The Work of the People
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Mark 6:1-13
Sermon The Work of the People
Good morning! My week of study leave was amazing and I want to thank all of you who sent me messages of support on Facebook. I’ve heard horror stories from some of my friends who have gone through doctoral programs. Even though I seem confident on the outside, I’d be lying if I said I’m not nervous about this process. Your messages were very encouraging and they helped me to relax and be fully present in class. Thank you!
One of my friends back in Pittsburgh asked me: “after you finish your doctorate, can you write prescriptions?” I asked him what he needed. He said, “salvation.” I said I can already write that one: the prescription is Jesus! I’m here all week!
Of course, Jesus is always the answer. The problem is, we’re asking the wrong question. We’re asking, “what’s the answer?” when we really need to ask how. That is: How do we follow Jesus? There’s no simple prescription for that; when we commit to following Jesus, we commit to a lifetime of service. This sermon is all about service.
The title of my sermon is The Work of the People. How many of you recognize that phrase in the context of church? “The work of the people” is the classic definition for one of those fancy, church words that pastors and some lay people use: liturgy.
If you grew up in a Presbyterian church and you’re over the age of 40 or 50, you probably recognize the word liturgy, even if you can’t exactly define it. The liturgy is all the parts of the service that you folks participate in: the call to worship, the prayer of confession, the prayer for illumination. When we celebrate the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we recite special liturgies. This is how we participate in the sacraments—we’re not just passive bystanders, we’re active participants.
This is the most basic way that we participate in Christ’s call to be the church—we participate in worship. This is the beginning of the answer to the question, how do we follow Jesus?
Our lesson this morning from the Gospel of Mark is all about following Jesus. He’s in Nazareth, preaching and teaching, and the people are amazed and astounded by Jesus’ wisdom and deeds of power. They’re dumbfounded. This is not a positive reaction.
We are told that the people took offense to what Jesus said; they said, “Is 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?” In this verse, Mark says a lot in very few words.
First, the word “carpenter” is a poor translation. The Greek word is teknon, and literally, it refers to a person who works with his hands. While carpenters certainly work with their hands, they are very definitely skilled workers. By describing Jesus as a teknon, there’s an implication that he’s not a skilled worker, he’s of a lower class.
Also, Jesus’ father, his human father, Joseph isn’t mentioned anywhere. This is interesting. The human Jesus lived in a patriarchal culture. Jesus is described by his relationships: he’s the son of Mary, the brother of James, Joses, Judas—not Judas Iscariot, but a younger brother named Judas—and Simon, who is NOT Simon Peter. And he also has some nameless sisters. But there is no mention of a father. This could mean that Joseph had died sometime prior to the events of the story, or it could mean that some people in Nazareth still questioned Jesus’ legitimacy. I think that we need to consider this along with the description of Jesus as an unskilled laborer. Taken together, I think it’s safe to say that Jesus isn’t respected by the people of his hometown.
The people of Nazareth are incredulous. They don’t believe that Jesus has the authority to teach and they don’t understand why he is able to perform deeds of power. It turns out, their doubt, their lack of belief in Jesus has an impact on Jesus. In verse 5, we are told that Jesus: “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”
Jesus couldn’t perform any miracles in his hometown.
He could only heal a few sick people.
That was it. There was nothing more Jesus could do.
“And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” This is a profound statement. There are limits, even on Jesus’ power. In Nazareth, Jesus could do nothing; Jesus could do no deed of power.
Well, Jesus could do nothing. By. Himself.
So, Jesus sent the disciples, two-by-two, to go out and do the work. To do the deeds of power. To cure the sick and cast out demons. To call people to repentance and relationship.
And it worked.
The disciples cast out demons and cured the sick.
They had that power and so do we. On the day that we ordain and install new Elders and Deacons, this is the story that we need to hear. We need to be reminded that we have these powers because Jesus has called us to serve. Jesus has called us to the work of the people and the work for the people.
I might ask Paul Heinsohn to drive me to the hospital, and then I might ask Julie or someone else to follow along in my car, so that I could drive myself home once the fracture is set. But that’s not a miracle, that’s just an ordinary act of kindness. And we all have that power.
We’re also going to ordain Kristin Canto to the office of Deacon. As part of her duties, she’s going to visit some of our homebound members. And as she does that, she most certainly will cast out the demon of loneliness. We all have that power, too.
In our liturgy of ordination and installation, you are affirming the call that God has placed on our new officers and you are affirming their gifts for service. Interestingly, that’s also what’s going on in our reading this morning from 2 Samuel. Representatives from all the tribes of Israel gathered at Hebron to affirm David as king for everyone, for Israel and Judah. David is not like Saul, who was king over Israel. Rather, he goes out, like a shepherd, watching over his flock. Will you join me in affirming our new classes of shepherds, our Deacons and our Ruling Elders, today? Thanks be to God. Amen.
Beloved, as you depart from this place, remember that we are free to worship God, that in Christ, we are free from sin and death, and with those freedoms comes the responsibility to love God and love our neighbors. So, go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!