Sermon for Proper 9, Year B
July 4, 2021
Ezekiel 2:1-5 Psalm 123 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 Mark 6:1-13
Our gospel lesson for today gives us two completely different stories to consider. There is the story of Jesus going to his hometown and teaching in the synagogue where he grew up. It jumps quickly then to Jesus sending out the twelve, two by two, and giving them authority over the unclean spirits.
These two stories do however, have one common thread – the message of God’s love may be shared, but not always received. In his hometown, the people discount Jesus and his ability because they know his family. Afterwards, we are told that Jesus is amazed by their unbelief. It is significant that Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”
Curing only one sick person is significant to me, to that person and to all who care about him or her. Yet, it is clear that what Jesus can accomplish is hindered by the doubts of people who are unable to even imagine the possibility that the son of Mary and Joseph, who they know, could be a prophet of God – let alone the Messiah. The people in his hometown are not open to being surprised by God – even though God is full of surprises.
Sarah gives birth to Isaac when she is about 90 years old – and the nation of Israel is born. A young shepherd, David, defeats a seasoned warrior who is a giant of man, Goliath, and he becomes a king of Israel. There are several stories in the Bible where what happens is not expected – including Jesus raising Lazarus and others from the dead.
Sometimes, however, we close the door to experiencing God’s grace by closing our minds to what God is capable of achieving – like the people in Jesus’ hometown. The people’s doubt prevents Jesus from being able to do the things he would like to do there. It is not that God’s love is limited, but our tendency to pass judgement on others may keep us from knowing God’s love for us.
We tend to pass judgment on others based on what we know about their family or their past and thus fail to consider that people change and grow and learn from all their experiences in life. We may discount the very people who come to help or teach us an important lesson. God comes to us in many forms.
God and life itself are full of surprises. Some people I know and who I expected to achieve great things, have not. Some people I have come to know and consider friends have criminal records. We make a mistake when we judge people by their past – bad or good. To believe in the resurrection is to believe that God is capable of transforming our lives and helping us to, as we say in one of our prayers, “do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”
When Jesus sends out the twelve, he does so in pairs. Jesus knows we can draw strength from being with others, strength we may need to remain true to our faith. Jesus gives them the ability to do as he does – to cast out demons and cure the sick and he sends them out into the world. He instructs them to stay where they are welcome. And then adds, “If 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.”
Jesus knows that they will experience doubt, just as he did in his hometown. Jesus knows that the message they bring, the message of God’s love, will be rejected by some. Shaking the dust off our feet as we leave an unwelcoming situation can be viewed as symbolic of leaving the past in the past and not carrying rejection with us. Jesus is amazed in his hometown at the people’s unbelief but he is not discouraged. It did not stop him from spreading the good news elsewhere – and neither should we carry the burden of those who have rejected our attempts to help them.
Today we are celebrating the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I was reminded by a friend recently that everyone who signed this document put their life on the line. Had they lost the Revolutionary War, they would have been executed.
Like the birth of Isaac and the rise of David to be the King of Israel, I see the Declaration of Independence as a point in history in which God’s hand was at work. These truths were not self-evident in the world as it was, the people in this country were not free in their pursuit of happiness. Yet the signers of this Declaration were stating their beliefs that we are created equal and should have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
They were prepared to fight and die in support of these beliefs and as a result our country became a nation founded on these principles. As the people of Israel continue to grow in faith, we as a nation continue to grow into these beliefs – equality and the freedom for all.
What we are as a nation is not what we were – God continues to surprise us and teach us and help us grow. This is my belief. We need to remain attentive to the needs of today and the possibilities God has to offer. Trust and faith will keep us moving forward in our lives – individually and collectively as a church, a community, and as a nation. And, of course, we cannot forget that we were never meant to do this work alone. Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs for a very good reason. Our message will be rejected from time to time – but today, let’s celebrate the principles found in the Declaration of Independence. We are created equal and our creator wants us to be free in our pursuit of happiness.
Let us pray.
Loving God, creator of us all, we pray this day for your continued guidance for this nation, this community, and for us. Help us draw our strength from one another as we seek to share the Good News of your love for us and that, being filled with your Spirit, we might bring others into our fold. We offer our prayers in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. Amen.