What You Hear is What You Get

Mark 6:1-13 / Proper 9B / 08 July 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA

Familiarity breeds contempt. So the saying goes. The closer you get to someone, the more likely you will be disappointed in that person when all your romantic illusions and preconceived notions are dashed to pieces. You get a taste of that when you return to the place where you where born and raised. Your nesting ground. The place where they knew you when you were knee high to a grasshopper and they still remember all the windows you broke, all the times you got sent to the principle’s office, and all those sins of omission and commission over which the psalmist prays when he says, “Lord, remember not the sins of my youth nor my rebellious ways.”

Well the Lord may choose to forget your youthful high crimes and misdemeanors, but the folks from the old neighborhood sure don’t forget. And they seem to take great delight in reminding you every time you bump into them on the street. “Hey, Billy (I was Billy in my old neighborhood because there was another Bill who was two years older and several inches taller, so he was Big Bill and I was little Billy. I hated that name, so don’t ever go there.) “Hey, Billy, do you remember the time you….” And that’s why you can never really go home again. They know too much.

In Mark chapter 6 Jesus goes home to Nazareth to hang out with the old neighborhood and He brings His disciples along. It’s the Sabbath and, of course, Jesus is where He’s supposed to be on the Sabbath, namely, in the synagogue. And seeing He’s the local boy made good, a rising star on the rabbinical circuits and all around wonder worker, the synagogue is packed to the rafters. Expectations are high. What’s He going to say? Will He do some miracles like we’ve heard He’s done at other synagogues in Galilee? He’s in front of the home crowd now, and they’re excited.

But there’s a strange undertow in this excitement, something not quite right. A murmur of discontent is trickling through the dense crowd. They’re hearing Jesus teach with great authority, but some are whispering in the back rows, “Hey, wait a minute! Who does this guy think he is, anyway? What’s with this wisdom given to him? And how are all these mighty works done by his hands? Isn’t this the carpenter who used to fix our tables and chairs in his shop up the road? Isn’t this the son of Mary and who really know who? Isn’t this the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Aren’t those his sisters over there?

They took offense at him. They were offended. Scandalized is the actual word. They stumbled the way you stumble over a big rock in the road when you’re not looking. They stumbled over the Rock that causes men to stumble, the Stone the religious builders rejected in their messianic building program. “He came to his own, but his own did not receive him.” They stumbled. They said, “Hey, that’s little Y’shua, Mary’s kid. Why I remember when he was just knee high to grasshopper.”

In Jerusalem, they said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” But the odd thing is not even the people of Nazareth thought the messiah could come from Nazareth. And certainly not the carpenter who grew up at the end of the block. They stumbled because Jesus was just too ordinary. Too much like them. Their kids played with Him in the streets and went to synagogue school with him. And yeah, he seemed kind of bright for his age and never got into trouble, but the strange thing is that nothing really stood out to make them take notice. Think about it. This is the Son of God in the flesh, the eternal Son in human flesh, and nothing really stands out except His wisdom and His ability to work miracles.

He didn’t glow. He didn’t have a shiny gold nimbus hovering over his head that said “Jesus the Christ” like you see in the icons. He was just plain old ordinary Jesus. Mary’s boy. The carpenter. And that offended the hometown crowd. They were scandalized.

The incarnation of God is scandalous. It just doesn’t meet our ideas or expectations of a respectable God that He should enter this world as the child of a Virgin, work in obscurity as a carpenter up in Nazareth of all places (He may as well have come from Bakersfield or Fresno), be baptized by His cousin John and then announce to the world that He’s the messiah, the Son of God. And if that’s not already enough, His messianic victory, his moment of glory, his hour of power comes when He hangs in the darkness on a cross one very good Friday and rises from the dead one very good Sunday. And if that isn’t enough, He comes to deliver the gifts of His sacrificial life and death in, with, and under the humble, lowly, almost ridiculous forms of water, words, bread, and wine.

Do you see a pattern here? Can you connect the dots? God hides His power. What you see is not what you are getting. Seeing is not believing. Faith comes by hearing not seeing. In fact, if seeing is believing for you you will stumble over what you see, whether it’s the carpenter who used to live two doors down from you in Nazareth or the water of Baptism, the word of forgiveness, the bread and wine of the supper, or the ministry that represents Jesus. You have to stick your eyes in your ears to see things properly.

Those disciples Jesus sent ahead of him, two by two, on their initial sending, their internship, if you will? He gave them limited authority to anoint and heal the sick and to cast out demons, unclean spirits. The stuff that Jesus was doing, they got to do too. But notice, he makes provision for their rejection when they would get run out of town rather then welcomed. “If any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet (a rather strong sign in the middle east) as a testimony against them. Jesus anticipates their rejection just as He was rejected.

He sends them out as itinerants – no bread, no bag, no money, no change of clothing, living off the generosity of others. Not much to look at, these six pairs of beggars who come to crash at your house in the name of the Lord. Nor was the apostle Paul the picture of strength and success, as he boasts like a fool in his weaknesses. How many preachers have you heard recently who actually brag about how God doesn’t answer their prayers? “Three times,” Paul says, “three times I pleaded with the Lord about this – this ‘thorn in the flesh, this messenger of Satan who was harassing him – and three times the Lord says to me, “No, Paul. No miracles. No displays of power. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

There’s the key to understanding this. “My power is made perfect in weakness.” The power of God to overcome Sin, Death, devil, the darkness, the power of God to save and raise up and save you is cloaked under the cover of weakness. A cross. A dark death on a Good Friday. “It is finished.” There. Right there under the cover of darkness. That’s why Jesus could do no mighty work there in His hometown. It’s not that He wasn’t able, as though Nazareth had messed with His divine mojo or something. He could not in the same way that an army capable of destroying an entire nation “could not.” It’s contrary to orders, it’s contrary to the mission. Jesus is not a wonder working circus side-show. He knows that faith in miracles is no faith at all. Instead, he went among the villages teaching. They needed to be catechized not entertained.

It’s easy to be scandalized, offended and generally mislead if you trust your eyes rather than God’s word when it comes to eternal things. That’s what got Eve in trouble, or at least pushed her over the Sin edge. She saw that the forbidden fruit was good for food and a delight to the eyes. She trusted her eyes over her ears, her vision rather than the Lord’s Word. What she saw was something good and pleasing and delightful. What she got was Sin and Death.

We do precisely the same thing. We trust our eyes over our ears, what we see over what God says. We question God’s goodness, mercy, power when we encounter our own weaknesses, the insults of others, hardships, calamities, persecutions (oh, just imagine if we had to endure actual persecutions for being Christians, where we had to meet in secret, where our ushers had to check everyone for bombs or weapons). Or when our repeated prayers go unanswered and are greeted with “my grace is sufficient for you.”

At our recent district convention we had to endure the usual “dog and pony” shows, those reports and videos that trumpet our successes. It’s a bit like going to a corporate rally for the sales force. But I noticed something a little different this year from previous years. A little more honesty. A little more reality. A little more “cross” and a little less “glory.” There were stories of congregations who had experienced great growth and success and had ambitious plans for the future and had, as they say, “stepped out in faith” and embarked on ambitious building programs on borrowed money only to the have the economy tank, the people leave, the success dry up. I heard more and more pastors speaking in the tones of Ezekiel, recognizing they are sent by God to preach to a stubborn nation of rebels that will not listen to God, and that success is not measured by how many souls you think you saved but that the people know “that a prophet has been among them.” You know what was different about this year’s convention? A little more truth-telling, a little more boasting in weakness. Dare I say, a little more prophetic and apostolic.

“When I am weak, then I am strong.” The paradox of the cross. I don’t know who the first person was who decided to put a dead Jesus on a cross and make it the emblem of Christianity, but I’d like to shake his hand one day. He got it right. He understood the glorious hidden power of God, a power made perfect in suffering and weakness, a power that conquers Sin by becoming Sin, that conquers Death by becoming Death, a power that cries out “My God, my God why have you forsaken me” and still pray into the dark silence trusting that His grace is sufficient.

God’s grace in Christ is sufficient for you. It’s all you need. If all the God ever did for you is send His Son to die on a cross, if all Jesus ever does for you is baptize you, forgive you, and give you His Body and Blood, that is sufficient for you. It overcomes your sin, your death, the devil, the world, your own Sin-filled flesh. Yes, the miracles are nice, the little answered prayers are a delight but they can also be a distraction.

Keep those eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher, the beginning and the ending of your faith. Faith looks nowhere else. Faith seeks nothing else. Faith knows nothing else than Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

It’s easy to stumble when you trust your eyes. It’s easy to be scandalized by God when your eyes are wide open but your ears are shut. When it comes to God, what you see is not what you get. What you see is weakness, what you get is power. What you see is death, what you get is life. What you see is sin, what you get is forgiveness. What you see is defeat, what you get is victory. “No, in all these things – in tribulations, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword – we are more than conquerers, we “hyper-conquer” through Him who loved us.

When it comes to God, it’s not what you see but what you hear that counts.

Hear the Word of the Lord.

In the name of Jesus,