Sermon text: Mark 6: 1-13
I’ve had lots of gifted teachers and preachers in my life. Ones who made me sit up and pay attention. Ones who made my mind and imagination race. Ones who impacted my life by what they spoke. Hopefully you’ve had some of those people in your life too. Imagine would it would be like to hear Jesus teach and preach. Imagine how you would be sitting up and paying attention. Imagine how life changing that moment could be.
I wager that the people of Nazareth are sitting up. I think they are paying attention, taking notes. You get the sense that the hometown crowd is shocked and surprised…but it’s for all the wrong reasons. They begin asking questions:
Where did Jesus get all this?
Where did he acquire this wisdom?
How is he performing miracles with his hands?
We know his family, we know his past, how did he get this special?
Their offensive demeanor is amazing, but even more amazing is that fact that their unbelief is so strong that it kept Jesus from doing any real deeds of power other than healing a few sick people. Their bitterness becomes increasingly apparent the more they speak.
The people of Nazareth are stuck. They are hung up on the question of authority.
Who gave Jesus the right to interpret scripture this way?
Who gave him the right to make decisions on the Law of Moses?
Who gave him the right to teach?
Who gave him the right to heal?
Who gave him permission?
Who sanctioned these teachings?
Why does he get to influence others?
Why does he get to tell us what to do?
Where did this expertise come from?
How did he go from craftsman to prophet?
The crowd isn’t questioning the words and actions of Jesus, they are questioning his identity.
Who are you? After all, we’ve known you for decades. We know you, we know your father, your mother, your brothers and sisters. Your family is just like ours. We know exactly who you are and there is no way that you should be capable of doing and saying these things. You don’t belong here, Jesus. You’re far too lowly to be a prophet or messiah to the people of Israel.
Have you ever had someone question your identity in such a strong and antagonistic way? Has someone ever scoffed at your credentials? Perhaps they’ve examined your ability to do something?
Years ago there was a moment when I fell under a similar line of questioning. A parent at Camp Sequanota wanted to know my credentials—what right did I have to teach his child in Bible Study? Was I a good enough Christian to instruct his children in the faith?
This happened half a lifetime ago and I still bristle at the conversation —even more now than when it originally occurred, because I now fully understand the very thing he was questioning. Am I good enough, am I faithful enough to teach the Bible? Tell me why you should. Tell me about your faith, your life, your relationship with God and I’ll decide if you pass the litmus test.
Met by this hostile line of questioning I answered as best as I could, as defensively as I could. I spouted off my credentials:
I’m a faithful church attender.
I was in the church choir.
I was the Vice President of our church youth group.
I just attended the National Youth Gathering
I was here, working at church camp for the summer
I was pretty positive that I wanted to go to seminary to be a pastor
I was trained in this Bible Study curriculum which had been written by professionals
That’s it. That’s the list of credentials I listed as a 17 year old. I stood there, still in disbelief over the conversation I was having, split between “Is that good enough for you?” and “Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!”
What else can you say? What else can you do? In fact, what would you say if you had been in that situation…if someone was testing the credentials of your faith?
What do you think the Twelve Disciples said as Jesus sent them out on their mission in this Gospel lesson? Jesus sends them in a way that forced them to interact and depend on other people: they’re only allowed a walking stick. That’s it. No bread. No bag. No money. No change of clothes. As they travel two by two from town to town, don’t you think they fell under some scrutiny?
By whose authority do you teach and exorcise and proclaim repentance?
Why should we listen to you?
What’s so special about you? .
Why should we bring our sick to you?
Why should we repent at your invitation?
Who are you to teach us?
Perhaps the disciples tried to defend themselves using their own merits and credentials like I once did:
I pray and fast.
I work hard.
I healed a guy in the last town we visited.
I always go to synagogue.
I helped cast out two demons last week.
AND I play the rhythm guitar in the praise band.
Sure, these are all good things to have on a faith resume. But It doesn’t give you authorization.
Years ago I had a gleaming list of merit, but did that authorize me to teach children the Bible? This passage makes me think back to that moment. My faith and my merits don’t give me the authority to teach the bible, just like my faith and merits don’t give me the authority to pronounce the forgiveness of sins and baptize and celebrate Holy Communion and marry and bury as your pastor.
My authority does not come from my faith or my resume or my merits. It comes from Jesus Christ. And his authority comes from God. I am sent in God’s name. We are sent in God’s name.
Jesus gave his authority to all his disciples as he sent them out to proclaim the Gospel and to tend to the needs of the people they met. Their authority came from his command, not their actions. The only reason they could do this great ministry is because Jesus blessed them with his Spirit and authority.
That command and authority continues through time and is given to us today. Every week we are sent from worship. We are called, commissioned, equipped, and authorized by Jesus to be his disciples in the world. We too are called to share the Good News, proclaim God’s kingdom, and meet the needs of our neighbors. Often time we feel inadequate to do this work. We feel like we aren’t worthy, that we don’t have authority, that we aren’t good enough to do this holy work on behalf of God.
I’m here to remind you today that you are. All of that doubt is rubbish. Jesus calls you. Jesus equips you. Jesus has authorized you to be his disciple and spread his message of grace, mercy, and love in this world. It’s not what you’ve done, or what you know, but who you are.
And so today I want to end with a small exercise that is equal parts commissioning and reminding. So please, raise a hand and repeat after me.
As a child of God
I am authorized
To proclaim God’s Good News
To meet the needs of my neighbor
To be a model of the Godly life
In the name of Jesus Christ