Beckett: Sermon – Christ Sends Pastors to His People

Date: July 4, 2021
Festival: 6th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 6:1-13
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church and Christ the King Lutheran Chapel, Mt. Pleasant, Michigan

Let us pray: “Eternal and everlasting Father, in whose presence [we] pass [our] fleeting years, upheld by Your grace and power, make Your love real to [us] as [we] worship You today. Grant that Your Holy Spirit may strengthen [our] faith and [our] resolve to serve You with greater faithfulness. May nothing be more precious to [us] than the Gospel of the redeeming love of Your Son Jesus, our Savior.” Amen. [My Prayer Book, 2].

Jesus is in an interesting situation in our Gospel reading for today. Let’s take a moment to remember who Jesus is. Just this past Monday, it was the feast day of St. Irenaeus. Irenaeus was the bishop of Lyons in France in the second century. One of the works he was famous for writing was teaching that God has redeemed His creation through the incarnation of His Son, Jesus. So, here we have Jesus, the Creator who entered human history in order to restore all things within creation and humanity as fully God and fully human. By assuming our humanity, He took upon Himself our weaknesses and mortality, except without sin. Theologically, we call this His state of humiliation, meaning He did not always make full use of His divine power. Throughout the Gospels we see people encounter Jesus both as man and as God. In our text today, people encounter Jesus as a man, and though they encounter Him as God when He heals miraculously and in His own person, they stubbornly choose only to see Him as merely a man.

As a male human, Jesus went through the ordinary stages of human development. He grew up in Nazareth as a normal Jewish boy. Nazareth was a small agricultural town about 15 miles west from the Sea of Galilee; and archaeologists have discovered that the town would’ve consisted of about 1,400 people. Jesus came from a small town. And as you may know well, in a small town, everybody knows everybody and all their business! Jesus’ hometown people knew Him very well, or so they thought.

After fasting in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, He began His ministry in His hometown, Nazareth. And He was not met with welcoming arms. Luke’s Gospel [4:16-30] records that after Jesus had read a scroll from Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth that prophesied of the coming Messiah, and claiming this Scripture was fulfilled in their hearing it, the people were so angry that they brought Jesus to a hill to throw Him off it in order to kill Him! Yet, as Jesus knew this was not the hour of His death, He simply strolls through them and escapes their wrath (which is probably a miracle in itself).

A well-known saying of atheists says Jesus could not have existed since there’s no hill in Nazareth to throw Jesus from. These people have obviously never been to Nazareth. I had the opportunity to travel to Israel during my senior year at Concordia University-Ann Arbor, and let me tell you, the entire town of Nazareth is made of hills! Literally everywhere you turn there’s a giant hill! And many of these hills were high enough and rocky enough to throw any person off of to kill them! Clearly, these people did not respond well to Jesus’ teachings.

Similarly, here in Mark’s Gospel, Mark records that Jesus was found where He could always be found on the Sabbath: teaching in the synagogue—very likely the synagogue Jesus grew up in as a boy. First, the people of His hometown are astonished at His skilled teaching. “Isn’t this Mary’s boy, the carpenter?” they marvel. Apparently, they don’t know Him so well after all. Even more, His teachings offended them. And Luke’s Gospel helps fill in the gaps as to what extent Jesus’ hometown was offended—they tried to kill Him!

But Jesus did not give up. He healed people of their illnesses and continued to teach the Gospel that often scandalises people. This is why Jesus said, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household” [v. 4].

Their unwelcome reception was, of course, to their own detriment. Their unbelief “hindered the exhibition of the Lord’s miraculous power,” for they rejected “what God is so willing to give in and through Jesus” [Kretzmann, 193]. This gives a whole new meaning to unbelievers portrayed in movies and TV shows that look toward heaven and say, “God, if you’re up there, give me a sign!” And what happens? …Nothing, of course. Their unbelief is self-defeating since Christ has no interest in doing mighty works in the midst of unbelieving people, apart from creating faith where there is no faith. Still, though, Jesus did some miraculous work of healing people of their illnesses, but this alone was not and is not enough to create faith.

Now, continuing His work despite the unbelief of His hometown, Jesus sent out His apostles to be His representatives as they, too, preached, called people to repentance, and even healed others of their illnesses. It’s not that Jesus couldn’t do His work alone; it’s that He was gracious enough to extend His authority to His chosen apostles to proclaim His Word and, eventually, to forgive people’s sins [John 20:20-23]. As I often like to say, Jesus’ grace is superfluous—He gives more than necessary—for He gives it superabundantly, because each of us are in perpetual need of His grace.

Only, the disciples are to shake the dust off their feet if a place rejects them. Still, Jesus desires to give so much of His grace that He sent His apostles to administer His means of grace in the Word and later the Sacraments, who then trained and placed pastors in various places to fulfil the same holy office—a practice many of you witnessed last Sunday at my ordination.

Most or all of you probably know I’m originally from Michigan, just 2.5 hours south of here in Plymouth-Canton. I must admit that at first, because of what Jesus says about His hometown people, I did not want to receive a call to Michigan. “A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” My thinking was, “Everybody knows who Ricky was in middle school and high school. They wouldn’t accept me as a pastor! They wouldn’t listen to me!” You see, I was a completely different person back then. I was very immature, and believe it or not, I was obnoxiously loud and rude. (That might be hard to believe, I know.) Ricky as a teenager was much different than Pastor Ricky as you know him today, or as you’re getting to know me. I’ve even had family reject me because of my Christian confession. So, I thought, why would my hometown be any different?

But then I began to think about Jesus’ words here more, and more specifically, the Word—the Word of God. Eventually, I remembered, “Wait a minute. The effect and power of God’s Word depends not on my personality or peoples’ memories or thoughts of me; it depends entirely on the Word of God alone! Isaiah 55:11 says God’s Word does what He sends it out to do, and it never returns to Him void!” God’s Word does not know failure, folks; He is unfamiliar with the concept. So, remembering that God’s Word depends on God alone and not my abilities and certainly not my past, I changed my mind. Suddenly, I wanted to come back home to Michigan.

And I’m happy to say that God proved me wrong. Because here I am, back in my home state, and you have not rejected me. You have received me with an abundance of the love and joy of the Lord. Your joyful reception of me and my wife Emilia has moved us deeply; it has blown us away. Through the Holy Spirit, the Lord has called me to serve as one of your pastors, and last Sunday, you graciously received me. I am extremely happy to say that I don’t have to shake off the dust from my feet! For you have not rejected me but received me, as you would Christ Himself.

This is not only for my benefit, of course. This is for your benefit, too. For why did Christ send His apostles? Why does He send pastors to His people everywhere? To do as the apostles themselves were sent to do. “They went out and proclaimed that people should repent” [v. 12]. At first, this might sound purely as Law, but with proper repentance there is both Law and Gospel. Our Confessions in the Book of Concord teach there are two parts to repentance.

The first part has to do with God’s Law, which we call “contrition,” which is “the genuine terror of the conscience that feels God’s wrath against sin and grieves that it has sinned. This contrition takes place when the Word of God denounces sin” [Ap XII, 29]. So, when you feel guilt or shame over a sin—even when God’s Word offends you—this is God’s Law working in you to bring you to repentance.

The second part of repentance has to do with the Gospel, which is faith—faith that believes “that on account of Christ [your] sins are freely forgiven” [Ap XII, 35]. Freely forgiven, brothers and sisters. Never forget that.

This is what Christ has sent me to you to do. Last Sunday, I took an oath before you and God Almighty to administer the Word and the Sacraments where you receive the forgiveness of your sins. In this Word and in these Sacraments, God’s Word of the Law brings you to fear God and to be heartily sorry for your sins, as we all confessed earlier; and in them God’s Word of the Gospel brings you the free forgiveness of your sins through Christ Jesus your Saviour. And there will probably be times when, like Jesus, I preach a Word from Him that offends you. If or when this happens, I urge you to remember why Christ called me to serve you—to forgive you your sins by His stead and command.

Unlike the apostles, though, I have no ability to heal you of any illnesses or weaknesses that may ail you, but, having passed it down through His chosen apostles, the Lord has ordained me to give you the elixir of His body and blood to cure you from the eternal clutches of death, as you all shall soon partake. Let us pray:

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you and with all people everywhere who have been called by God through Him, through whom be glory, honour, power, majesty, and eternal dominion to God, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen.” [1 Clement 65.2]

Bibliography

Kretzmann, Paul E. Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament. Volume 1. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1924.

My Prayer Book. Revised Edition. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1980.

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