Independence Day is when we remember the beginning of a freedom bound journey. Its a journey that re-begins, wedged wider and deeper each time an obstacle arises: suffragettes, civil rights, immigrant groups making their place.
I find myself humming under my breathe with vacation bible school words from the 1960s.
So high You can't get over it.
So low You can't get under it.
So wide You can't get around it.
You must come in at the door.
(Peter Yarrow blended words from this folk song with “Bosom of Abraham lyrics by Louis Armstrong )
When an obstacle blocks our spiritual way, there’s no going over, under, or around it. The only way to move on is through the opportunity God creates.
An even older version of the folk song gives a hint of how God intends for us to get through that door.
Some people go by water.
Some people go by land.
But IF you want to go to Heaven
Well, you must go hand in hand.
Someone else put a bit of wag on this version:
Now the Baptists go by water (Ships ahoy!)
The Methodists go by land (Can't sail!)
I'll get there by the grace of God
And we'll all go hand in hand.
In Mark 6: 1-13 Jesus hits a genuine obstacle in his journey.
You may remember earlier difficulties, like the wilderness trip that followed his baptism. Those were days when Jesus went from claimed and named, “BELOVED!”, to the holy hell of 40 desert days being tempted by Satan and sustained by angels.
But Jesus was blessed with others who prepared the way for him.
His cousin John, the Baptist,” had shouted out, “there’s one more powerful than me coming,” (a very good way to keep one’s perspective).
Now, with Jesus stopped dead in his tracks by the unbelief in his hometown, 12 core followers prepare the way into hearts ready to listen.
STOP AND THINK:
Who might I make the way straight for?
Are there any stones in the road I need to take responsibility for?
What do I have trouble believing Jesus might do?
If you look at Jesus’ journey thus far, it’s been a bit up and down.
You can read for yourself by beginning with Mark 1:1.
Baptism-a definite up. Mark 1: 9-11
Temptation- the first obstacle, but infused with grace. Mark 1: 12-13
Jesus’ first sermon, Now is the time, turn and live the good news (up). Mark 1: 14-15.
Gathering followers (up, up, up, up, with no complaint from their Dad). Mark 1: 16-20
Up to Capernaum. There was that shaky moment when a demon spoke up, but it didn’t slow Jesus’ momentum. Amazing! Mark 1: 21-28
Up to Simon’s place. It could have been a downer with the hostess laid up. But no, Jesus lifts her up and lets her gifts flourish. Mark 1: 29-31
Up, up, up Jesus journeys past diseases and demons. Mark 1: 32-34
Up to a quiet place to pray. Mark 1: 35
(up) Gently touching the humble leper. Mark 1: 40
(up) to Capernaum again, to a mob of people wanting to hear, wanting to see, wanting to touch (Mark 2: 1-2) until…
when a wounded man lowered by friends through the roof, the authorities bring down the law. "How dare you," they exclaim. "Who do you think you are?" Mark 2: 3-12
Which is actually a very good question.
“I am the one who says you are forgiven,” Jesus answers the man, not the authorities, “stand up and walk.”
Up go the hands of the crowd in wonder and praise.
Up come more followers dedicating themselves to Jesus’ journey. Mark 2: 13-14
Up and up the journey goes toward God’s glory.
Up through more questions. Mark 2: 15-28
Up through anger and grief, still healing. Mark 3: 1-6
Up through ever-bigger crowds. Mark 3: 7-10
Up through more demons. Mark 3: 11-12
Up the mountain to teach his chosen leaders in Mark 3: 13-19.
Up to Capernaum, the place he’d come to call home. Mark 3: 19b-35.
And then family came from out of town thinking, “he’s gone out of his mind.” And then scribes, his colleagues, declared, “what he is doing is unholy.”
It must have been a down day, emotionally and in the ministry momentum.
But it didn’t stop his upbeat personality.
(up) He kept teaching. Parables poured out: seeds and soil, lamps and bushel baskets. Mark 4: 1-32
(up) He kept building the core leadership. Mark 4: 33-34
(up) He experienced God’s power over nature itself. Mark 4: 35-41
(up) He released the demons of Gerasene. Mark 5: 1-20
(up) He healed, proclaimed the realm of God, and even raised the dead. (5:21-42)
And then time came to visit home and his Sunday school. (Mark 6: 1-13)
On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue…and he could do no deed of power…and he was amazed at their unbelief.
I wonder whether the song Jesus is humming under his breathe is Psalm 123,
As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
until he has mercy upon us.
Have mercy upon us, O LORD,
have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
STOP AND THINK
Who is the most recent person your church sent out to become a preacher, a teacher, a music leader, a pastor to serve the Church of Jesus Christ?
How do you encourage young people to explore God’s call?
How do you encourage others to develop their gifts even if it doesn’t fit your own expectations?
Jesus’ own weakness was an obstacle that revealed his strength,
When he could do next to nothing, his followers trusted him enough to risk step out unequipped by anything except what Jesus had taught them.
Trust is the platform from which we willingly launch into risk.
Trust is what happens when an obstacle becomes an opportunity for God’s grace to work itself into our bones, into our hearts, into our DNA, into the story we tell.
If, as a Christ follower, I’m not able to take a risk for Christ, its really important that I step back and consider how much I trust God, or don’t.
The disciples took the risk and succeeded spectacularly in teaching and healing.
The immediate result of their success was John’s head on a platter. (Mark 6: 14-29). What?
There are plenty of reasons not to trust God.
We reach a moment of success that is worth hanging onto, reveling in, telling others about, and then something goes wrong: defensive reactions, headline news, family situations, you name it, you’ve lived it.
But the reality of God’s ever-present reality overcomes each and every one of those reasons. God takes the obstacle and makes it an opportunity.
In Mark 6 we see how familiarity can breed contempt. Jesus is laid low by his home church’s assumptions, by what they think they know about him. “We know who you’re SUPPOSED to be” closes off their ability to see him for who he is, for who God is making him.
How can they know God’s love if they close their hearts to the Beloved?
We take the first step toward someone hearing who we really are when we ask to know them better. In other words, if I want you to know me, I’ve got to be willing to know you, the real you.
Is this a thorn in Jesus’ side, that people he loves and honors simply can’t or won’t see what God is doing in his life now?
His later follower, Paul would write but [the LORD] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
So what’s a messiah to do?
Jesus sends his followers out to do the work, out to the villagers who don’t have him all figured out already. He sends them out in an act of radical mutual trust. They trust that God will provide what they need while they travel carrying nothing but the good news. He trusts that they’ll tell the story as good news.
How else would they tell it?
1) Have you heard about Jesus? Did you hear how they treated Jesus in Nazareth? Those people!
2) Let me tell you what I saw! He chose me to tell you, you know, so you’d better listen to me.
#1 is bad news thinly veiled as good.
#2 is all about the teller, not the tale (Paul’s temptation). It claims a piece of the action instead of showing people how to listen to the director.
These ways of telling make the witnesses into obstacles to the good news instead of opportunities.
God’s people already have the instructions for how to bear witness.
Let the towns of Judah rejoice because of your judgments.
Walk about Zion, go all around it, count its towers,
consider well its ramparts;
go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
that this is God, our God forever and ever.
He will be our guide forever. –Psalm 48
Here is the door.
Here is the way.
Reaching beyond ourselves in open acknowledgement that God is able and willing to do more than we ourselves can imagine.
Reaching within ourselves to find the trust God places in us.
Moving through apparent obstacles hand in hand with the partners God gives us.