Roadblocks to Renewal

Recorded August 31, 2008

Mark 6: 1-6

1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph,“ Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was only amazed at two things. When it speaks of Jesus being amazed there were only two things. One is he was amazed at the faith of the centurion. In the previous chapter, he heals the centurion’s daughter and he is amazed at this man’s faith. Then we come to his hometown — Nazareth — and he was amazed at their lack of faith so at one place he was amazed at a person’s faith and at home He was amazed at their un-faith. He was never amazed at the grandeur of the temple. He was never amazed at the power of the Roman army, but he was amazed at the fact that these simple people lacked faith.

Jesus goes back to Nazareth tired. I think that this is the same event that we find in the fourth chapter of Luke when he goes and he preaches and they didn’t like the message there, also. This is another angle on it. He goes back and somehow in the synagogue, he was there on the Sabbath, as he always was. They asked him to speak and they were impressed with what he was saying. They were not impressed with who was saying. “We know him. He fixed the steps at my house. He and his brother built the garage that we have for our new chariot. That’s the carpenter.”

“You know Mary? Little Mary, that’s her boy.” “You know Mary, she had such problems.” “He can’t have this kind of wisdom.” “He hasn’t been to the seminary.” “He has no graduate degrees.” The thing that really hit them was this man has such small credentials that we’re not even going to bring our sick people to him. W. Roberson Nichol, in his exposition of the scriptures, gets back here with a great text and he brings out the tone of this great text is that they had so little regard for Jesus that they did not even want his hands to be on their sick people. So he could only do a few easy healings and move on.

This text brings up what I call the Nazareth Principles. The three principles that come out of this Nazareth text I want us to see and don’t worry, I’m not going to preach a long time on this but I want you to see these three things. They jump right out at you as you explore the text and it’s something we need to hear at this time. First of all, we need to understand that a person’s faith is always a limit of God’s blessing. God will not bless us beyond our faith capacity. A person’s faith limits what God will bless him with.

Now that sounds like a television evangelist, I know. But there’s just enough truth in what they say to get our attention and the Bible makes it very clear. God blesses you according to the amount of faith you have. He doesn’t demand that you go beyond. He simply says it’s there. We need to understand that there is a great reservoir of power and faith available to the people of God that they have never tapped because somehow their faith is too low.

Annie Dillard, the writer, has an interesting statement. She’s a Christian writer and she says, “We wear bonnets to church.” She said, “If we really knew what we were doing we’re like children playing with dynamite. We’d wear crash helmets to church because if the power of God ever got loose inside of a church we would need crash helmets.” The people had factored God down. We live in a world of un-appropriated faith. This is the central tragedy of any church, that God in Jesus Christ, is willing to do much more in and through us than we are willing to do or to let him do.

Our unbelief, or could I say it another way, our rationality and our practicality disables the power of God. When I got a hold of that or may I say it another way when it got a hold of me it was more than I could handle. I had to walk away from my desk. You see, Jesus never lived it down to their expectations. They didn’t live up to his. They didn’t open up to what he was bringing them, giving them, but he didn’t go down to their expectations. He made it very clear he could do mighty works in a lot of places, but in my own city you won’t believe me. Do I need to hammer that home?

The power of God, the immediate power of God in our lives, is much more available than the average Christian knows, or is willing to dare tap. The other Nazareth truth. We can get to close to spiritual things. Oh, I know some of you are writing that one down. Next time a holiday weekend comes you’re going to say, “Well, Honey, we don’t want to get too close to spiritual things. Get out of town.” That’s not what I’m saying and if any of you ever use that I’m on to you. Blame it on another preacher, not on me.

But if you’ve been around spiritual things all your life, been around church, you know how churches run, you have instincts for church. There developers within you or within us let me say a sort of a callous to spiritual things. You’re like the microbes or the diseases, the viruses that the body gets and the doctor told me one time, “Don’t take any more of that antibiotic. If you do, whatever you have that’s making you cough will be resistant to it.”

When I was a boy growing up in Florida we would go out and spray for mosquitoes because we just had insects everywhere in South Florida and finally we found out that the insects had spawned another generation of insect that was resistant to the DDT, or whatever it was we were using on them. Church people get the same way. What C.S. Lewis calls the “squeaky shoes stage.” You get converted for glorious experience and a few months afterward you don’t hear the gospel or hear the great music so much as you hear the squeaky shoes that the ushers have, or see the dandruff on their shoulders. (This group is not included in that illustration.)

Those of us who work on church staff can develop a callus of the heart to spiritual things. Those of you who have been deacons over and over again who have served church committees, who have taught Sunday School classes ad nauseam, have had to usher year after year, you know exactly what we do. After a while, there develops within your life a spiritual callus. I’m saying that this time in our lives, this time in our church, we want to just pray away those spiritual calluses. We want to pray away those bunions that come over those sensitive areas. We want to get the sensitive part of our hearts out again. We want to have the joy of our salvation restored to us.

To use David’s statement in Psalm 1, we want our hearts to rejoice with gladness. That’s what we all long for. We don’t need a new religion. We need to get the calluses off of our hearts. That is a very true Nazareth experience. “We know Jesus.” “We know his family.” “He can’t do that.” “Oh, I know what the church is. They’re going to sing a while, he’s going to preach, they’re going to take an offering, they’re going to give an invitation, we can get out of here a little early and beat the Methodists to the cafeteria and check that one off.”

I went to a church one time for a revival meeting. They had a very young pastor. I was talking to one of the old veteran Sunday School leaders in that church before I began the week and she told me about their young pastor. She said, “He’s new. He doesn’t know very much,” but she said, “We’re going to pray him into the best preacher this state has ever had.” I like that. She didn’t say, “We’ll give him a try and throw him away,” she said, “We’re going to pray him in to what he ought to be.”

I got to applying that to church members instead of wishing God would transfer them out to another job in another city. You didn’t know that we pray like that sometimes. I started praying that God would do work in the heart, and you know what happened? I’ve seen God do a lot of things. Sometimes it was my heart that needed to change.

The third Nazareth principle is that many of us have acrophobia of the spirit. Acrophobia is the fear of heights. We don’t want to get too high in God’s sight. We don’t want to get too much of the spirit in us. It’s in rarified air and I don’t want to be funny. I kind of have my life where I want it. I’ve got my arms around it. It’s comfortable. I’ve got enough religion in there to make me a little bit unhappy when I go to the wrong places, but not enough to make me happy when I’m in church.

I had a friend one time that went through a building that I was building in Florida, or I was pastor of the church that was building. We were standing in what would be our organ area up here. No pipes were in yet. I went up to the edge. I wanted them to look at it and see the room and I went up to the edge and I looked back and he was way in the comer. His name was Dan. I said, “Dan, what’s the problem?” He said, “I have a fear of heights. I can’t stand out there.” And I thought he was putting me on, but he turned as white as a sheet. And I see church members the same way. You’re really afraid that God’s going to get loose in your life and do something with you.

I want us to realize that God needs us. He chooses to work through us. He has the power, but he wants to work through us. Anyone can do what’s expected, what is possible. Doing the possible is easy. The prizes are for those who do the impossible. If anything can be done through experience and skill anybody can do it. But if you want to do things that are impossible, if you want to do things that can’t be done, only faith can do it.

I’m calling us to move on up. Move into the area where anything that we’re trying to do is so audacious that only the power of God and the direct intervention of God can make it happen. We like to factor God down a little bit. Turn it down and make sure that we can manage it and make it work. That’s not the way it works. We need to factor ourselves up, open ourselves up to the movement and flow of God’s spirit within our lives. The presence of the Holy Spirit, the living person of Jesus Christ in the world, God in our flesh, then take the world on by the power of God.

When I was very, very young I was the janitor in an Episcopal church. That was a close call for me. No, I just helped the janitor. I emptied the waste cans, etc., on Saturday, two blocks from the house. It was a little extra money. My job was always to sort of straighten up the Fellowship Hall. I must have been 12, 13, somewhere along there. And across the end of that Fellowship Hall was hanging a banner. It was a quote from a Baptist and I don’t really believe they knew it was a Baptist quote. I didn’t know it either until I had gotten in seminary and discovered it.

But it was a quote from William Cary, who opened the missionary movement in 1740, I believe, and he said simply, “If you’re going to expect great things from God, you must attempt great things for God. We need to understand that according to your faith it will be.”

Now we invite all to come to the Lord’s Table. We invite all to come, but I want this time of passing to be a time of deep meditation on the parts of our people. I want you to open yourself and ask God to give you more faith, to cut the calluses away from all of us, and to take away our fear of height and then pledge yourself to openness. If we’re going to expect God to do something, we must attempt something. Let us pray.

Eternal God our Father, we so want, we so want, to be more than we are. We so hunger for movement of your spirit in our lives, so we pray today that you would take the barriers out of our lives, remove from us the spirit of Nazareth, open us up to those that are hurting, give strength to those who need strength. To those who do not have the courage to step out, move their feet and heart. God, we could not pray any stronger. Let this bread and beverage become more than symbol. Let it stir something so deep within us that we cannot put words around it as we remember that Christ died for us, it is by his blood that we are made clean for it is in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, that we pray. Amen.

(Taken from an audio recording with minor editorial revisions.)