Sermon for Trinity 6 Sunday 8 July 2018
Mark 6.4. Jesus said A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country.
It’s a bit hot for theology. A summer’s day is not the best time to puzzle out Jesus’ riddles, like this one about a prophet being despised only in his own country. Fortunately Christianity is not about finding answers, but about being open to the presence of God in your life, and enjoying it. So when we are puzzled by a Scripture passage, like this one, a way forward is to relate it directly to our own lives and see what happens. If Jesus is alive, then he is talking to you and me, not to the group in churchy language, but to each individual soul in words we can understand. What we tend to do then, almost unconsciously, is apply our Christian understanding to the world, to others, to the issues of the day, to the Church, but not to ourselves. The prophet, Jesus, is despised, left unrecognised, in his own country, his true home, your heart and mine. So he can work no miracle there. That is why we can appear to be good Christians but know no miracles in our lives. Where there is no faith, miracles do not occur.
God is at the centre of everything that happens to us. We can’t see it, because we don’t have the necessary faith, that’s St Mark’s view. Faith comes first. There’s faith, and then there’s the miracle. Jesus could not perform a miracle in his home town, and He was amazed at their lack of faith. We get it round the wrong way, thinking that miracles are events designed to help us believe, but that’s not what happens in the Gospel. Without faith a miracle just leaves us scratching our heads wondering what’s going on. Faith, however, reveals miracles in our lives at every turn of the road.
Today’s Gospel is about our lack of faith, our inability to see who Jesus is. Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him, and these miracles that are worked through him? On and on we go. Why is my life not filled with faith? Why do I find it difficult to be a Christian? Why don’t I see miracles? It’s strange, because like those who heard Jesus in that synagogue all those years ago, we are astonished by the teaching, we can’t get enough of it, always coming to Church, but never quite sure where this wisdom comes from, where did Jesus get it? So we think rather wistfully, Can we ever make it ours? And I think one of the difficulties we have with faith, is that we always want more, more knowledge and understanding for ourselves, more input, congregations are always asking for teaching, and yet, as the life of Jesus shows us only too well, faith is a matter of surrender, not making demands. Jesus surrendered his life to God. To surrender to God doesn’t mean changing your personality, or who you are, or what you do. To surrender to God is simply to put God above the self, day by day. With that sort of faith, that expansion of our lives, comes the ability to love. The life of faith is just a life lived as close to truth as we can get in this life. We are the person God sees when He looks at us. O Lord, you search me out and know me. [Psalm 139]
In the second half of today’s Gospel, which is a separate story about the mission of the Twelve Disciples making a tour of the local villages on their own, we get Jesus’ own guidelines for what we need in order to live a faith-filled life. We need nothing, no props, no supply lines, no backup plan, no sermon notes. We need less, not more. God seeks us as much as we seek Him. Eternal life breaks through, God’s life becomes ours, in exile, in dispossession, in poverty of spirit, in a simple life. So do not take a spare tunic, the alternative you, the one still hedging his or her bets. Jesus sends out the Twelve, he sends us out, streamlined, together, not looking back. He sends us now, not when we’re ready; we’ll never be ready, never be confident, never know enough. And how can any of this be possible for us? It’s possible, because God, God’s mind, is to be found in our souls, and that transforms our lives into authentic human lives lived with God. It’s a costly business, and it cost Jesus his life, and it will cost us our old lives, but it is the transformation of our faithless existences into faith-filled lives which will bring about miracles, cast out the evil spirits, and heal a broken world. We have nothing, yet we discover we have it all.
In his home town, Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith. Maybe it was just a hot day. Maybe they knew him too well, thought they knew all there was to know about him, took Jesus for granted as we tend to do. Faith is not about what we know, but how we live. Faith is something which is natural to us. Faith is a choice to be, and to remain, free. We choose to live simplified, surrendered human lives, guided every day by the Son of God Himself.