I think the concept that Jesus (Son of God, Son of Man) can be amazed, shocked about anything is in itself… amazing and shocking. No wonder that such a human characteristic is found in the very human Gospel of Mark. Like many sermons there were themes that once outlined, I wanted to pursue with vigor… but did not. The sermon audio is of the early 8am service; the 10am was a lot more vigorous and, I think, more overtly evangelistic looking for a response from the hearers. The Bill Wilson quotation (at the end of the sermon) was followed by a reminder that we are called to admit our need, believe God can rescue and transform us and then… commit our lives to God – this, I said, is a way that we can amaze Jesus and I ended with “So, let’s do it.”
As the famous summary of the first three steps goes: “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him.”
The basic sermon text is below the audio!
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI
Sunday July 8 2018
The Reverend Alan Neale
“Would you believe it?”
Mark 6:6 Jesus was amazed, stunned, flabbergasted. To use a colloquial British expression (forgive me, so close to Independence Day!)… “He was gobsmacked.” The Greek word ethaumazen may even allow us to read “traumatized.”
Reflecting on this text from today’s Gospel has made me think that what amazes us, what shocks us says a lot about our sensibilities and priorities. Sadly as one grows older there is a tendency to become unshockable, the gift of wonder is less rarely entertained and in its place begins to develop an unattractive crust of jaded cynicism, of world-weariness. Rather like that Yorkshire farmer (remember I’m from London) who turning to see his horse had collapsed and died tersely commented, “He’s not done that before.”
But Mark the Gospel writer presents us with Jesus who, though God incarnate (Son of Man, Son of God), still has the capacity to be surprised, shocked… sometimes by that which is good (remember how impressed Jesus was by the obedience of the soldier) but more often by that which is not so good, by that which is disappointing, depressing, disheartening.
Mark 6:6 Jesus was amazed by their unbelief, or we can read “by their misbelief.” You see the profound challenge, with eternal significance, is not so much to believe but to believe the right thing, to have the right image.
Jesus was amazed at what the people thought about themselves (their anthropology).
Jesus was amazed at what the people thought about Him (their Christology, their theology).
First, their shocking self-image. There seemed to be a vigorous, energetic, consuming, pervasive self-image that argued that nothing good could from their kin, their friends, their hometown. Maybe in recent years/generations PLU (“people like us”) was a concept used to establish importance, significance but not so in Nazareth – here PLU was a concept from which you ran, oh very much would you want to shake the Nazareth dust from a pair of stylish sandals! No wonder Nathanael exclaims (John 1:46) “Can anything good come out of Nazareth.” And afflicted with this wretched self-image it seemed the Nazarenes did all they could to share the disease with others and so it was projected liberally… even onto Jesus.
Second, their shocking Jesus-image. Doubtless the people of Nazareth had heard rumors about the magnetic teaching and marvelous miracles of Jesus. Doubtless Jesus was not only followed by disciples and admirers but also preceded by tales of wonder. And yet… it seemed they clung tightly to the view that diminished not only the power of Jesus but also His particular interest in them.
“Oh… we know his family”… and the pregnant pause and the raised eyebrow would cause the scandal around his birth to be suddenly present without uttering a word!
“Oh… we know his trade, look at his hands… a carpenter.” “And they took offence at him” and the Greek word for ‘take offence’ is scandalidzo… they were scandalized! And their offence, their sense of scandal, their refusal to acknowledge the truth about Jesus led to (how pathetique) “only a few sick people being healed.”
Frankly, I will admit, this is all a mystery to me… a mystery I embrace, with which I can live but a mystery all the same. A mystery… that my low image of self and God somehow confines divine activity to heal, make whole; to restore and reconcile.
Paul eventually seemed to get it right, though for him it was definitely a journey. The man who once saw himself as worst of sinners and saw God as punishing and vindictive is now the man who writes in today’s second reading (2 Corinthians)…
“I glory in, boast of, my weakness, frailty, so that God’s power may reside within me.” The weakness in us, our very vulnerability, becomes the crucible in which strength and grace are created by the magic of the divine economy.
At last we see ourselves beloved and treasured by God, and at last we see God as full of grace – boundless, overflowing.
So I must ask myself, and you, is this how I see myself… is this how I see God. Acceptance of powerlessness, belief in a gracious God and a commitment to give my life to Him/Her?
Once, in days long ago as told in our first reading, the people of God lived powerfully in the land where a young shepherd could become king and a mighty Creator could become a tender shepherd. It is our vocation to reclaim this for ourselves and for our church… day by day by day.
The co-founder of AA, Bill Wilson, once wrote these words, “The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our heart and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves.
This is on offer for each of us today, right now… and this is… amazing!
Just think we can amaze Jesus not by our disbelief but by our belief… our belief that confesses our need, affirms God’s power to save and transform and our commitment to give our lives to him. We can amaze Jesus… so, let’s do it!