At home and abroad, Jesus and his disciples encounter resistance as they seek to proclaim God’s word and relieve affliction.
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On 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! 3Is 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. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If 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.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
I want you to think about something with me. Close your eyes for a bit and let’s recall a time in your life when you had a mission. Maybe you were out looking for something – the perfect gift, the lost keys, the child who wandered out of eyesight. Maybe you were chasing a goal – graduation from high school, finishing a book, learning a new skill. As we reflect on Independence Day, maybe we are chasing the pillars of this country – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These are all important missions. On these missions, often we will do whatever we need to do, pushing ourselves to achieve them, but each of these missions will be easier or harder depending on who you are. Each of these scenarios finds us with different levels of urgency, difficulty, or excitement. And, for each of us, our responses are different for each scenario. Why is this? Because we have all been made, gifted, and called in different ways and for different things. That’s part of the beauty of mission, especially God’s mission. We do not walk alone and we are not expected to be able to do everything ourselves. More on this in a bit, but first let’s look at our texts for this morning.
Mark, in our gospel today, gives us an interesting scenario to think about. Jesus, in essence, has a homecoming. He has been a traveling healer and rabbi for some time, probably not too long though, and he finds himself back in his own stomping grounds. He enters the synagogue and teaches and is promptly rejected. The population of Nazareth is not too keen on having one of their own teaching them. This man, in their eyes, is still just a boy. He comes from a dubious background, where Mary and Joseph (at least to their eyes) had him and raised him, but the math doesn’t add up, if you know what I mean. Joseph, at this point, doesn’t seem to be in the picture, because the people are claiming him as a son of Mary. That would go against the grain of the male dominated society in which Jesus lived. To the people of Nazareth, Jesus is just a child of the town. They have seen him grow and, despite the divinity we often retrofit Jesus with, they aren’t buying his teaching. In fact, they’re faith is so poor that it even seems to limit the miracles he can do (although, if I was able to heal even one person, you can bet that I wouldn’t shut up about it until the day I die).
Immediately after this, he sends out his disciples. Sending them out, two-by-two, into the surrounding areas, he tells them not only what to do, but how to act. The disciples have just seen Jesus get stonewalled by his own town, by people he knew, and now he’s sending them out into uncharted territory. I mean, they had seen him to some awesome stuff – healing the sick, raising the dead, driving out demons, and teaching people with authority. Yet, he was rejected. And, in this light, when Jesus tells them how to react when they are rejected, they must have paid a lot of attention. We should make sure to understand that “shaking off the dust” does not mean that the disciples are to give up, they are not to stop doing what Jesus sent them to do. It does mean that rejection, or people deciding against, is not something we carry with us. We shake it off and move along, always on the mission we were sent out to do. Just sing yourself that Taylor Swift song, if you need clarification.
Being on mission, especially God’s mission, we should take note of that too. We will be rejected sometimes. We will face roadblocks and ridicule and people who will not listen. Even Ezekiel, 400 years before Jesus walked the earth, was told that being on God’s mission will not always make you the most popular person (Ezekiel 2:1-5). We are told to shake it off, which is easier said than done. Here’s some good news, though – We are not responsible for making people believe – that’s the Holy Spirit’s work – we are responsible for following the call that God has placed on all of us. There’s a fancy word many in the Lutheran world use to describe this call – vocation. Not vacation, mind you, but vocation. Although…it would be nice to be called to vacation…
The idea of vocation is that we are all invited to stand with Ezekiel, and hear that God has called us to something. I think most of the time, when we think of call we think of ordained ministry – just ask a pastor their call story and you’re bound to get an earful. But that is one very thin sliver of what God is calling the people of God to do and be. Vocation is where your gifts and skills find meaning in ministry. Please note, ministry does not always mean outright evangelism. Please, please be ready to talk about the gospel if the time is right, but please, please, pleeeease do not assume that if you’re not talking about Jesus all the time that you’re not taking part in ministry. Teaching is a ministry. Farming is a ministry. Nursing and parenting and grandparenting and building and giving and music and writing are all ministries.
You may be thinking, “That’s great, Bryan, but I am not a parent, I can’t sing, and I can’t make anything that people need.” Well, this can be alleviated in one question. “Who needs what I have?” Please note: needs, not wants. Who needs my time? Who needs my support? Who needs my prayers? Who needs me to listen, or love, or hug, or correct, or simply be with them?
In our ministries, we are not always sent to the far corners of the world. Sometimes, we are just sent do go across town or across the room. We are sent out, like Jesus’ disciples, into the areas around us, but we do not go alone. Jesus sent out his followers in pairs. This for several reasons, I’m sure, but I have to believe that it is partly because he knew that the disciples needed to know they weren’t alone. We are all part of God’s mission and that mission is to make the love of God known for all people, in all places, under every circumstance, and always. We are all on the same team, but I think that we forget that, especially in times like this where there are some very controversial subjects being argued. Our goal is not to prove that everybody who doesn’t agree with us is wrong. Our goal is to make sure everybody knows the love of God. We do not “win” (note the air quotes) by being perfect people, by debating with ironclad theology, or by vilifying others. We win by loving and we show love by being on mission, on God’s mission, and not our own.
Our missions are often shortsighted and selfish. They are often missions of convenience, rather than growth. But God’s mission is huge. God mission is to use you, yes you, in all your skills and shortfalls, your rough edges and your refined ones, to make known the love of God in a real way, a tangible way. The love of God, which drove Jesus to cross to take on the sins of all people, now sends us out. We each have our part. We each have our skills. God has called you to be a messenger, a prophet, showing God’s love in real ways that affect real people.
For those of you who have served in the military, you know that mission is not a word to be used lightly. A mission is different than a task, than a vision, than a to-do list. A mission requires teamwork, leadership, and tools. Our team is around us, around the globe, as the people of God. Our leadership comes from the living and active word of God. And our tools? Well, look no further than the closest mirror. We are the tools, the instruments, the “Plan A” that God has made, equipped, and gifted to this earth. Like Ezekiel, like the disciples, like Jesus himself, we are the Church, made to show the love of God to all the world. As we go out this week, let be on mission and see what God will do with us.