"And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them."
A much annoyed parishioner once told me, "I'm tired of hearing that saying, 'God is good all the time and all the time God is good.'" And this was at the height of that slogan's popularity, and it dawned on me that it did not matter who was tired of hearing it-God never tires of doing it-God is good all the time. Good comes in many shapes and sizes. Even when it does not feel good, good is good. Perhaps it is why the apostle Paul said in Galatians that we must not get weary in doing good; some translations say good doing. Why? Because not everybody appreciates good doing-especially when it interrupts what's good to them. Especially when good reveals their bad or as they say where I come from, "when the good names their demon," or "when the good calls their baby ugly."
Have you ever wondered why your good doing ministry seems unnoticed? Have you ever wondered why your doing good is unrewarded or seems totally ignored? Have you ever been just the least bit frustrated when what seems to be casual Christianity in the grips of bold unbelief seems to be meandering around doing nothing? Dr. Jeremiah Wright in a series of sermons, entitled "Things I Don't Understand," asks three powerful questions that he didn't understand:
- Why it is that people seem not to want to grow
- Why people don't want their church to grow, and
- Why it seems that people never bring anybody to Christ.
Have we become ashamed of the good of God's only begotten Son? Have we been afraid to mention him in the company of others who don't want to hear that stuff? This speaks to the reluctance of placing oneself in the path of rejection. Nobody wants to be rejected. Have you noticed lately that our culture seems to runneth over with movies and studies and books that seek to minimize the miracles and trivialize Christ and reel-in religion?
The 6th chapter of Mark's gospel allows us to see the many ways the good news of Jesus is received. Jesus' teaching astounds those in the synagogue. But suddenly they take offense when they remember his family tree-what could he know? What deeds of power could his hands do-he's from the same neck of the woods that we are? It seems that familiarity still can manage to breed contempt-even when it renders good news. Have we become so familiar with the Gospel that it has lost its power to change even us?
The Revised Common Lectionary reading centers on John the Baptist literally losing his head because Herod had to honor a request of a daughter who wanted John's head on a silver platter. Even Herod was moved by this teaching. Because he wanted to save face in the company of his henchmen, he had to cut off John's head. You see, John exposed Herod's bad also. John told him, "You ought not to married to your brother's wife." But even Herod was almost moved by this good.
But this passage today shows both the power and the peril of prophetic ministry. You see, prophets don't always make headlines. There are no ticker tape parades for prophets, no academy awards for prophets, or lavish receptions for prophets. Yet prophets have an undeniable authenticity that speaks truth to power and gives hope to the powerless. We are both drawn to and driven from the good news of prophetic ministry. We sometimes do the things that Herod did. We will cut off the prophet's head rather than risk saying that the prophet has changed our hearts. I believe that's why Nicodemus, a leader of the Pharisees, came to Jesus by night; and I believe that's why the demon possessed man stood up in the church asking Jesus, "What do you want with me?" I believe that's why Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree. I believe that's why Bartimaeus sat on the curb until Jesus came by. There is something about a prophetic voice that calls us to our better selves, that disturbs what the world calls normal or good. You see, ministry that shifts into a prophetic gear moves and creates movement.
Wherever Jesus went there was movement. There was healing. There were, as the text says, deeds of power. Yet there were some places where movement and deeds of power could not happen-yet it never stopped Jesus from going there. Verse 5 of Mark 6 underscores this point that Jesus could do no deeds of power there-there where those who refused to believe he could do what he could do. There is a place of resistance. Not that Jesus did not have the power because he still managed to heal a few sick people. But those who had no clue were left powerless, but he never stopped teaching. He never stopped touching. He never stopped caring. He never stopped moving. Jesus never missed an opportunity to remind his followers that there is a cost to do ministry. And that cost will be yourself.
You don't need gimmicks. All you need is God. You will be rejected, but you will be received by some. Keep moving. Keep reaching. Keep touching. Keep caring. There is a cost to discipleship-a cost that can and might lead to the loss of your own life while giving life. A cost of rejection, a cost of not being able to minister to all who hear the gospel. A cost of being misunderstood, a cost of being maligned by those who cannot handle the truth. For them, there was nothing new under the sun, especially Jesus. Why? Because he was from their neighborhood. There for them was familiarity. A carpenter couldn't lead them. There can be those places we would rather not allow Jesus to change even us. Where is there for you? I can count the times on both my hands and yours when I've been told, "There is nothing a preacher can tell me to do!" There is a place where deeds of power cannot be done in those who refuse to hear. Jesus is not content to keep this information from those who would be called apostles. Are we willing to tell the truth even if nobody listens? Or are we willing to stand so that the world will know that a prophet has been among us?
I believe that those of us who need to know everything, do everything, be everywhere, and win everybody, might want to pause and consider what Jesus is saying here. When rejected, go and tell it anyhow! When they won't hear, speak it anyhow. You see, there will always be an ear listening when others won't hear. Tell it when friends won't listen.
- Tell it when John loses his head.
- Tell it knowing that you might not get there with them, but that somebody will be blessed by it.
- Tell it because it has the power to change lives.
- Tell it because it has the power to change outlooks and outcomes.
- Tell it because it has the power to encourage.
- Tell it because it has the power to empower.
- Power to make the weak say I'm strong.
- Power to make the poor say I'm rich.
- Power to make the blind say I can see.
- Power to make the lost say I am found.
- Power to make the left out say I'm included, I belong, I matter, I am saved because a carpenter went to work just for me.
- Power because he saved me.
- Power to do things beyond things what I would normally be able to do on my own.
- Power because a carpenter took three nails for me.
- Power because those three nails didn't nail him down.
- Power because he got up again
And because he got up again, I can get up again.
Eternal God, keep us ever mindful that the good you call us to do is still reachable through your son Jesus. We thank you for never giving up on us, and we praise you for your mighty works through Jesus Christ who first loved us.