Posted by: mikebackup | July 10, 2009

Win some, lose some

Mark 6.1-13
12They went out and preached that people should repent. 13They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

A Prophet Without Honor
1Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

4Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” 5He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6And he was amazed at their lack of faith.
Jesus Sends Out the Twelve

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil[b] spirits.

8These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. 10Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.”

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words they cannot hurt me’ is a phrase that couldn’t be further from the truth if it tried. Words can hurt so deeply and diminish life in way that people never recover. In this remarkable Gospel account the scornful words and attitude of the people from Jesus’ home town actually prevent the Son of God from performing miracles. In this instance, gone is the power and authority of Jesus. His ability to connect is prevented by words and a lack of faith. This firstly shows how important faith in Christ is to allow God to work in us. With a negative, unbelieving attitude you can shut the door on the miraculous way Christ works. Faith is a relationship between ourselves and God. It is God who firstly offers unconditional love, but it needs us to acknowledge that love and then want to move forward so a relationship of faith can form. Refusing that unconditional love means that God is unable to connect. That unconditional love is always there though and that’s what we as Christians have to always strive to offer when our love is refused or we are rebutted. Sometimes though, we do just need to move on, a door may be well and truly shut.

Jesus would have felt hurt and disappointed, the same as we feel when we try and do good and people are not interested or are hurtful in their response. We see though in verses 7 to12, that Jesus did not let that hurtful episode damage his mission or the mission of those following him. Instead of reflecting quietly for a few weeks, he empowers his disciples to go out in his name. Here, instead of the Disciples failing to understand Jesus, they listen and are obedient. Jesus remembers the rebuttal though and in verse 11 says ‘And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them’. This is an important verse and despite the fact its precise meaning and origin is still debated, Jesus said it to prevent the Disciples thinking they were the ones to blame when people didn’t respond. Jesus made it clear that all who heard the gospel were responsible for what they did with it. The disciples were not to blame if the message was rejected, as long as they had faithfully and carefully presented it. We are not responsible when others reject Christ’s message of salvation, but we do have the responsibility to share the Good News clearly and faithfully1. Here, we can come back to that original ending of Mark 16.8. No matter how great we are at witnessing and communicating our faith, the best anyone of us can do is to give people a real vision of that empty tomb, with them knowing they can go and find Jesus. That will take effort on their part though and that is their challenge, they take it up or reject it. If they reject it, we are not to dissect ourselves, looking at how we have failed.

Linking this with our reflections on our missionary future is important. When a church gets actively involved in a community, there will be those who rebuke those efforts. If we embrace a new and active missionary future, getting out into Alvaston, we will come across people who will say hurtful things to us. We cannot ignore the fact that hurtful words take the wind out of our sails and often makes us blame and introvert ourselves. It is right to reflect when that happens, but it’s not right to jump to a conclusion that we have failed or should stop what we are doing. The question we have to ask is whether we have shared our faith clearly, with the love of God at the heart.

We are human beings and like the way Mark describes the Disciples, sometimes we really listen to God and do what we are asked. Other times we get it spectacularly wrong, bringing in our own judgements and prejudices. Mark 10 is always a good example to remember:

‘People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them’.

The Disciples were convinced that Jesus didn’t want anything to do with children. At the time children were expected not even to be seen let alone be heard. Society had shaped the disciples thinking and they didn’t even stop to think whether that way was God’s way. How wrong they were. How wrong were those people in Jesus’ home town to judge who Jesus was. Let us learn from this.

As missionary disciples, we must not be judgemental, because that is most definitely not what Jesus asks us to do. Judging is God’s job, not ours. Also being judgemental normally brings to the surface personal prejudices. We must show the love of God by embracing all and helping them to reflect on how they can encourage love, nurturing, respect and justice in all parts of their lives.

Throughout Christian history right up until the present day, Christians have far too often taken a prejudicial position that has not only damaged the lives of other people, but also damaged the church. Christians have cherry picked verses to advocate slavery, apartheid, and oppression of women to name but a few ways lives have been damaged. The work of God was damaged in the Baptist Ali Boulton because another Christian was judgemental and prejudicial about her call to ministry.

Anything we say or do that damages other people because of who they are is wrong. Colour, gender, sexuality and faith of an individual are not for us to comment, judge or be prejudicial about no matter how right we think we are. Remember in theological discussion, for how right you think you are, there are just as many Christians who would say you are completely wrong. This is a real challenge for missionary disciples, because when we come across people that we might be quick to judge, that is when we can fall flat on our face, fail in our mission and damage those we are trying to reach. God transforms, not us, we must simply encourage, love, nurturing, respect and justice. The best way that anyone do can do that is by going from that empty tomb and meeting with Jesus. Apart from the fundamentals of who a person is that might challenge us, being a missionary disciple will mean you come across people that are doing things wrong and are damaging themselves and others. Again, it is not for us to judge, God transforms, not us. We open the door and must be truly open ourselves in showing that God’s way of having love at the centre is right.

It is very important to reflect on this and to consider how you would remain true to your missionary calling and not be judgemental because of a particular opinion. I’m now going to list a number of people and situations you may come across if we embark on a new missionary journey. Acknowledge your gut reaction and if that is judgemental, you will need to go away and reflect on how you would deal with that situation which would not damage that person, but show the love of God. These situations also highlight the difficult territory that we will encounter and this will require all of to go forward in our own discipleship.

A young pregnant women who is an alcoholic says she wants a Bible.
A gay man wants to join our prayer meeting.
A teenage girl says to you I want to be a Baptist Minister when I grow up.
A man dying of AIDS has asked for a group from church to go to his bedside and pray for him.
A local Muslim group gets in touch, interested in using our facilities.
A 15 year old boy tells you his girlfriend is pregnant.
A person you have seen dealing drugs walks in on a Sunday morning.
A black African asylum seeker asks you about local job opportunities.
A tagged offender wants help in adjusting to life outside of prison.

Hilary Taylor in her book ‘A toolbox for small churches’ says “A small church has to be open-hearted, warm and welcoming to all. If it is not perceived as such, then it dies. In a small church there is no room to hide. It is not possible to disguise prejudice or intolerance from those you know well. Visitors know if the welcome is genuine or not and react accordingly”.

Many Christians with a judgemental and life diminishing attitude towards some people often cherry pick from Pauline literature and use it completely out of context. Paul’s writing has to be understood contextually, that of when he was writing it, who he was writing it to, why he was writing it and the sociological situation at the time. It can then be seen why certain things were said and why Paul was trying to get all Christians to think Christ like. This is put no better than in Colossians 3.11-12 and links very well to our reflections.

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Let me finish with a story from the Tranquil United Methodist church in America:

His name is Bill. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans and no shoes. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire 4 years at college. He is brilliant. Kind of esoteric and became a Christian while attending college. Across the street from the campus is a well-dressed, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the stu­dents but are not sure how to go about it.

One day, Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt and wild hair. The service has already started and so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can’t find a seat. By now, people are looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything. Bill gets closer and closer to the pulpit and when he realises there are no seats; he just squats down right there on the carpet. (Although perfectly acceptable behaviour at a college fellowship, this had never happened at this church before!) By now the people are really uptight and the tension in the air is thick.

About this time, the minister realises that from the back of the church a deacon is slowly making his way toward Bill. Now the deacon is in his eighties, has silver grey hair and a three-piece suit. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified and very courtly. He walks with a cane and, as he starts walking towards this boy, everyone is saying to themselves that you can’t blame him for what he’s going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and his background to understand some college kid on the floor? It takes a long time for the man to reach the boy. The church is utterly silent except for the clicking of the man’s cane. All eyes are focused on him. You can’t even hear anyone breathing.
The minister can’t even preach the sermon until the deacon does what he has to do. And now they see the elderly man drop his cane to the floor. With great difficulty, he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and wor­ships with him so he won’t be alone. Everyone chokes up with emotion.

When the minister gains control, he says “What I’m about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget. Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some people will ever read.”!


Responses

  1. Dear Mike,
    Thanks for quoting the book – its so true – everyone must get a welcome – who are we to say who can come into the presence of Jesus and who cant’!

    Hilary Taylor


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