2 Samuel 5: 1-5, 9-10 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Mark 6: 1-13 July 8, 2018
“He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.”
Prayer: Holy One, may we continue to discover new meaning from scripture today. Amen.
Most of us know that in life, we will experience set backs and failures from time to time. Sometimes those can be painful; other times, reasonably slight. But they always lead us somewhere or can provide deeper meaning.
When I was in 8th grade, I goofed off in science class, didn’t do my homework, and quite skillfully flunked the class the first quarter of the year. When Mom and Dad found out I failed the class, whoa! There was holy comeuppance to be paid. But, it paved the way for straight A’s in the next quarter of science class and a deep love not only for science, but also for the good feeling of getting good grades.
That didn’t last though, because my freshman year in high school, I failed French miserably. It’s not that I goofed off; I just couldn’t figure out the language! But, when I dropped the class and took Spanish, I figured out the foreign language thing and made Spanish Honor Society.
Sometimes the failures and setbacks are good in that they pave the way for something else. Saul’s failure as Israel’s first king paved the way for David to become King over all of Israel, and he made Jerusalem his hometown in the process. But then, it was David’s moral failure with Bathsheba that opened the door for Solomon to become the wisest of all Israel’s kings (if you don’t remember the David and Bathsheba story, it is part of July 29th’s readings—so, you’ll just have to come to church or Google it yourself!)
Even Jesus experienced a setback of sorts in Nazareth, his hometown. Those people remembered the Jesus of yesteryear and couldn’t imagine that he was anything special as a grown up. They lacked faith, they resisted his message and ministry, and they took offense at him.
With faith lacking in the people, Mark tells us that Jesus’ healing power was quite limited. Healing is synergetic, meaning that Jesus’ power of healing often works in tandem with the faith of the person being healed. A lack of faith can close off certain divine possibilities. So having faith can make a huge difference. Jesus was amazed at how many lacked faith in God and God’s power; only a few sick people were healed that day when he laid his hands on them.
But, despite the limited deeds of power, despite the faithlessness he encountered, Jesus didn’t let that deter him. If anything, the surprising faithlessness and resistance of the home crowd paved the way for the disciples to be sent out on their next assignment… a training mission that would teach them to rely on God, even with the most meager of supplies and resources; but mostly, to teach them to use the gift of divine authority over unclean spirits, to be about God’s ministry, even when resistance could be present.
Eugene Peterson, the author and biblical translator offers this translation of Jesus’ words to the disciples: “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this journey. You are the equipment” (The Message).
In other words, it’s synergetic interplay. God sends us out. We trust in God to provide what we need on the journey. God gives us authority. We let the gift of God’s authority over unclean spirits be front and center. God uses us for God’s purposes. Our faithful responsiveness can make a transformative difference in people’s lives. The disciples were sent with power and authority. So are we.
These are challenging words for the church. Often, we think we have churchy authority—authority over our church’s practices and procedures, authority over our building, our operating costs, our endowment fund. But do we think of ourselves as having authority over unclean spirits that plague our society and culture?
We often do not. We often think of the church as just one of many existing organizations in our communities that brings people together, that offers a place for volunteering, that does good for others in the world, and shares in good food, fun, and fellowship. Heck, the volunteer fire department does that. Rotary International, the Lions Club, Shriners, and other similar organizations do that. And, you can
pick and choose which organization you want to attend, participate in, give your financial contributions to.
But, none of those organizations are given the authority over unclean spirits that disciples of Christ are given. And, the church is filled with disciples of Christ, at least that’s what we’re supposed to be.
Jesus sent the twelve out with authority which I think means we, as the church, are sent out with the authority to confront and address the unclean spirits of our world. The church, working in tandem with God, is sent out with power to speak God’s liberating good news to the unclean spirits of racism, of hatred toward others, of violence, of exceptionalism.
The church of Christ’s disciples has the authority to speak God’s truth to the powerful structures that advocate inequality, that promote the continuation of unfairness because of expediency, that resist change because of the inconvenience it might cause. We have the authority to encourage an expansion of God’s vision in our world, a vision of peace and well-being for all, a vision that calls the well-established systems out of complacency with injustice and a reorientation to the liberating will of God.
And honestly, is it the lack of faith in God and God’s vision that keeps the divine possibilities from happening?
You and I, all of us, as one part of Christ’s universal church here in Elizabethtown, I believe are sent out with power, to be a pilgrim church, a pioneering church, a church that charts new ground, a church that speaks loudly our desire to expand God’s vision of inclusivity, which is a direct way to cast out the unclean spirit of discrimination. To be a church that officially adopts a new covenant of welcome, and is not shy about making it a defining, public characteristic as to who we are and what we’re about.
In the midst of all other churches and organizations in our area looking one way, facing one direction, or going along with status quo, sticking with the way things are and always have been, we’re striving to use the authority given to us to be the church that promotes the life God gives, the love God wants us to share with all.
It’s like the humorous Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson that features thousands of penguins on the Antarctica ice cap doing what all penguins do… except for the one that stands up and sings “I gotta be me, Oh I just gotta be me!”
We might just have to circle that one penguin and write our new caption: “Be that guy!” We might stand out from all the rest, but we gotta be true to who we are as God’s people. We can expect resistance, but we gotta be true to the authority given to us to dispel unclean spirits of our world and to anoint with spiritual oil those who can’t find a safe place for their spiritual growth anywhere else. We might experience setbacks, failures, letdowns, and disappointments, but those are great learning moments leading us to greater truths and deeper meaning as to what it means to be Christ’s agents, Christ’s Church sent out by Jesus to the world.
May God help us. Amen.