Traveling Mercies

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | May 16, 2021

Mark 6: 1-13

Whether we stay in one place our whole lives or move around, we are on a journey. We all travel from birth to death. And we travel from death to redemption. You and I cannot change death. But God can redeem it. It’s getting from one point to another – finding redemption – that is the difficult part; the part about which we say, that’s life.

The first thing I do when I get dressed in the morning is put my keys in my pants pocket. Whether I plan to leave the house right away or not – keys in pocket. I learned this habit years ago when one of my grandsons was visiting. He was two or three years old at the time. It was a Sunday morning and we were all getting ready for church. I went outside for some reason and he shut the door behind me, and it locked. If others had not been in the house, we would have been in a bind. The lesson was – never go out without a way to get back in. 

When we go about our lives we go through many ins and outs. What do we take with us – not just in terms of what fits into our pockets – but what do we carry with us in our heart and soul? What attitudes to we pick up or leave behind as we come and go? 

The lectionary readings for today say something about travel. The Psalm suggests, “Walk about Zion.” This is not saying, “Book a trip to the ‘holy land.’” Rather, take a journey through the realm of God and consider what that journey entails. 

Reading through Mark’s story of Jesus is like following a travelogue. He is always going from one place to another. He never said, “Let’s book a trip to Galilee.” They walked. A lot of the stories begin, “As he was coming into the village,” or “As they were leaving.” 

Chapter six of Mark’s gospel represents a turning point in the story of Jesus – like a fork in the road. Up to this point he was on a roll. He started out strong. He amazed people with his authority. He cast out demons and healed the sick. He was a miracle worker. His word calmed the stormy sea and he even raised the dead. It would seem that there was nothing that would stop him. And then he paid a visit to his hometown. 

Everyone has a hometown. If you grow up and move away and become famous, people at home might appreciate who have become, but they will always remember who you were. There’s always someone who will remind you that you’re not so special. 

So it was for Jesus – he drew crowds but the folks at home asked, “Who does he think he is? Isn’t he Joseph’s son? Where did he get all these ideas? His poor mother – he should be married now and raising a family of his own – not traipsing around the countryside with grandiose ideas.”  

As a result, it seems he changed his strategy. No more going from town to town in a large group. No more mob scenes. No more crowds wanting to anoint him king. Instead he would send his followers out in teams of two. They would go from village to village, telling people the message of Jesus. Discovering whether or not people were receptive to the message. If so, Jesus could go there himself and reinforce their teachings. If not, they could shake the dust of that place from their feet on move on to the next place. 

The strategy contains certain logic. Teams of two people could cover more ground than one large group. He wasn’t trying to set up revival meetings or mass rallies. He was going softly, planting seeds and seeing what might grow. By taking no provisions for the journey, they would be beholden to the hospitality of the communities they visited. That shows a vital piece of the message Jesus was trying to promote. 

At that time Judaism had evolved into a religion based upon a system of purity codes. According to that system, if one adhered to the codes then one fulfilled the demands of the religion. 

Jesus wanted to get at the spirit of the religion. To do that he reminded people that their religion was based upon their sense of relationship – with God and with each other in community. Community was the real foundation of Judaism. These were a people living under an oppressive and corrupt political system. Practicing hospitality within community would serve as a powerful reminder of their identity. 

And if some communities were not open to the message, then move on. To try and convince people who are unwilling to even listen is an exercise in futility. He knew that from experience at home.

Where we see the impact of this new approach is in the comment in verse 14 of chapter 6, “King Herod heard of it, for Jesus name had become known.” When the king knows your name, especially if the king is Herod, chances are it is not a good thing. 

What possible interest could sending pairs of disciples into villages have been to Herod? Let alone, what possible threat could that have been? 

This story reveals an early version of liberation theology. Liberation theology is a view of God that begins from the grass roots. It seeks change from the ground up rather than from the top down. It is threatening to corrupt power structures because once oppressed people gain a sense of grass-roots empowerment, they become difficult to control, or oppress. 

For Jesus, God was not confined to a particular location. God did not live in the Temple. And that would mean that the common religion could find its strength and cohesiveness in the common life of the people. 

God was in the homes, the markets, the workplaces and wherever there was found the two or more gathered in his name. The realm of God that Jesus talked so much about was a heart and soul reality. Heart and soul realities are always a threat to the status quo of power, because heart and soul realities cannot be conquered. 

When I started in ministry, I had this sense that a big part of my job was to somehow change the world – change the world for Christ. The church could somehow do that – if – if we just put our minds to it, our hearts and souls to it and got busy with doing it. And how busy we could be. And all that changing the world involved more – doing more – giving more – and if we ever paused and thought simply about being, we had to somehow be better. 

Think about how dramatically the world has changed in recent years – the societal shifts – the changing social landscape – nothing seems to have been left untouched by change. We view the future with the sense of travelling into uncharted and often dangerous waters. We can also travel into the future with a sense of hope. 

What we hear in Scripture this morning is the echo of heart and soul realities. And maybe our heartstrings resonate with the sound of those realities. While we’re busy trying to change the world for Christ, the world is changing anyway. 

I’ve often said that my job is not to tell people what to think. I see my role as providing food for thought. Like most folks, I have opinions, but I find that if I don’t go about my life and work as if I’m trying to win an argument or debate, then folks are more likely to be open with me. In the end, I find it more important simply to tell the truth and try to do the right thing and let the results speak for themselves. 

The journey of faith is about discovering our purpose. The message of Jesus shows us that when we engage the bonds of community, when we give and receive love – we touch upon God’s purpose for our lives. What matters more than the people we love? The realm of God is always present in the midst of change. Walk about this Zion. 

So let’s get packing – What do we need to take with us? Nothing too heavy – love one another, do justice, love kindness and walk humbly. Remember the ‘least of these;’ turn the other cheek, go the extra mile. Stuff like that. 

It’s not about trying to change people. It’s just being alongside people. That doesn’t seem like a lot. And it’s not really. But it’s traveling light God’s way. It is the essential formula for traveling well. 

Where are you off to? What do you need for today, for this week, for six months? God gives you what you need to travel well. Everything you need to follow the path. But shouldn’t there be more? Shouldn’t we do more? Probably – But that’s the part, like so much of life, that you discover while on the journey. Amen.

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