God’s failure is our model for our own ministry: in our wounded, vulnerable love God will bring healing to the world. Just not necessarily in ways the world will praise as a success.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 14 B
Texts: Mark 6:1-13; Ezekiel 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It was a failure. There’s no point denying it.
When Jesus came home early in his ministry, he failed for the first time. He had healed, preached God’s Good News, driven out demons, calmed storms, and people flocked to him. Some of the religious leaders opposed him early on, and his family, too, but he drew adoring crowds wherever he went.
Then he came to his hometown. He preached there, and impressed them, until they started to think about who he was. This was just the local kid, they knew his family. They said, “Where’d he get all this? This wisdom, this power? We knew him when he was nothing.” And they were offended at him.
But the true shock is that, for the first time in this Gospel, Jesus was limited in his divine power. Mark says he couldn’t do deeds of power in Nazareth due to this reception.
And that’s the moment Jesus decided to send disciples to do the same things he was doing.
Think about that. Jesus fails, and then says to the twelve, “Go and do likewise.”
How confident could they be? For the first time they saw Jesus show weakness, an inability to do “deeds of power,” and that’s when he said, “I think you’re ready.”
This might have been intentional. After all, Jesus was heading for the most epic failure for any movement leader: he’d be publicly humiliated and executed, hang naked and bleeding for all to see. Jesus’ ministry, by the world’s standards, ended in failure.
Maybe he sent the twelve now, after this mess in Nazareth, so they didn’t think they were supposed to be big successes. He sent them with his authority to heal, but with no guarantees they’d receive a better welcome than he got. He told them to expect rejection, and to simply move on when they got it.
We need to hear this and take it into our hearts.
Too often the Church falls for the world’s message about success. We judge our work by the standards of wealth and power. But we follow a failed Messiah who had all God’s power and allowed himself to be crucified. One who could heal even at a distance but was limited when people rejected him.
How will we know at Mount Olive if we’re doing our job, if we’re following faithfully? Not by any metrics the world uses. Can we tell how we’re doing if we have more people at worship, or fewer people, larger or smaller membership lists? Those numbers tell us nothing about our faithfulness, either way. Jesus says faithful witness in the world will very likely be rejected by a good number of people.
Will we know we’re doing well if our budget grows each year, and our giving, or if our endowment increases? Will we be unfaithful if they all fall? Not according to Jesus. Worldly standards are irrelevant to the mission we’re placed here to do.
And if we focus on such standards, we risk doing all sorts of evil protecting ourselves or our institutions rather than being faithful witnesses.
We’ll know we’re being faithful when we do what we’re called to do.
Our Prayer of the Day says it beautifully: “Give us the courage you gave the ones who were sent, that we may faithfully witness to your love and peace in every circumstance of life.” Just as the twelve were asked to do today. Go out into the world and faithfully bear God’s love and peace.
Some may refuse you, Jesus warns. You might have the hardest time witnessing to those who know you best. No matter, Jesus says. “Nazareth wanted to kill me. My own family thought I was losing my mind.”
And we’re not told to bring all the supplies we need, either – take no bread or bag or money, Jesus says today. That is, we don’t carry tons of abilities and talents as we go, or accumulate wealth. We just go out bearing God’s vulnerable, wounded love in our lives.
And even in failure, God’s love gets through.
Mark says Jesus couldn’t do “any deed of power” in Nazareth, “except that he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them.” That’s not nothing! The disciples, sent out expecting rejection, drove out some demons and even healed some who were sick.
God’s love gets through, when we faithfully and courageously bear it in our lives. We may look like we’re failing, but that was never the test. Easter life always breaks the power of death. By our broken struggles to be loving, our limping efforts at being peacemakers, our weak attempts to end injustice, God brings love and peace and healing to individuals, to our broken society and culture, to our wounded and suffering world. God takes our weakness, Paul says today, and completes God’s work in Christ.
In the end it doesn’t matter if the world praises us as a success here, or if we have any evidence we made a difference.
We plant seeds of God’s love and peace in the world, and they will sprout and grow and bring healing to our world. To our neighbors in pain. To our own lives and suffering.
In your lifetime you might just see the tips of the growth you planted, or none. It may seem that all your efforts are dead and buried, and you made no difference to anyone. But you belong to a God who simply won’t stay dead and buried. Who takes buried seeds and brings them to great fruit for the healing of the world.
“Go, and do what I do,” Jesus says. “I’ll be with you all the way. Don’t worry about the stumbles. Just be my love and peace, and I’ll take care of the success part. And if you can,” as he told the twelve today, “take someone along with you for the journey. It will help.”
And so, we walk this path together, trusting the One who sent us.
In the name of Jesus. Amen