Summary: If we believe in the power of Christ to change this world, then not only can we see God's amazing work, we can also fulfill our call as disciples working for Christ's glory.
As I began to write my sermon this week, I found that I had trouble figuring out where to start because there are so many things I would like to say to you all; so much I want to share as we begin our time together. But as I thought about it, I finally decided that there will be plenty of time to say all those things in the coming years; plenty of time to share with you all that is in my mind and on my heart, and I imagine that in the interim, as we live life together, God will place even more on my heart. So, I am excited to begin our time together. For all sorts of reasons, it is my hope that we will share many years together in ministry; for the sake of this church and all who are a part of it, for the good of this community, for my own personal well-being, but…most of all, so that I have plenty of time to get all this stuff off my chest!
I really am so excited to begin this journey with you this morning, and I really do hope that it is a journey that will last many years. I am excited about the thought of Owen, who just turned four months last week, growing up in this church. I look forward to you all getting to know our 10-year-old, Mary Ellen, and her bright, joyful personality, and my husband, Ken, who passionately serves at East Ridge United Methodist Church. And I am excited to get to know about each of you and to share in your walk as disciples.
So, for starters, you can all take a breath and relax because I did not choose this guiding scripture passage from Mark this morning to infer that somehow I am like Jesus and you are like the hometown Nazarenes rejecting whatever message I may bring. These words from Mark are the gospel reading in this week’s lectionary, but this Scripture is also appropriate for this time of transition we are all experiencing right now. And what I want us to find in this passage this morning is a word about faith.
You know, when Jesus was going around preaching and teaching, the message he was sharing was radical. People were watching and waiting for a prophet and a Messiah, so for someone to claim to be the Messiah was a big deal in and of itself. But Jesus’ message was especially unique because it was not the message the people were expecting. They thought the Messiah would be a conquering hero who would smite their enemies. It was never expected that the Messiah would come saying he must die at the hands of his enemies. So I imagine that Nazareth wasn’t the only place where Jesus and his message were rejected. That’s part of the reason that Jesus gave his disciples these instructions about preaching and teaching, and “shaking the dust from [their] feet” when the message was rejected. But here’s the thing, even knowing that his message was unpopular, Jesus preached it anyway. Even with the knowledge that his disciples would not be well-received in every place, he sent them out to preach and teach anyway. The call to repent and enter God’s kingdom was vital, Jesus knew it, and he knew that message must be shared, even if it offended.
And here’s the thing, my friends, that message is just as vital today as it was 2,000 years ago. And you know what? The message of God’s kingdom is still just as offensive today, too. Unfortunately, though, it seems that the span of time has increased our complacency, has softened the call of Christ and the urgency of the message. We don’t want to offend people, do we? So rather than taking the message to the world and shaking the dust off our feet when we are rejected, we’ve decided we’re just not going to share the message anymore. The problem, though, is that church isn’t like it “used to be”, is it? Sixty or seventy years ago, all anyone had to do was fling open the doors of a church and people would flock in, eager to listen to the words of Christ. But things don’t really work that way anymore. People aren’t flocking to churches the way they used to. So that means that if they are to hear the life-changing message of Christ, we have to take it to them, right where they are.
Still, though, there’s even more to this work we are called to do. Even as we work at sharing Christ’s message in the world, we also have to believe that Christ has the power to change lives. You see, even as we sit here in church today and every Sunday, we still might be people like those people in Jesus’ hometown who were skeptical about his word. We might have doubts about the call to repentance, and Christ’s ability to heal and to save the lost souls of this world. Just consider how Christ’s work might be hindered because of our skepticism. Mark tells us that in Nazareth Jesus was “unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them.” If we take seriously the commissioning of Jesus to go out and do his work in the world, we will undoubtedly be met by skeptics. However, if we fully believe in the power of Christ’s message to change lives, it will not only make our work more effective, it will also give us the strength to endure the opposition and skepticism we will sometimes encounter. We have to have faith in Christ and all that Christ can do!