Mark 6: 1-29, NRSV
He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Maryand brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some weresaying, ‘John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’ But others said, ‘It is Elijah.’ And others said, ‘It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.’ But when Herod heard of it, he said, ‘John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.’
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’ And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, ‘Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.’ And he solemnly swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.’ She went out and said to her mother, ‘What should I ask for?’ She replied, ‘The head of John the baptizer.’Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, ‘I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.’ The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb. c
Preached Sunday, October 8, 2017 at Westfield Church by the Rev. Jonathan Chapman
I’m notoriously bad at packing. I’ve watched all the Rick Steves shows PBS has to offer and I’ve made checklist after checklist, but somehow, even on my shortest trips, I always over pack. More than once, I’ve watched the scale that weighs the bag at baggage check spin to a pound or less below the limit. The person on the other side of the counter looks at me, usually with one eyebrow up, and I say, timidly, “I like options.” Shoes, it turns out, are heavy.
In our passage today, Jesus sends his disciples on a trip. He’s just been rejected by the people in his beloved Nazareth, famously saying—and this is the Jon Chapman translation—“You Can’t Be a Prophet in Your Hometown.” They didn’t believe in Jesus, they believed Jesus was nuts. He couldn’t do much with that, so he left town. And as he’s bumming around the surrounding villages, teaching, he calls the twelve together, gives them authority over unclean spirits, and sends them out to tell the good news.
Now I know we’ve had a lot today, so I’m going to jump to the chase and tell you the four things I want you to think about when it comes to these six verses—four things you can take home with you. Here’s the first: Don’t go it alone. Sounds simple right? It isn’t. People are irritating. They’re hard and complex and hurtful. But they’re also kind and generous and hopeful. Jesus sends his disciples out two-by-two, in pairs—like boy scouts swimming in the lake—a buddy system. Jesus tells us that wherever two or three are gathered, that’s where I am. Being Christian is being in community, it’s being together, facing life together. That doesn’t always sit well with our stubborn, independent types. But Jesus isn’t about building up stubborn, independent types. He’s about restoring right relationship, he’s about reconciliation, he’s about bringing people together—and in order for any of that to happen, there’s got to be more than one. So that’s your first task for this week: don’t go it alone.
Here’s the second point to remember: Don’t over pack. Jesus gives his disciples packing instructions. Only a staff and sandals, he tells them. No food, no bag, no money, no extra clothes. If you’re like me and you tend to overpack, then you know the worst part of traveling with your overstuffed bag is getting that bag from the baggage carousel at the airport to the car or from the car to your hotel room. It’s heavy, so you kinda swing it out, thinking you’re using leverage to your advantage which can sometimes cause you to fly behind it. Have you seen that before? People whose bags get away from them like that? It’s kind of funny until it happens to you. Here’s Jesus’ advice: don’t over pack. That is, don’t fill your life up with such busy-ness that you can’t respond to God’s call in your life. Don’t take on other people’s stuff. Man, that’s hard. I am so bad at it. But here’s the thing, I’ve already got my own baggage. I don’t need other people’s, too! So that’s the second task: Don’t overpack.
Jesus knew not everyone was going to like what his disciples had to say. In fact, he’d already encountered in Nazareth, remember? So he gives them this advice: “If people are jerks, get it out.” Again, that’s the Jon Chapman translation. What he really said, at least according to our translations is this: If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust the is on your feet.” I like that—it’s kinda sassy. I dig Sassy Jesus. Here’s what’s he’s saying: know when to leave. Now, that’s tricky, right? I mean, our instinct is to leave when we’re mad, when somebody’s crossed us. That’s not what Jesus is talking about here. He’s not referring to our everyday humanity—the broken, messy lives we lead that spin between happiness and despair and hope and anger. He’s not saying to throw in the towel at the first hint of disagreement or to not forgive and work to make things better. He’s saying that if it’s not the right place, the right thing, the right time, then it’s OK to go. It’s OK to care for yourself enough to be in an environment or situation that is uplifting and challenging and holy.
Hear me, hear what I’m saying: I don’t need someone in my office on Monday morning telling me how we or I have failed them—that we sing too much and that it’s just more than you can bear an so your knocking the dust off your feet! Jesus isn’t giving his disciples a Staples easy button. But he is giving them permission to move on so that they can be heard and can be whole. So that’s the third: know when its time to go.
And here’s the fourth thing, the one all the rest hinge on: tell good news. Jesus’ disciples, when they head out, tell people to repent. I know that language makes us a little uncomfortable. It’s easy for us, in our minds at least, to tell people to get right, to stop being jerks, and try harder. But in real life? That’s a different story. If that’s you, then think of it this way: the good news is easy. It’s that there’s a better way to live.
This week, I got a call from one of our members telling me about an experience he’d had a work. A co-worker had been going through some tough times and was lamenting to our member the circumstances that got him there. Our Westfield-er supported him, then told him how his life had changed since coming to Westfield—how he felt God working in his life because of the people here at Westfield. That’s good news—sharing how your life is better not because of Westfield, but because of God. So, tell good news.
Those are our four tasks for this week, a truly for our lives as faithful Christians: Don’t go it alone—journey with each other. Don’t overpack—take only what you need and leave the rest. Know when it’s time to go. And tell good news. It’s not easy. It never is. But, then Jesus never said it would be. He just said it’d be worth it. Amen.