Read Mark 6:1-13 and Ezekiel 2:1-5
There must be at least two sermons in the gospel reading for the day, so why add another one from Ezekiel, you might wonder? Well, simply because it leads me neatly into what I want to share with you this morning from Mark’s Gospel.
Ezekiel, a priest called to bring God’s message to the people. And he’s told that ‘whether they listen or fail to listen – for they are a rebellious people – they will know that a prophet has been among them’.
They will know that a prophet has been among them!
Cut to Mark’s story of Jesus and his disciples heading across to where he grew up with his family, the little township of Nazareth. It wasn’t a nostalgic visit to see Mum and the family. It wasn’t to say ‘hi’ to the locals who he did work for as Joseph’s apprentice, and later whilst supporting Mary and the family after his father’s probable death. A carpenter in those days was a bit of a jack of all trades, the local Mr fix-it, but this day Jesus came as a Rabbi surrounded by his disciples to the synagogue, as teacher, not carpenter.
And that was a problem for the locals.
You would have thought that ‘local boy done good’ would be going through their minds. There would be pride in knowing that this working-class lad had returned as a teacher already of some renown, who also performed miracles.
They listened to what he had to say in the synagogue, and some were certainly amazed by his teaching, but then they couldn’t connect the depth of knowledge and wisdom they were hearing, and the miracles they’d heard about, with this local lad who they thought they knew so well. ‘Where did he get all this wisdom, and the ability to heal?’ is the question that bugs them so much.
It wasn’t the message, it was the messenger who was the problem.
Because the Jesus they knew was the chap you’d call if the roof needed repairs or you needed a broken cart sorting out. He was just a local working-class lad, who they’d seen grow up and mature into the man who stood there in front of them, but who to them was still just a working-class chap, Mary’s little lad as was, and no way could he be a Rabbi, teacher, prophet or more… surely?!
Ezekiel was a priest before his calling to be a prophet, probably descendant of the priestly family of Zadok (of classical music fame). It was in his blood. People might not like the message he brought them from God, they might even reject it, but at least they’d know a prophet was delivering it.
The good folk of Nazareth, including members of his own family it seems, were totally confused when Jesus came back and taught. The message was good, even admired, but the messenger was rejected for who he wasn’t.
And that disbelief in Jesus as teacher meant that there was little he could do there, apart from lay hands on a few people more open to believing and heal them.
You have to feel for Jesus at that moment. He was, we are told, amazed at their lack of faith.
It could have sown doubts into Jesus’ mind, made him wonder not only whether he fully understood what his task was, but also the magnitude of what lay ahead. But Mark follows this by telling us that Jesus simply carried on, from village to village doing what he knew was not only his calling but his destiny, there wasn’t time to spend trying to convince the sceptics in his home town.
And as he did this, he began training his own apprentices to go out and spread the word about was God was doing among them, the need for repentance, who Jesus was and what this meant for the world. To go out, be bold in their message and pray for those who needed healing.
And I like what he did, because I think it ties in with what Jesus has already experienced, and how he wants people to hear God’s Word and not focus on the messenger. He could have dressed them up in all manner of fineries, made them look really impressive when they entered the town. Bit like some of those flash American TV preachers maybe who promise riches and blessing for a small donation to help pay for their next private jet. That would catch folks attention!
But no, they are to go out with nothing, relying on people’s hospitality as they go. They are to speak to the people in the towns they pass through and pray for those who ask for healing. If there’s no welcome there, he tells them to shake the dust off their feet (to me that means don’t be angry or upset, or hold a grudge, these things happen, just move on, spread the word and watch God work through you and the seeds you have sown).
And God did work through them. People listened to what the disciples had to say and responded to the message, less concerned about what the disciples looked like than the words that they shared.
So many people think that God would never call them to do anything, because of who they are, their background or education, their age or whatever – we’re very good at making excuses for why God couldn’t possibly want us to do his work.
But let’s remember that Jesus was a humble Mr fix-it up to the age of 30, even if he knew with certainty what his true role and destiny was. He looked after the family and continued his trade until the time was right. His disciples were a real rag-bag assortment when it came to skill-set for those who would become leaders of the early church.
I would remind you that Billy Graham was a farmer’s lad, and that didn’t stop God calling him.
When you hear someone standing here go on about ‘our calling’, do not just look around and think who God might be talking to, go home and look in the mirror and ask yourself whether that someone might be you.
Ask God how you can best serve him. And by that I don’t just mean standing up here and leading services, but maybe becoming more involved in the church fellowship and the things that go on here, and just as importantly in the world outside, living out your faith in your neighbourhood and community, by what you do and in the way your life speaks of your faith … Stand in front of that mirror, ask the question prayerfully, ‘How can I best serve you, Lord God’, and be open for that prayer to be answered!