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Sermon for Sunday 4 July 2021

First Reading: Ezekiel 2:1-5

1{The Lord God} said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

Psalm 123

1To you I lift up my eyes, to you enthroned in the heavens. 2As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, and the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, 3So our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he show us his mercy. 4Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy, for we have had more than enough of contempt, 5Too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, and of the derision of the proud.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

1I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3And I know that this man was caught up into paradise — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — 4and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses — 6though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 7So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Gospel: Mark 6:1-13

1{Jesus} went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching. 7And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff — no bread, no bag, no money in their belts — 9but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

Frustrated by Their Lack of Faith

Today we celebrate Independence Day here in America and I hope that at some point, you’ll take a few moments to consider our roots as a country.  For example, have you ever thought about the leap of faith Columbus had to take to embark on his journey to the New World?  Considering the hazards of sailing in the 15th century, coupled with the lack of solid data, we need to pause and marvel at his perseverance and his commitment to his dream.

I read somewhere that the average speed of the Santa Maria during the voyage across the Atlantic was just two miles per hour.  Compare that to the fact that an Olympic swimmer can reach speeds of 5.2 miles per hour: I’ll bet the crew at times must have felt like they were backing up.  When we consider how frustrated we feel when we’re creeping along at 30 miles per hour in heavy I-85 traffic during rush hour, it’s no wonder his crew became almost mutinous at times.  Considering all that Columbus endured during the voyage, one can only imagine how frustrated Columbus must have been with the crew, on such occasions, because of their lack of faith?  And Columbus wasn’t the only one to become frustrated during his greatest accomplishment, our founding fathers faced the same type of frustration.

The truth is, the Declaration of Independence wasn’t universally accepted.  If Gallup had taken a poll back then, it would have shown that a fairly sizeable number of our early fathers and mothers thought it would be suicide to defy the British empire.  The faith of those early visionaries, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and others, is even more thrilling when viewed in that light.  And then there was Francis Scott Key who was detained aboard a British ship while the bombardment of Fort Henry took place.

History details for us that all night long the British ships’ guns pounded the shoreline.  But morning broke and Key saw “by dawn’s early light the star-spangled banner yet waving.”  In the last verse of the anthem that he composed we read, “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just.  And this is our motto.  In God is our trust.”  That was the faith of the men and women who launched this free land, but the reality is, their faith was not universally shared.  Part of their frustration was in working with the Tories who felt that we were better off under the monarchy and British rule.

As we read in our gospel lesson for today, Jesus wasn’t immune to dealing with a lack of faith and as such, Jesus knew how it felt to be frustrated by people’s lack of faith.  St. Mark records that Jesus and His disciples were with Him on the Sabbath in His hometown of Nazareth.  As was His custom, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue.  St. Mark tells us that Jesus’ friends and neighbors were astonished.  “Isn’t this Jesus, the carpenter’s son who is teaching?” they asked.  “Isn’t He the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and Judas and Simon?  Aren’t these his sisters here with us?”  The hometown people had known and grown up with Jesus.  They knew His family well and Mark tells us that His teaching with authority offended them.  For us this sounds crazy, but it is human nature.  I have both witnessed it and faced it on several occasions while serving in the military.

Back in the late 80s, for example, while stationed at Seymour Johnson AFB, one of the Staff Sergeants earned his degree and was accepted to Officer Training School.  Upon completion of OTS, he was commissioned and returned to Seymour.  Normally, the military doesn’t do this, but because of his specialized training before becoming an officer and his expertise with one of the systems, he was returned to be the Maintenance Officer in one of the Aircraft Maintenance units.  Because we knew this man, worked with this man and socialized with this man, you can imagine how hard it was for some to go from being his boss, to him now being the boss.  He faced his share of resentment and rejection.

Jesus understood this type of human reaction, and this is why He said, “A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own family” (vs. 4).  How true this is.  One definition given of an expert, is that you must be more than 200 miles from home.  How often do we misjudge and take for granted those persons closest to us?  But even more amazing to me than His rejection, is what Mark records in verse 5: “And [Jesus] could do no mighty work, save that he laid hands upon a few sick people and healed them.”  What a strange result considering all that Jesus has done to this point in Mark’s gospel.  Jesus has publicly healed many people, cast out demons and even demonstrated His authority over nature by calming the sea.

Yet, Mark records that Jesus couldn’t do any mighty works because of the people’s lack of faith!  I don’t know about you, but this boggles my mind to think about the lack of faith exhibited by these people.  I mean, how much proof does someone need to believe?  Therefore, this passage teaches us that the first step in achieving, is to believe.  If we don’t believe, we’ll seldom achieve anything.  Mark goes further to record Jesus’ reaction, verse 6 which says: “And he marveled because of their unbelief.”  I’m with Jesus on this statement.

Jesus marveled at their unbelief and was frustrated by those who had no faith.  He was stymied by those who stopped and stared but were left unconvinced at what they had seen and heard.  It’s here that we need to note that there are two levels of belief or unbelief.  One level is with the head, and the other is with the heart.  Every survey that I’ve seen shows that very few people in our culture disbelieve with their heads.  For example, nearly everybody believes intellectually that there is a God.  Yet, more than seventy-five percent of our nation will not be in church today, but if you were to ask them if they believe in God, they would, without hesitation, say yes.  And why not?  We’re surrounded by evidence of a divine creator.

Decades ago, Harpers magazine published an interview with Thomas Edison.  Edison was asked about his conception of matter.  “I do not believe,” he said, “that matter is inert acted upon by an outside force.  To me it seems that every atom is possessed by a certain amount of primitive intelligence.  Look at the thousand ways in which atoms of hydrogen combine with those of other elements, forming the most diverse substances.  Do you mean to say that they do this without intelligence?  Atoms in harmonious and unusual relation assume beautiful or interesting shapes and colors, or give forth a pleasant perfume, as if expressing their satisfaction . . . Gathered together in certain forms, the atoms constitute animals of the lower orders.  Finally, they combine in man, who represents the total intelligence of all the atoms.”

“But where does this intelligence come from originally?” asked the interviewer.  “From some power greater than ourselves,” answered Edison.  “Do you believe, then in an intelligent creator, a personal God?” asked the interviewer.  “Certainly,” said Mr. Edison.  “The existence of such a God, can to my mind, almost be proved from chemistry.”  Very few people will deny the existence of such a God.  But there are exceptions.

A cynical young medical student confronted a pastor: “I have dissected the human body,” he announced, “and I found no soul.”  The pastor said, “That’s interesting.  Let me ask you this: when you dissected the brain did you find a thought?  When you dissected the eye did you find vision?  When you dissected the heart did you find love?”  The student answered thoughtfully, “No, I did not.”  The pastor said gently, “Of course you believe in the existence of thoughts, of vision, and of love.  The human soul is the totality of man’s existence in relationship with God.  Just because you cannot locate it on a medical chart does not mean that it does not exist.”  Most people accept such reasoning.

We believe with our heads, but that’s not the kind of belief that faith in Christ is about.  “Even the demons believe,” the scriptures tell us, “and tremble.”  Faith in Jesus is more than mere intellectual acceptance.  It’s believing with the heart, with the will, with adoration, and action.  Years ago, a party of visitors at the national mint were told by a workman in the smelting works that if you first dipped your hand in water, a ladle of molten metal could be poured over the palm of the hand without burning it.  A married couple were part of this party of visitors.  “Perhaps you would like to try it,” the workman said to the husband.  The husband drew back sharply, “No, thanks,” he said, “I’ll take your word for it.”

The workman then turned to the wife, “Perhaps you would like to try it.”  She replied, “Certainly.”  She pulled up the sleeve of her blouse and thrust her hand into a bucket of water.  Calmly she held her hand out while the hot metal was poured over it.  Considering Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew chapter 25, we might ask which of the two really believed the workman (vs. 1-30).  The husband believed at one level, but he wasn’t willing to put his belief to the test.  The wife, on the other hand, was willing to take the kind of risk that faith in Christ demands.

Many who witnessed Jesus’ miracles believed, but only a few entrusted their lives to Him.  The same is true today.  We believe, but our belief has little to no impact on our lives.  We believe enough to keep us relatively decent, but not enough to make us disciples.  In other words, we believe enough about the Bible and of God that we want to avoid judgement and hell, but, our belief doesn’t allow for the transformation needed to become a faithful follower.  When asked, we would quickly say yes, Jesus is the Savior of the world.  But do we really believe He has the power to save us, so much so, that we whole heartedly die daily to sin and take up our cross and follow Him?  When Jesus looks at how we live our lives, how often is He deeply frustrated by our lack of faith!

St. Paul in II Corinthians 12:9 writes, “And God said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you . . .'”  How hard a hard thing this is for us to accept.  We’re like the old man riding down the road on a donkey while he carried a 200-pound sack of wheat on his shoulder.  Someone asked him why he didn’t take the weight off of his shoulders and strap it to the donkey.  “Oh, no!”  he protested.  “I couldn’t ask the donkey to carry all that weight.”

Too many of us are carrying burdens today that we don’t have to carry.  It’s our lack of faith, trust, and confidence that God really is alive and able to relieve us of our burdens that keeps us in bondage.  How frustrated Jesus must be with our lack of faith.  It would be far more desirable if we were like the young man who was in a marathon race.  He was falling farther and farther behind the other runners.  Suddenly he looked as if he were saying something to himself and his legs began to move with a steady stroke.  He began to pick up speed.  

By the time he reached the finish line he had passed all of the others and had won the race.  Afterwards, when someone asked him what he was talking to himself about, he replied, “Oh, I wasn’t talking to myself.  I was talking to God.  I was saying, ‘Lord, you pick ’em up and I’ll put them down . . . You pick ’em up and I’ll put them down . . . .”  That’s faith at its very best.  Faith always moves forward.  

Faith is more than just believing with the head.  It’s a dynamic interaction with God’s will and purpose.  It’s living with a positive expectation regardless of our circumstances.  It’s the conviction that because He lives, we can live joyfully, abundantly, fruitfully.

A driver made his way nervously along one of the most treacherous Rocky Mountain roads.  He was approaching an extremely narrow pass.  There was no guardrail.  Nothing to keep him from plunging thousands of feet down the side of the mountain.  He then saw a small sign.  It said, “O yes, you can.  Millions have.”  Jesus must be speaking similar words to many of us who have doubts and fears about the present and the future. “O yes, you can.  My grace is sufficient.” 

No doubt, Jesus must, at times, be frustrated by our lack of faith.  But, when we fail to place our faith in God, and entrust our lives to Him, aren’t we frustrated as well?  If we could fully believe in all that God promises, we too could witness great works in our lives.  The sign is meant for each of us today, “O yes, you can.  Millions have!”


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