Divine Persistence

Divine Persistence

This week, we are moving to chapter six in Mark. This is one of those Narrative Lectionary selections that seems to have too much going on to deal with in one sermon. I believe the fun of the Narrative Lectionary and one of its purposes is to see how the stories flow into and out from each other, how the structure of the narrative holds the gospel and call from God as well as the words themselves.
There are three moves in our reading – Jesus returning to Nazareth, the sending of the disciples, and the death of John the Baptist. When we look at both the rejection of Jesus in Nazareth and the death of John the Baptist, we see “proof” and expansion on Jesus’s own words, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town.” Sure, prophets are not easily accepted by their own from verse 4, but John the Baptist shows us that prophets are in a risky position wherever they go. Prophets are called to difficult work, challenging work, work that can be dangerous. It does not matter if you speak the truth at home or publicly – challenging expectations and systems does not do much to win friends among those who are supported by the system and structure.
Although it is challenging and not an easy journey, I think prophetic living, living that witnesses to the reign of God, living that demonstrates God’s desire for wholeness and healing for all is what we are all called to practice daily. That this prophetic living is a difficult living, that it will be met with side eye or rejection on a bad day, but it’s not a reason to avoid the call.
In fact, that call is highlighted by the sending of the disciples, two by two between these two stories of a prophetic livings. Even when the word might not be honoured, even when it makes others nervous, even when people may not welcome you or listen to you, there is still a call to follow and there are God’s purposes to fulfill. Those obstacles don’t limit the call, and they certainly don’t limit the power and Spirit of God. The divine persistence is a theme we sense through all three narratives.

In verses 1-6a, Jesus returned to his hometown, Nazareth, from the other side of the lake. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?” The townsfolk of Nazareth were surprised. But in the next breath they were cutting him down: “He’s just a carpenter – Mary’s boy. We have known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Joseph, Judas, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?” It is always challenging to preach and teach in front of people who have known you from your very young age.
They never saw Jesus as teacher or prophet, and did not want to give him any respect at all.
Jesus was not able to do much of anything there – he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, but that was all. He could not get over their stubbornness. He left and headed to other village and continued his teaching.
In that story, Jesus has just returned from a road trip, a fairly successful tour in the area surrounding his hometown, and people of Nazareth undoubtedly heard about these spectacular things that Jesus has been doing. That sort of news travels fast.
But does anyone really want to listen to a hometown boy? Jesus does, what men did, in those days, in the synagogue on the Sabbath, opening the Scriptures and teaching those gathered, and he does so, with great authority. Unfortunately, response of people in his hometown turns into rejection, not respect.
This is the last time Mark reports a visit by Jesus to the synagogue, Jewish meeting place. After this incident, Jesus never returned to synagogue, according to Mark.
Now Jesus takes his ministry of proclamation out to the people, on the road, so it’s no surprise that he instructs his disciples to do the same.
It is believed that Nazareth as “a backwater village where perhaps 120 to 150 people lived at the time of Jesus,” with many of them members of Jesus’ extended birth family.
In the face of this kind of rejection, it is no wonder that Jesus redefines to consider his followers as his family. Now Jesus has been rejected not only by the high and mighty but even by the humblest of his connections, the people who should have known him, and loved him best.
So the people of Nazareth fail to acknowledge or recognize God at work in this hometown boy. They did not see the power from God within their long time friend, Jesus of Nazareth. Despite of their rejection and threat, God continued to work through other people.

In vv 7-13, Jesus teaches his disciples to preach the Good News and to “shake the dust off their feet”, if they and their message are not welcomed. There is a sense of urgency, that time should not be wasted, where people need too much convincing. Do not waste time! Move to the next possibility!
On the other hand, persistence is also the value we have to hold. Yet Jesus tells his followers not to persist where they are not welcome. Jesus portrayed at this passage, is not like the one who offers forgiveness and performs miracles for the sick and the poor. How does our faith inform our decisions about persisting or moving on?
But, still, it should make us reflect our lifestyle today. The world and society where we are living in, is more and more characterized by unbelief. It is like we live in a Nazareth-world – a culture that is disinterested in Jesus.
If we believe we had belief in the world of unbelief, our task seems to be clear. If people do not see the power in Jesus Christ, our task seems to be obvious.
The twelve were sent, two by two, to preach the gospel of repentance, to take authority over evil, and to heal. We, present-day disciples have received a similar commission — to be participants in the mighty works of God. We are present-day prophets, and God continues to work through us. We have been entrusted with a message of repentance and reconciliation. We are called to take authority over evil and banish it from our midst, and we are called to be healers as well.

In the last part of today’s reading, Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, makes a terrible choice. John the Baptist has been imprisoned from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Mark 1:14), and in Mark 6 we learn why. The relationship between John and Herod Antipas is perplexing.
Mark 6 presents Herod as failing to fulfill his responsibility; he does not stop John’s imprisonment or beheading, S even though he believes John is a righteous and holy man (Mark 6:20).
The narrator takes centre stage in describing John’s arrest and murder, perhaps representing Herod’s own flashback. Herodias wanted John to be killed, but Herod arrested him instead. At Herod’s party, his stepdaughter dances for him and his cohort, despite the custom that respectable women do not provide such entertainment at these sorts of gatherings and Herod promises to give her anything she wishes. At her request, Herod murders an innocent man, whom he now suspects has come back to haunt him.
Although John the Baptist lost his life tragically, he was God’s one of most courageous prophets and God continues to raise and invite more people to be a voice in the wilderness.
There are couple of Facebook group or pages that I find helpful and useful and one of them is group called “unofficial NSW/ACT Synod” and it has nearly 400 members, most of them UCA ministers and leaders. Jon Humphries often makes some insightful comments there and this was what he posted during this week. “Clergy, what counsel would you give to someone who is preparing for the ministry?” I thought that was an interesting question as I have been thinking about this passage related to this idea of divine persistence that God continues to lead and encourage us to move forward with his message.
Although this question was directed to ‘clergy’, I think this can be applied to everyone who are present-day-disciples and prophets.
There are some helpful answers that I want to share with you. These are my top three advices that I might use – “Don’t confuse your personal preference with God’s call”, “It is not about you.” “Welcome to a journey in discernment…does not finish with your call to ministry but continues with being called to various placements+ministry and also being called out…”
Aren’t they relevant for all of us to exercise a prophetic living.
“Don’t confuse your personal preference with God’s call” – What we want and what we prefer is not always what God calls us to do.
“It is not about you”. – I think this is very important point. Even when the word might not be honoured, it is not about you. That does not limit the power of God. Even when people may not welcome you or listen to you, it is not about you. That does not limit the spirit of God.
“Journey in discernment – continues with being called to various places.” – God’s call continues to bring us new and unexpected places. We are to discern a right direction and timing.

So how might your prophetic live look like? We all have different calls and gifts. No matter how you respond to that call, our God is persistent and continues to invite and encourage us. As we move into already second month of a new year, may we respond to that calling wholeheartedly as we daily endeavour to be better disciple and prophet for his kingdom.