Sermon for Sunday July 8th, 2018, the Sixth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 123; Ezekiel 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
The Text: Mark 6:1-13
The Topic: Rejection by those who know you may well help the expansion of your mission.
Campbell Morgan was one of 150 young men who sought entrance to the Wesleyan ministry in 1888. He passed the doctrinal examinations, but then faced the trial sermon. In a cavernous auditorium that could seat more than 1,000 sat three ministers and 75 others who came to listen.
When Morgan stepped into the pulpit, the vast room and the searching, critical eyes caught him up short. Two weeks later, Morgan’s name appeared among the 105 rejected for the ministry of that year.
Jill Morgan, his daughter-in-law, wrote in her book, A Man of the Word: “He wired to his father the one word, ‘Rejected,’ and sat down to write in his diary: ‘Very dark everything seems. Still, He knoweth best.’
“Quickly came the reply: ‘Rejected on earth. Accepted in Heaven. Dad.’”
Rejection is rarely permanent, as Morgan went on to prove. Even in this life, circumstances change, and ultimately, there is no rejection of those accepted by Christ.
– pp. 445-446, Craig Brian Larson & Leadership Journal: 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers, and Writers. Grand Rapids, Michigan: BakerBooks, 2008.
“Familiarity breeds contempt,” a familiar English proverb, could apply to the Lord Jesus’ experience of rejection at Nazareth, where he had grown up. The second part of our Gospel Lesson today contains Jesus’ instructions to the Apostles on how to deal with contempt and rejection in those villages and towns in which they preach the Gospel, cast out demons and anoint the sick with oil for healing.
JESUS AT NAZARETH
When Jesus returned to Nazareth to teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, the congregation is astonished at his wisdom and his mighty deeds, such as casting out demons and healing the sick. They know that he has attended no rabbinical school, and that he is a carpenter, the son of Mary. The fact that Joseph is not mentioned might mean that he died early, leaving Mary a widow. In view of the ordinariness of carpenter’s work, they found it very surprising that Jesus had such extraordinary wisdom and did such mighty works. Their familiarity with him as he was growing up and their knowledge of his family led them to find no explanation for his authority as a rabbi or for the miracles that he performed. They thought he must be as ordinary as his brothers and sisters, and as ordinary as a carpenter. Their attitude was something like, “Jesus is pretending to be someone more important than he really is.” The root problem here is unbelief, since what they thought was their deep knowledge of him could not accommodate faith in him as even a prophet, let alone the Son of God.
Jesus’ reply points out that a prophet is honored and respected everywhere but in his own neighborhood or town, among his own relatives and in his own home (Mark 6:4). The result of the people of Nazareth’s unbelief and offense at him was that Jesus could do no miracles there, apart from laying his hands on a few sick folk and healing them (Mark 6:5). Yet Jesus’ experience at Nazareth has a lesson to teach, the lesson being that those who reject Christ do so to their disadvantage and to their peril. It becomes a lesson also for the history of mission, in that, to be effective, missionaries sometimes need to leave their families and relatives, acquaintances and friends, and go to other places, regions and countries to preach God’s word.
EXPANSION OF THE MINISTRY OF JESUS THROUGH THE MISSION OF THE TWELVE
Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth simply led him to leave Nazareth and continue his ministry in other villages, and then to expand his whole mission and ministry by sending out the twelve Apostles in pairs to go on a mission to other villages and towns in Israel to preach, cast out demons and heal the sick.
The instructions Jesus gives for the mission of the twelve Apostles are very basic: they were to take only the clothes they were wearing, sandals and a staff, but no money belt, no bread, and no travel bag, a bag which would have been used either for carrying food or for monetary donations to be collected along the way, as the priests of the pagan temples used to carry. The idea behind this was that they would travel light and unencumbered, and their need for food would be met by those with whom they stayed in every village. They were not to go from house to house in a village, but stay in one house until their mission was over in that village.
Their reaction to rejection of their message was to shake off the dust under their feet as a testimony against them. This reaction was like Jews saying to fellow-Jews, “We are now treating you like Gentiles because of your rejection of our message and of us.” Jews would remove the dust off their feet when crossing from Gentile territory into Jewish territory. It became a sign that the missionary’s responsibility to proclaim the Gospel to a particular community was fully discharged, and that community would henceforth be responsible for the consequences of their rejection of the Gospel. Jesus even warns that it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment than for the city that rejects the Apostles’ preaching of the Gospel.
The Apostles’ mission bore fruit in that they preached the message of repentance, cast out many demons and anointed with oil many that were sick, and healed them (Mark 6:12-13).
HOW REJECTION HELPED EXPAND THE MISSION
In our Gospel Lesson we observe that Jesus’ rejection by the citizens of his home town Nazareth, led to the pursuit of his mission in other villages, and the mission of the Twelve Apostles to other villages and towns. “Shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11) is a lesson to the Apostles in how to deal with those who reject them and their message of the Gospel. They mustn’t get angry, they mustn’t wallow in self-pity or depression; instead, they must give this symbolic warning. God will take care of the rest, and they must move on to the next town, the next destination in their mission.
When we read the first half of the Book of Acts, we see the same pattern at work. Rejection and martyrdom in Judaea lead to a scattering of Christians to other places, and the Gospel is preached in Samaria, and to Gentiles further afield. When the Jews in Pisidian Antioch stir up trouble for Paul and Barnabas, they shake off the dust of their feet against them and move on to Iconium ((Acts 13:50-52).
In various times and places Christians today will experience rejection and persecution on account of their faith. How are we to deal with this? If God has called us to share the Gospel with a person or group of people, and we find ourselves rejected, are we to give up sharing the Gospel? I believe we are called to persevere, but to move on, and to share the Gospel with others. We are often tempted to think that we are somehow to blame when people reject Christ and reject the Gospel. But if our conscience is clear, we need to move on and share this life-giving Gospel with others.