. The claim on our lives and our souls comes from God.  Through Christ the good news from God LITERALLY came among us…and just as Jesus sent out the disciples 2 by 2 in the back half of today’s story, to share their experience with this life changing news, we’ve been given the same authority and the same command to do the exact same thing.

I don’t know about you, but I find it a relief to know that all I’ve been called to do is to share what I’ve experienced…to share what I’ve found to be true despite my shortcomings.  God will handle the rest. Things change…and I thank God that its possible…and that through Christ, its not only possible…it is a reality. That, is what I have experienced. Amen.

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