Bible Study (Week 4) “The end, the beginning” Part 3 Week of June 11

Week 4: READ: Mark 6:1-13

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Jesus returns to his hometown, though unnamed in Mark, identified as Nazareth in Luke and Matthew.   It was a small out of the way village of about 400 people in Jesus’ day located twelve miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee.  It was nothing compared to the Greek styled capital of Herod Antipas called Sepphoris, in whose shadow Nazareth existed.  It was in his hometown where Jesus was known as well as his siblings and his mother.  There is no mention of Joseph who may likely have been older when he married Mary.  He may have died before Jesus was baptized.

While there were migrations of people throughout biblical times because of natural disasters, draught, and war, people often lived in the community in which they grew up.  Many of the Nazarenes were offended by this son of a carpenter.  In small villages like Nazareth, Jesus and his family would be well known by their neighbors.  People lived side by side, worked and relied on each other and went to the synagogue to pray together.  “Who does this son of a carpenter think he is anyway,” his neighbors asked.

Apparently the hometown climate could not see past Jesus as one of the young men of the village. As a result, Jesus’ power to heal was limited.  While it is God who releases the power to heal, faith that God can and will heal creates a climate of expectation and openness to healing.  On the other hand, when we are skeptical or closed to the idea of healing, it creates a climate resistant to healing. Strong unbelief builds a wall that may prevent God from healing. There is a connection between the ability of Jesus to do acts of God-given power and the faith and receptivity (openness) of the people.

An Episcopal priest’s wife, Agnes Sanford, had a significant healing ministry in the twentieth century.  To explain the connection in healing between the power of God and the faith of the person who needs healing, she used the image of electricity.  Even if you have all the power you need and have properly wired your house, your lightbulb will not light up until you flip the switch.  God has all the power to heal but until we flip the switch and are receptive to God’s healing, the power cannot flow through our house to illuminate the lightbulb.

Creation is composed of energy (heat, light, motion, chemical), because God who created the cosmos is the source of energy.  Earth is filled with energy in various forms from its core to its crust and on its surface.  Our bodies are charged with energy as we consume and digest food and its impact on releasing energy within us.  When we become ill, our energy is diverted to attack the virus, the bacteria or cancer.  This war in our body can spike a temperature or cause us to feel sluggish as the battle rages.

There is an energy charge that happens when a person who prays for another has permission to touch their head or hand.  As the one receiving prayer breathes slowly, listens to the prayer openly, and is receptive, their blood pressures drop, relaxation sets in and God releases healing power throughout.  God has the power to heal.  Our faith that God can heal and our openness to that healing gives God access to do whatever God chooses to do in response to our prayer.  Few people in Nazareth were that open to the little Jesus they had seen grow up in their village.  God forces no one to be healed!

Jesus refers to himself as a prophet. Adela Yarbro Collins, in Mark, a Commentary, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007, pp. 46-47 has identified many similarities between Jesus and the prophets of Elijah and Elisha.  Like many of the classical prophets including John the Baptist, Jesus called for people to repent and believe (1:15).  Jesus was endowed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism (1:10-11).  Elisha asked for a double portion of the spirit from Elijah during the transition from one prophet to the next (2 Kings 2:9, 15).  The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness (1:12) as the spirit moved prophets from place to place (1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 2:16). God provided for Jesus and Elijah during a forty day retreat (Mark 1:13; 1 Kings 19:4-8).  The healing of the leper by Jesus (1:40-45) has parallels to Naaman’s healing by Elisha (2 Kings 5).  Jesus raising of Jairus’ daughter (5:22-43) has similarities to the raising of the son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24) and the son of the Shunammite by Elisha (2 Kings 4:8-37).  Jesus did much of what a prophet does.

Jesus taught in many villages.  He sent out the disciples two by two and gave them authority – his authority over unclean spirits.   They were taught to trust the people of hospitality to provide for them in every village.  Because they were to trust God to open doors of provision, the disciples were to take no food, no money and no extra stuff.  Like Jesus had done before them as they learned by watching him, they called people to repentance.  As Jesus had done in their presence, they cast out demons and healed the sick.

The authority resides in the name of Jesus, who is the Christ (Greek title for Messiah).  The casting out of demons or of evil is a power ministry.  The disciples were given the power because of the authority of Jesus who sent them.  In the name of Jesus, the disciples could use force to drive out evil in a person possessed.  After sharing the new life found in Christ Jesus, the early church evangelists could lay hands and pray for the Holy Spirit to fill the void left by the vacated evil.  This is truly a changing of teams and sources of power.

Soul Sower

Back a generation ago, to be a missionary meant going to another country to work for good and to tell them about Jesus.  For those of us who stayed home, it meant that at least once a year we prayed for them and had a special offering to financially support them.  Things have changed.  Our missionaries have been busy for years equipping their indigenous replacements.  Countries like Ethiopia and Tanzania have developed their own seminaries and have called most of the professors from within their own church today.  The pastors, teachers, evangelists and music leaders are all local.  In fact, many U.S. denominations like the Roman Catholic Church, where pastors and priests are in shortage, are now bringing pastors, priests and professors in from the Philippians, Peru, and Kenya to pastor U.S. churches.

In this new day in the United States, we recognize that there is a growing need for the story of Jesus to be retold among our neighbors, many of whom no longer know nor follow him.  As a result of this reality, Ron and John; and Debbie and Judy began to meet and build relationships with our neighbors on River Park.  On many Saturday mornings, these four individuals spent ninety-minutes to two hours visiting neighbors who opened their doors and some, in time, even opened their lives to these four people.  Relationships were established and lives were changed as well as the neighborhood.  A few people have ventured into worship and the community called Grace as a result of these visits.

While these visits have curtailed over the last couple of years its impact has been sustained.  It is possible to see the visible fruit of this action: the sense of community was strengthen on River Park, many casual conversations took place yet every once in a while a special connection was made.  These are the silver dollar conversations among the many scattered penny chats.  It is these special moments that kept this foursome going on sunny, rainy and snow-covered days.  Add to that the comradery of the two-some and you have the makings of a meaningful start to the weekend.  Ron shared with me, “There was just something special about the routine and the people I met that kept me going.  It actually made my weekend complete whenever we went out,” he added.  They all admitted it was unlike anything else they had ever done before.

In the last couple of years, the invitation and encouragement to build relationships in your own neighborhood has widened the vision beyond the home-base Grace neighborhood.  The challenge of this wider and more general encouragement to meet and establish relationships with your own neighbors is that it is almost impossible to measure.  Our hunch is that some people are talking to their neighbors on occasion. We have evidence of some fruit from these relationships which we celebrate.

To support the people of Grace in reaching out to their neighbors, a new venture was added in Advent 2016.  A blue votive candle and a prayer for the neighborhood was made available for anyone who would put the candle in their front window at night and pray the prayer several times a week.  The idea was two-fold: if we get people thinking about and praying for their neighbors, they will be more likely to reach out to their neighbors.  Secondly, if neighbors notice the candle in the window, maybe they might ask “what does this mean?”

I had this idea several years before but it did not seem to be the right time.  As this past Advent drew near, it felt like this could be the moment.  In my wildest dreams, I had hoped that perhaps twenty-five households would sign up across our region and serve as little lighthouses in our community.  Blue was chosen for the votive because it is the color of hope.  I was more than pleasantly shocked to discover that over 125 people had signed up to pray for their neighborhood.  To keep this prayer and awareness of our neighbors alive, it is a prayer we offer in worship every week.  It takes consistency to build momentum as we pray and concretely demonstrate the love Jesus has for every neighbor in the world.

What Ron, John, Debbie and Judy started over nine years ago on River Park is not just a thing of the past.  We are looking for some new variations of this local work around the church.  The street by street approach remains the most thorough way to meet our neighbors and create genuine caring relationships.  This is all done for good and for God.  On the good side, when neighbors know and watch out for each other, the neighborhood has grown stronger and safer.  This is the basic function of being a good neighbor.  This is a key part of our Christian calling – to be good neighbors (look at the 10 Commandments).  Reminiscing about how our neighborhoods used to be gets us nowhere.  It takes work to get to know your neighbors.

On the God side of the equation, when we show the love of Jesus, receptive, spiritually open and hungry people will be curious.  We are watched.  Do we really care?  Is this a bait and switch where all we care about is getting people to come to Grace?  That is not true love or care.  Because we do genuinely love and care for God’s people, that is real.  It is because we are real, people will want to know the one who loves the world.

Jesus was tested by a lawyer who asked what he must do to inherited eternal life.  The answer given was the Great Commandment: to love God with your whole being and to love your neighbor (Luke 10:25-28).  The question that burns in my heart is this: how can we love our neighbor if we do not know who they are?  This is a critical question because eternal life was staked around this action.  Part of loving our neighbor is the hope that they may come to love, worship and follow the Lord with their whole being.  It is love that can transform our relationships, our neighborhoods, church, school, workplace and world.  It begins with you and me.  Are you in?

Discussion Questions

  • What is it about Jesus and your faith in him that you most appreciate?
  • How could faith in Jesus be helpful to some of your family, friends and neighbors?
  • Jesus sent the twelve and he sends you and me wherever we are to be his witnesses.  It is a matter of authentic living as well as sharing words of life and hope in Christ.  Who is God sending you to be a witness?
  • What if anything do you need to be a stronger witness?