Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sermon -- 7th Sunday after Pentecost (July 8, 2018)

MARK 6:1-6

JESUS IS A PROPHET 
WITH A LIFE-GIVING WORD.

In the name + of Jesus.

     Twice, St. Mark mentions that people were amazed.  First, the hometown people of Nazareth were amazed by Jesus.  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?” (Mark 6:2)  They were not astonished in a way that said, “Wow!  Look at his works of mercy.  And he is telling us what we need to hear!”  Rather, they were astonished in a way that said, “Who does this guy think he is?!”  They heard the word of the Lord preached by the Lord, but they did not believe in him.  They saw Jesus doing works which only the Lord can do, but they did not accept Jesus' claims to be the Lord.  And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3) 
     The other person who was amazed in this lesson was Jesus.  He marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:6)  These were not strangers in a strange land.  Jesus was preaching to God's covenant people in their synagogue.  He was teaching family, friends, and neighbors to whom the Scriptures had been read and preached regularly.  Even though they marveled at Jesus' wisdom and wonders, they would not confess him as Lord.  They would not even listen to him anymore.  Jesus is a prophet with a life-giving word, but they were not interested.  Jesus was too familiar to them to take him seriously.  And he marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:6)
     The citizens of Nazareth are not unique.  They serve as a warning for us who have been Christians for a long time.  The saying is true: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  We have heard the Sunday School lessons already, and we are bored with them.  We have filed away our Catechisms because we have been confirmed.  We are satisfied with a cursory knowledge of the Bible and see no value in taking time to meditate and truly ponder God's word.  Jesus is a prophet with a life-giving word, but we are too familiar with it to crave it.
     We know that Jesus and his word are important, but we are not always that excited to hear it.  Pastors and parishioners both get lured into thinking that we must do something amazing to make the word of God more attractive.  The desire may be noble—to have as many people gathered around the word as possible.  Usually, we invoke the young people to promote ways to make worship exciting, accepting the false notion that they always have to be entertained.  But it is an admission that we think we have to bring life to God's word and that, by itself, God's word is just not enough to keep our attention.  The goal becomes making worship exciting and entertaining.  And once worship becomes a show, you have to find new ways to keep people interested.  We would rather be excited than enlightened.  We would rather hear peals of laughter than calls to repent.  We want worship to be continually new and fresh, because familiarity breeds contempt.  We think that whatever is unchanging is uninteresting.  Repent; because our God is constant and his faithfulness is steadfast.
     Jesus' ministry in Nazareth was over quickly.  He could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:5-6)  It is not that Jesus was powerless; it is that his desire to heal and the bless was rejected; therefore, he withheld it.  If they held him in contempt, they would even hold his mercy in contempt.  This is a warning for us.  Jesus is a prophet with a life-giving word, but when we become too familiar with his words, we crave something more flashy.
     Now that it is vacation time, people are heading off to different parts of God's creation.  We all have our favorite places—beaches, lakes, mountains, rivers, and so on.  We marvel at the world God has made.  We find it inspiring and post photos of it.  Some even claim they get in touch with God by looking at scenery.  But when Jesus came as a prophet, he did not show people pictures of the Grand Canyon or the Alps.  He preached.  He is a prophet.  He proclaimed a life-giving word.  God's power may be seen in the creation, but his forgiveness and salvation are not.  These come through words.
     The bulk of our lives is conversation.  Our relationships are built on them.  Whether it is husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, men at the golf course, or women slurping coffee at Tim Hortons, our conversations keep our relationships alive.  If you read a transcript of those conversations, I am willing to bet that most of them would not be gripping dialogues.  “How about this weather?”  “Did you see the Tigers' game?”  "Pick up a gallon of milk on your way home”  Not exactly sonnets; and yet, the conversation is necessary.   Even the small talk matters.  It is cherished no matter what your relationship with someone is.  The deeper the relationship, the more intimate the conversation.  When people are speaking, they share themselves with each other and show their love.  When communication goes silent, then you know there is a problem.
     Jesus is a prophet.  That means he speaks to you.  The Lord communicates with you because he loves you.  He does not flatter or manipulate you.  He speaks true, life-giving words.  He speaks words of insight, correction, admonition, and encouragement.  The Lord consoles you, soothes you, and declares his faithful love to you.  He speaks words that show he knows you intimately.  He knows your sin—that you have treated his words with contempt while using your words to lie, to gossip, and to boast.  He knows our words have been motivated by anger, jealousy, and obscenity.  He calls you to repent of such wicked words.  They have consequences both among people and before God.  If Jesus' words seem hard to you, it is because he cares too much for you to silently watch you continue in sins which lead to hell.  But if his call to repent cuts deep, then his promise of mercy not only soothes, it gives life.  Jesus delivers you from the consequences of careless words.  He speaks an absolution which he has backed up with his sufferings and death on our behalf.  Jesus, who is the Word made flesh, did not treat us with contempt, but suffered the consequences of our words and actions in silence.  He died under Gods' divine curse for every one of our misspoken words.  But he lives to speak words of forgiveness and salvation. 
     Jesus is a prophet with a life-giving word.  And he gives us better words to speak.  He teaches us to confess his word which saves us.  He guides us to speak words of truth which serve to build up other people.  And we continue our conversation with our Lord by speaking words of praise to him in response to his words of peace for us.  It is a conversation that begins in this life and will continue into all eternity with the Church that worships in heaven.
     Jesus was astonished that his life-giving words were rejected in Nazareth.  Although Jesus came to give life to the dying, he does not drag anyone into his kingdom by force.  If a man persists in his stubborn unbelief, if he believes he is good enough without Jesus, or if he simply loves his sins too much, the Lord will not abduct him.  He will not lay waste to his home if he will not believe.  Therefore, Jesus did not threaten the people of Nazareth with leprosy or rain fire on their city. 
     Jesus is a prophet who calls as a loving God to a sinful people.  He uses words of promise, of mercy, of grace and peace, and by these alone does he bring people out of their rebellion and into his kingdom.  This word is preached to you every week and can be read by you every day.  This is where your Lord speaks to you.  He expresses his love and concern.  He bestows mercy and peace.  He assures you that he does not hold your foolish words against you, but forgives you and guides you to speak with more honesty, with more care, and with more interest in the well-being of other people.
     Jesus is a prophet with a life-giving word.  Familiarity with Jesus does not need to lead to contempt.  Rather, it leads to comfort for sinners and confidence for salvation.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.