“Believing the Carpenter” Mark 6:1-13
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, July 4, 2021
I remember the first time I preached at my home church. It was a bit nerve racking to say the least, looking out at the crowd who knew me so well. I recall looking out at the congregation that had gathered there for my first sermon while I was in seminary, seeing faces of people who knew me so well. I’m sure there were some of them sitting there who had trouble seeing me as a preacher, thinking of some things I had done as a kid that would not have led them to see me in that role. I remember by heart beating out of my chest in the moments before I entered the pulpit. I had spent more time on that sermon than probably any one I have preached since, not wanting to mess up, say something heretical, or embarrass myself or my parents.
I’m sure Jesus was having similar emotions when he arrived at his home synagogue to teach for the first time. He must have wondered how he would be received as he looked out at the crowd, noticing people whispering to one another about him as he started and then he must have heard their comments about him being Mary’s son and just a common laborer. Though his teaching and delivery were no doubt exemplary, he was not received well at all. The Message translates their words this way: “Who does he think he is?’ They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.” As Mark writes in his gospel, the people took offense at him. And so he confronts them on their snarky comments and their response to him. They couldn’t believe that he could have such skill and authority. They couldn’t believe in a carpenter. They couldn’t believe in him. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
So he shakes off their response and, unable to do much of anything because of their unbelief, he leaves for places that will receive him. And he works with those who do believe him, taking his disciples with him as he goes into other villages, even sending them out to help him expand his teaching and work. Knowing that they too may not always be embraced, he tells them to move on and to shake the dust off their feet when they encounter rejection. Wherever Jesus and his disciples went, there were some who believed and some who did not.
I wonder how we would respond if we had been in the crowd back then. I’d like to think I would have been in Jesus’ amen corner but, if I’m honest, I might have been apprehensive if not dismissive the first time I heard Jesus teach, especially if I could only remember him as a child or if I had trouble seeing beyond his poverty and commonness. What about you? What about us if Jesus arrived in our pulpit this morning for his inaugural sermon? Would we really believe in the carpenter?
Part of his hometown’s problem is possibly part of ours: preconceptions about Jesus. They couldn’t see beyond who they thought he was and what he was capable of becoming. Their preconceived views about him, his poverty, and place in life were obstacles to their belief. We also have such obstacles. Don’t we have various notions about who Jesus was, is, and should be? Some of us may not be able to believe in a Jesus who has the power to heal what ails us. Some may not believe in a Jesus who has the ability to love us unconditionally. Some may not go along with a Jesus who forgives those who hate him or shows mercy to sinners and nogoodniks. On this day, July 4, some people in our nation can’t see the real Jesus because they are looking for one who is white, carries the American flag, and is evangelical rather than a Judean carpenter from Nazareth. Others among us may have trouble seeing Jesus as authoritative to call us out on our own sins. Maybe some of us just don’t think the Jesus of our past is relevant for our present or future.
The best way we can show what we believe about Jesus is by following him; by doing the work he has given us to do. Jesus called the disciples to go out into the world to cast out evil spirits, call people to repentance, and heal the sick. That’s what they went out to do. And that’s what we are to do in our world today, to carry on the gospel work of Jesus in a world that so desperately needs it; to help share the kingdom of God in every place and way we can. We do it when we help serve people who are hungry, provide clothing for people who need it, give comfort to the grieving, spend time with formerly homeless veterans, provide services for the mentally ill, visit the sick, and provide hospitality to refugees. When we do these things and more, we show what we really believe about Jesus.
Thinking back to my first sermon in my hometown, I was relieved that I was well received. It made me feel good that people believed in me and were supportive, which allowed me to carry on doing the things God called me to do. As we’ve heard from our text, there is a great need for us to believe in Jesus, responding to his words with our actions, freeing him up to do amazing things among and through us.