Several weeks ago the youth group traveled to Carter County, TN to serve with Appalachia Service Project. Mission trips such as these are miracles. They are miracles not only because youth wake up at 7:00 am for a whole week during summer vacation either to dig a drainage ditch or repair bathrooms or hang drywall from 8-4 with only a stranger’s gratitude and the assurance of the perfecting power of the Holy Spirit as payment. It is a miracle because of the power youth inherit while away on a trip that they somehow do not receive while at home. Tommy Kerr’s team repaired two bathrooms simultaneously throughout the week, and I bet if you ask the youth to repair just one bathroom in their own home they will be, as our text suggests this morning, rendered powerless in their own hometown.
There is something miraculous about going away to serve, experiencing a different culture, unplugging the smart phone and television, every evening meditating on how to love Christ by serving our neighbor. The Gospel of Mark offers us a contrast between the Synagogue, what happens within the walls of a believing community, and the Village, what happens outside in the community, and the effectiveness of the power of God.
“Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!” It sounds like the community is quite impressed with what Jesus is saying, but that’s not the whole story. The community was astounded, which is another way of saying that they were shocked. Their words about Jesus sound like praise, but the subtext is damning both to Jesus and of their own community. “Where did this man get all of this? Where did he gain this wisdom and power?” The other half of the question is left unspoken. Where did he get all of this . . . because he certainly didn’t get it here? Instead of celebrating and rejoicing that one of their own is preaching with authority and power, they take offense, which literally means that they stumble in their faith.
It’s not that they stumble because of what Jesus said, necessarily. We don’t have a copy of the sermon. They stumble because power, authority, and miraculous works are not something that comes from this community of faith. It’s as if they answer Jesus’ power with Nathaniel’s words from the Gospel of John, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I wonder how many years of self-loathing Jesus challenges with his good news? Isn’t this the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses? Isn’t he a construction worker? He should know his place as we have known ours. And Jesus is amazed at their unbelief. I think the story would be different if Jesus was amazed at their “lack of belief,” which would suggest that they didn’t have faith. Jesus was amazed at their unbelief, their active belief in something they are not. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” wasn’t a question. It was their perceived identity. So Jesus could do no deed of power there. Jesus met their level of expectation. He did heal a few sick people because even disbelief will never fully consume the power of the God. After meeting their low expectation, Jesus moves on. They stumbled over Jesus’ divinity, they stumbled over Jesus’ humanity, and they stumbled over their own calling and purpose. God’s power was there under their own noses and they just could not believe that something new and vibrant and life-changing could come from their community of faith.
Here Mark switches gears. He tells the same story but in a different way. Mark does this from time to time. Just before our story today Jesus is asked to heal Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter. He travels to Jairus’ home, takes the little girl by the hand and says, “Talitha cum . . . little girl, get up,” and her life is restored. While traveling Jesus is interrupted, as is Mark’s story. There is a woman in the crowd who has been suffering for twelve years. As Jesus took the little girl by the hand, she reaches out to Jesus. Just as the little girl’s life was restored, this woman’s life was given back. All the while Jesus is breaking the rules. You see, you are not to touch the unclean because it makes one unclean, and everyone knows that if you have a blemish or an undesirable condition, you are not welcome in the synagogue. When Jesus said, “Who touched me?” the disciples answered, “Don’t you see the crowd that is around you? How can you ask that?” It’s not that the disciples thought there were too many people around, so how could Jesus possibly ask who touched him. Everyone is touching him. They were saying, “If someone unclean touched you and you admit that, then this whole crowd will disperse out of fear that they themselves will be unclean.” Jesus looks at them and says, “Shut up. Who touched me?” The woman reveals herself, and you might imagine that the crowd stopped. Jesus says to her, “Your faith has made you well.” Remember that the crowd is there to hear this. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Your faith as opposed to their fear, has given you an opportunity to see the glory of God. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
The text goes on to say that leaders from Jairus’ house came while Jesus was speaking and they said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” In other words, they see Jesus touching this woman and they say, “You know, don’t worry about it. Let’s not have Jesus come to the house.” Jesus interrupts and says, “Stop being afraid! Only believe.” So Jesus goes and they tell him that the girl is dead and he says, “She is only asleep,” and they laughed at him, so he put them all outside. He takes her by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up.” She is healed and the crowd is amazed. A twelve-year-old girl is made well. A woman who was suffering for twelve years is healed. One crowd is fearful another laughs. In both stories Jesus’s power overcomes a touch of uncleanliness. It is the same story told in two different ways.
The same is true of our story. It is the same story told is two different ways. In one story Jesus goes to the synagogue. In the next story he goes out to the villages. At the synagogue the disciples follow. In the villages the disciples are sent. At the synagogue the community stumbles. In the villages Jesus gives a command. At the synagogue Jesus could do no deed of power. In the villages the disciples are given power over unclean spirits. At the synagogue many held onto their disbelief and few were healed. In the villages the few who were sent healed the many.
There is power in the sending forth. The benediction should be our favorite part of the worship service, not because the sermon is finally over, but it is the moment when the Holy Spirit, which has been active in empowering us to praise and pray and give and adore, is poured out upon us sending us out into the world to point to the kingdom of God. The message the disciples proclaim is “all should repent.” Repent means to turn around. It’s not repentance means you’re doing something bad and then you pick up something good. Repent means to turn around and follow the direction of the Holy Spirit. The message is “repent and sin no more.” Sin is an archer’s term meaning “missing the mark.” Sin means that you are firing arrows in the wrong direction. Repent, turn around, and shoot for the target, but here’s the thing. The target is moving with the Spirit. It is not stagnant and fixed. It is always of God, but God is on the move. Even the saintly must repent and turn because God is vibrant and alive and always calling us into service and ministry. In other words you should repent from this service meaning that when the Spirit is offered at the benediction you should turn your focus from the altar to the door. The Spirit is moving and Jesus wants us to follow. Follow Christ into the neighborhoods. Follow Christ who is waiting at your office. Follow Christ to the food bank and the rescue mission. Follow Christ to the hills of Appalachia and the edge of Siberia, and come Sunday, we will return to celebrate and give thanks for all that God is doing. If you are feeling powerless, then go where the Spirit is leading. Amen and amen.