Radical (Dis)Comfort: A sermon on Mark 6:1–13

While I did not set out to do this, it seems that the book of Mark is the main story guiding us through this summer season. And indeed, I think that is fitting, as Mark wrote to the common folk, if you will, showing Jesus as a champion of the poor and outcast, and telling his story in a way anyone can understand. While I love diving in and picking apart bible texts as much as the next pastor, I am reminded sometimes when reading Mark to just sit back and hear the story that is in front of me.

And our story today is one that gives us a picture of the challenges one can face when carrying the good news to the world. Jesus and his disciples arrive in Jesus’ hometown, and Jesus, as he has done many times before, goes and teaches in the synagogue on the Sabbath. But unlike other times, the people respond not with amazement, but with confusion and concern, wondering why this local man they all know is proclaiming these new ideas.

And reading this story now, it is easy to be a bit critical of the people there. But I think we miss that these people were around Jesus for thirty years. He grew up there. And for most of his life, was just a regular guy. Someone you would see at the store and coffee shop. A familiar neighbor you would wave to on your way to work.

And in the midst of this context, Jesus’ attempts at deeds of power are hindered by his hometown’s lack of faith. Mark’s emphasis on faith here brings up an important question, not just in the life of Jesus but for us today: What role does faith have in living out the good news of Jesus?

Because elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus can be seen healing people and performing powerful acts with little to no mention of faith. Remember the story of the man born blind that Jesus healed? When the disciples brought up the man and his parents’ faith and action, Jesus dismissed the question, pointing out that this was about what God can do. Faith didn’t seem to come up.

So what is Jesus saying here?

I think we see a glimpse of God’s hope for how the good news is carried out into the world. I don’t think Jesus is measuring their faith, willing to heal people once it hits a certain level. Because this is not how faith works. Faith is not a quantity but a posture, a willingness to see what God is doing and say, “I may not be totally sure, but I am willing to take a step in that direction.”

Jesus is giving us an example of the reality that we are called to be co-creators of the kingdom of God. Jesus repeatedly throughout the gospels says that it is not these acts of power that will bring about the kingdom of God. People will not be convinced because of a few examples of God’s power.

No, People will be convinced of what God is up to in the world because of the faithful community of people willing to embody and live out the good news of God. People willing to co-create with God a new world.

And this is nothing new in the story of God. All the way back in Genesis, God involves creation in the continuing creation of the world. God doesn’t just make plants appear but calls the earth to bring forth plant life. And as the story moves forward, we see time and time again that the people of God are called to partner with God in the creation of a more loving and just world.

And in his hometown, Jesus encountered people who — because of their familiarity with him — could not see what God was up to. They were so comfortable and familiar with the way the world works, that when God called Jesus out of his role in his family and community, it threw them off so much that they missed God ushering in a new kingdom of love and justice.

When we read the story that follows with this lens, we see this idea in action. Jesus sends out the disciples with minimal luggage if you will. And instructs them to anticipate the hospitality of those they encounter to help them in their work. To plan on inviting those they meet to join in the work of God.

Remember that the disciples were not out converting people to Christianity. They were Jewish people inviting other Jewish people to see God in a new way. Because indeed, as Jesus says in his hometown, familiarity can cloud our ability to see what God is up to.

And we are not immune from this today. The status quo way of doing church and following Jesus can hinder us from seeing what God is up to in our world and even in our churches. We can get so comfortable in our ways of doing worship and outreach and life together that we fail to see that God is waiting to transform what we know and is calling us to join in this work to transform our world.

As we move into this uncertain season of coming back together and entering a new post-COVID church world, we can’t afford to just be business as usual. We need to find that spark of faith that connects us to what God is doing in the world.

I am not going to lie, I had big plans for worship this summer. I had ideas for changing up and imagining our time on Sunday morning together that would have been a lot of work (ok, too much work most likely), but may have helped us learn to imagine what worship might be.

But every time I started to plan, I felt the small nudge of the Spirit pulling me back. And this week I think I know why. Because like the healings of Jesus, new and fancy and innovative ways of worshiping together can be beautiful. They can show the kingdom of God in new ways. But they are not the foundation of the good news.

This story today left me with this simple paragraph:

God is working to see a world transformed by love and justice. God has called us to join in that work, and indeed, that work is most powerful when done together. But too often, the systems and religious structures we build to help us do this work can also hinder the work, making it harder to see what God is up to. So, our work in this coming season is to join in this work by re-imaging a way of doing church that helps, and not hinders, God’s kingdom, and by learning to see where the Spirit is moving and inviting others to join us as we step out in faith to see how we can co-create a world of love and justice.

Anything we do to re-imagine church, to re-think worship, to change and innovate what we do, should be built upon this simple reality of the gospel.

The comfortable and familiar are not bad. They can help us through hard times and give us peace in the midst of chaos. But, if we are to be people who join in the transforming and radial work of the good news of Jesus, we must be willing to see where the comfortable and familiar are holding us back, and have eyes to see and ears to hear where God is calling us.

Are you ready to join?



Pastor — Queen Anne Christian Church

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