Who Do You Think You Are?

Prepared for Rockledge Presbyterian Church.  Primary Text Mark 6:1-13.

In our passage this morning, Jesus comes to his home town, with the disciples in tow. As they join the folks gathered in the synagogue, listening to their rabbi teach, things start out ok. People seemed to be impressed, even amazed at his teaching.

But then the questions and comments change; they take on a mocking tone.

Who does this guy think he is?
He’s nothing but a carpenter… Mary’s kid, for Pete’s sake.
Who do you think you are?

Don’t you wonder what the disciples were thinking as this unfolded?

Might the ever-impetuous Peter be getting riled up and ready to give people what for? I could see the Sons of Thunder standing up, fists clenched. But this wasn’t out out by a lake – it was a synogague. A place of worship. A sanctuary. Besides, Jesus just went on teach, albeit a slightly different lesson.

He said that prophets are not without honor… that prophets are respected, trusted, believed… except among the ones closest to them – their family, their neighbors, the people who have known them longest. And because they did not believe, his power was limited. He laid hands on a few people and cured them. But mostly he was amazed at their unbelief.

Soon after, Jesus is sending his twelve closest followers out in pairs. He gives them authority to go, heal and restore others. But he commands them to go as one who has nothing… like a carpenter, a tradesman of low esteem or someone without family to provide support, without a home. And he tells them – If you aren’t welcome, move on. Shake the dust off your feet and go.

It seems like an odd interlude, this awkward homecoming and sending. We need those first four words of this passage – “He left that place…” to point us back to some important context.

“That place” was Jairus’s house. Remember Jairus? Jesus had been on the way to heal Jairus’s daughter when the woman reached out to touch him so that her bleeding would stop. Jesus had felt power leaving him when she was healed. He felt the power drawn from him as she touched his clothing. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”

Your faith has made you well.

By the time Jesus finished speaking with the woman, some other people had arrived to tell Jairus that his little girl was dead. Jesus said to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe”

Do not fear, only believe

And when they arrived Jesus came into the the room where the girl was laying. He said “Talitha cum” or “Little sister, get up!” and she did. The people were amazed again.

Mark offers us two stories of healing, restoration and power, one within the other. And yet after the confrontation in the synagogue, Mark tells us “He (Jesus) could do no deed of power.” Instead of the people being amazed, Jesus was amazed at their disbelief.

So what changed when he went home?

The power of God to transform lives hadn’t changed.

Jesus was as compassionate and present in the synagogue as everywhere else he went.

It seems the variable our gospel writer wants to draw attention to here is the people. Or is IN the people. The faith of the woman brought about her healing. Jairus believed that his daughter would live and she did. They heard, they saw and they believed.

Now – what I’m NOT saying here is that if we just believe enough, if we only have faith enough, that all we desire will come to pass, that everyone we know will be healed. That’s not faith, that’s wishful or magical thinking. As Reformed believers, we trust that God’s will is soveriegn. We can’t will God into acting. But we also believe that God is active in our lives and in the world. It is in the intersection between God’s will and our belief that we see God’s power and glory in the world around us.

And so maybe Jairus and the woman who sought healing had an advantage over the people in Jesus’ synagogue. After all, they hadn’t watched him grow up. They hadn’t heard the stories about Joseph taking Mary as a wife in spite of the scandal of her pregnancy. They didn’t know him as the young kid – so smart for his age – teaching with the rabbis at the temple. They couldn’t say “I knew him when…”

Jairus and the woman trusted that this man, whom others called a healer, had a healing miracle for them. That he had a word of restoration and reconciliation for them.

They saw Jesus. The man. The Prophet.

As the twelve went out two by two, they had to trust as well. Trust that the message and authority granted to them was authentic and effective. And they had to trust that God would provide them with food and shelter through the hospitality of others.

They saw Jesus. The man. The Rabbi

The people of Nazareth saw Jesus. But not the Rabbi.

Or the Prophet. Certainly not the Messiah.

Earlier this week, I caught part of the Pixar movie A Bug’s Life on TV. It’s a retelling of the old fable about the ants and the grasshopper. The main character, an ant named Flik has tons of great ideas. He’s an inventor who wants to help the colony by bringing in new technology that would make them more efficient. Now ants, like some people, like things to remain the way they’ve always been. After all, tending to the survival of a colony of thousands of ants requires a bit of orderliness and following of tradition.

So when Flik’s latest invention causes a disaster with the harvest that threatens the whole colony’s continued existence, he leaves (well, he’s exiled really) on a quest for other bigger bugs that can protect them from Hopper, the grasshopper bully.

As happens in Shakespearean comedy and many cartoons, a series of misunderstandings follow, and Flik brings home a group of circus performers who must pretend to be of a band of warrior bugs for their own sake and Flik’s. Flik devises a brilliant plan to end Hopper’s tyranny over the ants, and because the “warriors” can claim it as their idea, the other ants go along.

It struck me that – like the people in Jesus’ hometown – the Ants couldn’t look at Flik without seeing his past. He could save them, if only they could find a way to trust him.

To see him with fresh eyes

To be honest, this is one of the great challenges of the church today. How do we help the people who most need the grace and love of Christ see Jesus? And believe that God has something of great value to say to them?

Our beaches and theme parks, shopping centers and schools, highways and neighborhoods are filled with people who claim no spirituality or link to a faith tradition.

I know – it’s hard to believe, here in Central Florida, where we are surrounded by Christian Book Stores and have churches meeting in storefronts and so many school cafeterias. But if you were to ask people you meet as you go through any given day, the majority of them would not claim to be followers of Christ. There’s a reason we have room in our pews this morning.

I remember the first time one of my son’s little friends spent Saturday night at our house. The rule was that he had to come to church with us. “Oh sure- that’s fine, no problem….” said his mom.

So we’re sitting in the car on the way to church when I hear this voice in the backseat asking, “So what is church?” No. really. Eight years old, and his parents had never been invited to a church, because they didn’t really know any church people. They’d never considered taking A. to Vacation Bible School or any sort of church activity.

Now, while this is running through my brain, my child is explaining that we sing, we pray and we learn about God when we go to church. It turned out A. enjoyed staying at our house on the weekends, including Saturday night or Sunday morning worship services.

A. and his parents are among the people around us who need to see Jesus.

They are among the people who need to see Jesus more clearly reflected in the church.

You see, A. had never been to church because his parents couldn’t see themselves in a church.

As the Body of Christ, we are called into God’s mission of bringing all creation under the Lordship of Christ. That’s a high calling. And given the reality of our cultural climate, it’s a whopping big responsibility.

In very practical terms, it means that we must embody God – right here and right now as we wait for Christ’s return. We are the face and hands and feet of the One who heals, restores and reconciles. This is true when we gather as a Body. And when we are sent into the community as individuals in pairs or families or small groups.

The challenge for us today is to help people whose vision of Jesus has been obscured. Perhaps by today’s culture where capitalism and busyness reign, or by the claims that science and reason have replaced the need for faith.

Or Perhaps their vision is obscured by memories of a Jesus they met back in the day.  An experience with a church that left them isolated rather than embraced, judged rather than held accountable, used instead of valued, targeted instead of invited.

Or perhaps they have only encountered shallow faith, the sort where people smile and offer pithy sayings instead of helping them wrestle with big questions and hard decisions. They’ve never met a Christian willing shine the light of Christ into their own dark places, rather than say, “Oh I’m just fine!”

What Jesus commissioned his followers to do was go out and live among the people, not remain separate from them, joining them for meals, sleeping under their roofs. This was not a reality show challenge, but a way of helping these fishermen see what farmer and shepherds and women and children around them experienced and struggled with. Counting on the hospitality of others for their daily bread, the only thing these men had to offer was the promise of wholeness in exchange for repentance. And the people saw God’s love and grace, offered in the witness of these representatives of Jesus.

So, who do you think you are?

To God, you are beloved. You are part of the mission. You are a carrier of Good News, a purveyor of forgiveness, redemption and grace.

To your sisters and brothers in Christ, you are a lifeline, offering your faith when others have none. You are a partner, sharing the burdens of the calling. You are a reminder, pointing to the good work God continues to do in us daily, making us over into Christ’s image.

To the world, you are the body of Christ. You are the Christ they see. Therefore, strive to…

See the people through his eyes of compassion

Model love for your neighbors in all you say and do

Be kind to all believers, even the ones who make you batty

Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God

Work as for the Lord and not for people

You and I, we are called to live at the intersection of God’s will for the world and the world’s openness to God’s presence.

The world just might see Christ in you. Be prepared to tell your story of redemption.

And when you do, be prepared for God’s power to flow your way.

May this be true of us this day and every day.

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