The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, 8 July 2018
A Sermon on Mark 6:1-13 by Samuel Zumwalt, STS
Mark 6:1-13 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is 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. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching. 7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. The Gospel of the Lord
Church, Proclaim: Christ the Word
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
They thought they knew Jesus. To them He was the carpenter, the son of Mary, the sibling of men and women they knew. Haven’t we all been frozen in time in the minds of others? Haven’t we all done that with people we haven’t seen in years? Sometimes, like the people of Nazareth, haven’t we even done that with people we have known for years and have seen often? It’s a terribly narcissistic way of looking at others, as if they and we could be reduced to another’s perceptions of them and us, as if they and we had no capacity for change or growth. As if we were frozen in time. Oh, yes, they thought they knew little Jesus now that He was all grown up.
My wife grew up from the age of 10 in a small German town in Texas. Her family were move-ins just as my family moved in to another small Texas town when I was four. We both came to know in school all about who was somebody and who was not just because of their family name. That’s how it is and still remains in small towns. Several years ago, I spoke on the phone with a pastor I had known some 15 years before when we were both serving in the Waco area. He had moved to my wife’s hometown. When I told him my wife had grown up there, he asked, “Who is she from home?” Now, that was a literal translation of the same question that was once asked in German in that little town. If they knew your family name, they knew where you stood in the local pecking order. And, that’s how it was going to be in their minds.
Whether you grew up in a small town or not, haven’t you made a quick decision before about a person based upon their accent, their skin color, their clothing, their shoes, their hair, what they were driving, or where they lived? Were you certain you knew that person? Did you find them exotic and interesting just from the way they talked? How about if you saw a picture of that person when she or he was younger? Did you make assumptions about that person from a photo?
Now, if we have been on the receiving end of that kind of thinking, and have thought the same way about others, is it possible that we might even do that with Jesus? Like His homefolks?
He Marveled at Their Unbelief
When we are reading and hearing Mark’s gospel, we ought never to forget what he told us at the outset: “The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). It changes how we read Mark, because we know from the beginning Who Jesus is in a way that others, even the people in His hometown, don’t know. Of course, that won’t be enough if we don’t read Mark’s whole gospel. We might assume that we can open a Bible dictionary, or even an English dictionary, then look up each word in that verse and know what Mark means. But no. We need to read all of Mark, who offers scant detail most of the time, and arrive at the foot of Jesus’ cross when the Roman centurion says, “Truly, this man was the Son of God” (15:39). And, then, we must read the report of Jesus’ resurrection before we begin to understand what Mark means.
We are, then, as readers of Mark’s gospel with 2,000 years of Christian witness, in a more advantageous place than Jesus’ homefolks. Or, are we? Could it be that we are plagued by just as much unbelief as they? After all, in their certainty that they knew little Jesus, most of His homefolks remained closed to the possibility of change. “And He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them” (6:5). So, can Jesus change you? Or, does Jesus marvel at your unbelief?
We live in nutty times. We live in an age of identity politics where, like Jesus’ hometown folks, some think they know everything there is to know based upon what they think they know. It’s a closed loop that requires little critical thinking and little self-examination. Which news channel do you watch? That will label you forever in the minds of some. Who did you vote for President in 2016? Answer that question in public, and in some places, you will be attacked. Now Christian folk ought never to fall into that trap, into that kind of thinking, but many do!
The question is: why? If you know Jesus Christ is the Son of God who has died to take away your sins and the sins of the whole world, and if you have been baptized into His death and resurrection, your Baptism is the only identity that matters forever. Do you remember that cry from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s heart in August 1963? He said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Every Christian ought to ask her- or himself: “Do I know who and Whose I am in my Baptism?” And, if I know who and Whose I am in my Baptism into Jesus’ death and resurrection, how is that changing me? Ought I really give a damn what others think about me? Ought I really give a damn about this nutty world’s nutty identity politics?
Now, let’s quit preaching and go to meddling. If you are God’s beloved child in Holy Baptism, one for whom His beloved Son Jesus died, how is He changing you? If your Baptism is the only identity that matters eternally, then do you joyfully hasten to the services of God’s house at least once each week? Do you yearn to take into your hands the true Body and most precious Blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and for eternal life and salvation? Do you joyfully pray daily, read the Bible, serve at and beyond your congregation, have spiritual friendships where you are growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and are you generous with the time, talent, and treasure God has placed into your hands to manage?
Dear one, how each of us answers those questions is a measure of our unbelief? Do not measure yourself against anyone else. That’s just more identity politics. Whose are you? If you are sporadic in worship, a no show in Bible study, if your time, talent, and treasure are mostly spent on yourself or trying to prove to others that your family and you are somebodies…WHY?
The Word of God Works!
Mark’s gospel does not stand alone. It is not somehow more God’s Word than the other three. Scholarly opinions and hermeneutic theories (interpretive lenses) are not the final or most important judgment. Please note that Mark is only one part of the great metanarrative (the overarching story) of the Bible, and Mark fits into the whole and is interpreted by the whole that begins with Genesis and ends at Revelation. And ultimately, the only judgment that matters is that of the Lord God, the only true God, who is properly named Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
A washed-out refugee from the 60s recently called the longer ending of Mark’s gospel, “the false ending.” I could speak to how myopically arrogant such a view is for about an hour, but you will be glad to hear that I won’t. Rationalistic theories about the Bible are based on unbelief.
Christ Jesus is the Word of God. He is the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity in human flesh. When He speaks, His Word has power to kill and make alive, to form and reform, to take any life and any situation and change it eternally. But, He is not a puppet master, and you and I can say no. When He sent out His disciples two by two, the Lord Jesus said: “And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (6:11). Sadly, there will always be unbelief until the end of time.
So, then, what about you? Whether you like me or don’t, doesn’t matter. Whether you say no to me or not, doesn’t matter. But everything you and I do with our lives, our time, our talent, and our treasure matters to the Lord God. And whether we love Him and say no to Him matters now and forever. If you haven’t been baptized or your child hasn’t been baptized, it matters forever.
Christ the Word is in our midst today in His Word and at His Table. He is present to take your unbelief and mine and change it into a passionately joyful trust in Him. He is present to forgive your sins and mine. He is present to heal your broken life and mine. He is here to take your self-absorbed life and mine and to shape us, to reform us, into the persons He created us to be. Yes, He is present to call this assembly to proclaim Him as God’s Word that works forever! The only thing holding us back is a rigid, arrogant, myopic unbelief that does not want Jesus to be God!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©The Rev. Dr. Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Church, Proclaim: Christ the Word
“O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united with one another in pure affection; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 617).
Mark 6:1 “He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.”
St. Peter Chrysalogus [5th century Bishop of Ravenna, Italy]: “How can he be said to go out and to come in, whom no space can enclose? What country can be his, who made, and who possesses, the whole universe? In truth, Christ goes out and comes in not of himself, not for himself, but in you, and on behalf of you, until he recovers you from your exile, and calls you home from your captivity” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark, 79).
Mark 6:5a “And he could do no mighty work there…”
St. Gregory Nazianzen [4th century Patriarch of Constantinople]: “One meaning of ‘could not’ is simply the limits of some human will. Take, for example, the point that Christ ‘could not’ fulfill any signs in Nazareth was due to disbelief on their part. Something essential for healing is required on both sides – faith on the part of the patients, power on that of the healer. So one side without its counterpart ‘could not,’ so to speak, perform them. As this can be seen in medical care, it can also be seen in moral transformation” (79).
Mark 6:5a “And he could do no mighty work there…”
St. John Cassian [late 4th – early 5th century monk and theologian]: “In some cases he so richly poured forth the mighty work of healing that the evangelist was led to proclaim, ‘He healed all their sick.’ But among others the unfathomable depth of Christ’s goodness was so thwarted that it was said, ‘And Jesus could do no mighty works there because of their unbelief.’ So the bounty of God is actually curtailed temporarily according to the receptivity of our faith. So it is said to one, ‘According to your faith may it be to you’ and to another, ‘Go your way, and as you have believed so let it be to you,’ and to another, ‘Let it be to you according to your will,’ and again to another, ‘Your faith has made you whole” (80).
Mark 6:5b “…except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.”
Origen of Alexandria [late 2nd – early 3rd century scholar and theologian]: “Matthew and Mark wished to present the all-surpassing value of that divine power as a power that works even in those who do not believe. But they did not deny that grace works even more powerfully among those who have faith. So it seems to me that they accurately said not that the Lord did not do any mighty works because of their unbelief, but that he did not do many there. Mark does not flatly say that he could do no mighty work there at all, and stop at that point, but added, ‘except that he laid his hands upon a few sick folk and healed them. Thus the power in him overcame even their unbelief” (80).
1. Is my own unbelief a hindrance to what the Lord Jesus wants to do in and through me?
2. Is my own rationalistic view of the world so strong that I am not even open to the possibility that I could be wrong about many things when it comes to the Lord Jesus and what He wants for me?
(Read this aloud daily until everyone in your home can say it from memory.)
Table of Duties
Certain passages of Scripture for Various Holy Orders and Positions, by Which These People Are to Be Admonished, as a Special Lesson, about Their Office and Service
For Young Persons in General
“Likewise you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:5-6).
“She who is truly a widow, left all alone, has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day, but she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:5-6)
For All in Common
The commandments…are summed up in this word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Romans 13:9). ‘First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people’ (1 Timothy 2:1).
Let each his lesson learn with care, and all the household well shall fare (Luther’s Small Catechism).
1. Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
2. Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
3. During the summer months (especially fathers!), bring your household to the services of God’s house. If you are on the road, worship while you are away and bring back the bulletin for Pastor Zumwalt to see. Do this for accountability and to let the pastor see what other congregations are doing.
4. Begin now to make room in your schedule for Sunday School and Bible study at St. Matthew’s this fall. Mark the date for Rally Day on August 26 in your calendar!
5. Hang a crucifix or cross opposite your pillow so that the last sight you see before turning out the light is your Lord’s cross and the first sight of the new day reminds you to pray.
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”