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July 5, 2015 - Mark 6.1-13

“Outside of the Box”

Mark 6.1-13

July 5, 2015

 

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is 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?” And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

 

Jesus has preached his first sermon in his hometown and the people there did not like what he had to say.  They rejected him.  No welcome home party for this carpenter, no sir!  Well, if you have read the gospels, you know that this sort of thing happened to Jesus often.  Jesus is at his hometown synagogue. Those at home are astounded by Jesus' teaching. "Where did this man get all this?" they asked. "They took offense at him."  Notice that it does not say that Jesus gave offense- they took it.  That’s a big difference.

 

The problem was that these people are just like other people, and people like to keep God in a box.  People prefer a God that stays inside the boundaries they set up.

 

This story surprises a lot of people.  They think that the people that knew Jesus the longest time would know him best.  They think that the people who knew Jesus the longest would be the first to follow Him.  That is not so.  In fact, Jesus’ behavior must have been a painful puzzle to his family.

 

Why do Jesus’ family and townspeople reject him?  (In Luke’s account the people get violent.)

 

It’s like eating at the kiddie table.  Some people never want to let you grow up.

 

For the longest time in my life, my brothers and family kept me inside their mental boundaries, so that no matter what I did, in their minds, I was always inside those boundaries, or in their box.  It is easy when you are the youngest brother and your siblings are 10 and 12 years older.  They never want to see you as a grown adult.

 

Like his family, we are all used to Jesus; we have all known him a long time.  We think we know him and there is nothing he could say or do that would surprise us.  We are wrong.

 

We like to keep God in a box.  We prefer a God inside boundaries.  ALL people – including preachers.  My temptation as I preach this is to say to you all “Throw away your box and tear down your boundaries!  God won’t fit in them!  You see, I don’t like all those boxes other people have for God – but my box fits just fine.  I like my box.  My boundaries are fine.”  That’s the lie we all tell ourselves.  ALL our boxes for God need to be broken, burnt and busted.  They won’t work – especially if you are really comfortable with them.

 

Jesus’ hometown folk had expectations of Jesus, ideas of who he was and what he would say.  They expect certain things from him.  In their minds, his is just a hometown kid; nothing more is possible.  So, they don’t even entertain the thought that Jesus could be the Son of God, the Messiah.  They dismiss him, not because of what he says, but because what he says does not fit their preconceived notions.  It’s not in the box.

 

Jesus could not do any mighty work among them because of their unbelief.  Their idea of God came in a box that didn’t look like Jesus.  The scripture says in verse 6 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.  Really?  Jesus was AMAZED.  How far off the mark do you have to be to astound someone who is omniscient?  How messed up do you have to be to surprise Jesus?

 

People like to keep God in a box.  People prefer a God inside boundaries.  There are some serious problems with this mindsetGod does not fit in anyone’s box.  And nobody has the right or ability to put boundaries around God.  We want to make God in our own image, not learn to live out what it means to be made in his.  

 

Anne LaMott said it the best: “You know that you have remade God in your own image if it turns out that “God” god hates all the same people you do.”[1]  We need to remember that God is FAR BIGGER than our ideas about God.  There is no box and there are no boundaries.  God does care about our cultural or patriotic or societal ways of doing things.  We can’t take God and dress him up like us and think that’s acceptable.

 

A perfect example is the kind of thing that missionaries face all the time.  Some of the first missionaries to Ghana had a real problem with the way that the native women there wore their long skirts.  Specifically, the women wore long skirts that reached the ground – and nothing else.  They walked around bare breasted all day like it was no big deal.  The missionaries thought this was terrible and sinful.  So the male missionaries came up with what they thought was a brilliant plan had their wives teach the native women to pull their long skirts up over their bosom, and then the shirt covered them from chest to knee and their purity would be preserved.  The men of the village then chased all the missionaries out of town and told them to never come back or they would be killed because they were teaching the women to be immoral and sexually promiscuous.  You see, in the Ghanan culture, a woman’s bare bosom was nothing out of the ordinary.  However it was totally inappropriate for a woman to show her ankles, calves or any part of her legs.  The missionaries had dressed up God just like themselves – and blew their chance to witness to this village.

 

Missionaries that have done their study today know about what is called “contextualization.”  Missionaries take the gospel and translate it into a language that people can understand.  Lottie Moon was a pioneer in contextualization.  I think we ought to all study what missionaries do in order to free ourselves from our own cultural misconceptions of Jesus.  Our box doesn’t work.

 

People like to keep God in a box.  People prefer a God inside boundaries.  It’s so much easier than the real thing.

 

A Southern gospel music fan once told me before a southern gospel singing that he hoped some people got saved at the concert.  That’s a good thought - hopeful and all.  But unsaved people do not listen to Southern gospel music.  They REALLY don’t.  If we want our music to evangelize people, we have to make the style of music unsaved people will listen to.  We have to go outside our box and follow Jesus.

 

This text is a reminder to us that following Jesus is not always easy.  In fact, it is easy to lose sight of Jesus if we are NOT ALWAYS looking for him.  We have to always remember that Jesus’ way is not our way, and our way is NOT Jesus’ way.  We must submit to his way.

 

We are not Christians because we say we are.  We are only Christians if we actually follow Jesus.   John 13.35 – “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

I know of one preacher that says that he looks out at his congregation and sees a whole lot of people that think they are Baptists.  But in reality many of them in their practice more closely resemble other religions of the world than they do Christianity.  Some of them are:

  • Shintoists – buried ancestors and traditions

  • Muslims – believe the written word of God is God’s revelation, not the written record of God’s revelation.That is a big distinction.

  • Buddhists – get away from the world and be spiritual

  • Pagans – religion is to ask the gods to do something nice for us.

 

In fact one of the biggest problems with the church today is that we often offer the world a form of Christianity without Christ.  I see Christianity being sold as a way to happiness every day, a path to blessings, a way to belong to the right group, and a way to be “right.”  But without Christ at the center, we actually have nothing to offer, and it is right that they reject it

 

People like to keep God in a box.  People prefer a God inside boundaries.  But if you have a box or boundaries, then God is probably not there.  God has a tendency to get lose.  In fact, God demands to be let lose.

 

We must submit to God’s way and God’s relationship and not dictate to God how God can act in our lives.  If we don’t do that, we are going to not only miss out on a lot of salvation that Jesus has planned for us and we are going to get angry at what Jesus is telling us.  Sometimes, we just don’t want to hear the truth, and when we do, we take offense.

 

(Tony Campolo and the Texas BSU.)  One of the greatest preachers in the world is Dr. Tony Campolo.  Once during an address to the Texas Baptist Student Union Convention, he noticed that many of the 3000 college students in attendance were not really paying attention to his message about the hunger in Haiti that he was talking about.  So he decided to get their attention.  He said, "I have three things I'd like to say today.  First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition.  Second, most of you don't give a shit.  What's worse is that you're more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night."[2] He was right.  They didn’t ask him back.  But they didn’t forget what he said.  They were too offended to forget.  They TOOK offense at his call to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

 

(Curt Cloninger and the Sermon on the Mount.) Curt Cloninger was asked to fill in on a Sunday morning at a church he was visiting once.  So he preached on the Sermon on the Mount.  After the sermon, he was greeted by a woman who told him, “Well I liked your talk, but I didn’t like a lot of what you said.  We’ll just have to agree to disagree.”[3]  Well, the lady didn’t like his sermon. That’s nothing new for a preacher.  Except that Curt Cloninger is not a preacher.  He is an amazing Christian actor.  He was just filling in.  And since he doesn’t preach per se, Curt just memorized Jesus’ entire Sermon on the Mount and just acted it out.  He just basically recited scripture and this little church lady was offended.  Oh yeah, we THINK we know Jesus, but we don’t know him like we think we do.

 

If we really believe Jesus is the Son of God; if we really profess to the world that we are Disciples of Jesus, then we had better start doing what he saidLet us rejoice that God forgives us, because we all need it.

 

In Mark the disciples are often clueless.  They don’t know what they are doing many times.  But look at what they do, without having any preconceived notion of what Jesus can do through them, they are able to go out, cast out demons, and heal the sick.  All because Jesus was able to work through them.

 

So today's scripture is a vivid reminder that following Jesus is not always easy. Jesus impresses us with how against the grain his way is when compared to our ways. Something about Jesus and his message struck hard against the perceived wisdom, the common sense, the universal values of his day - and our day. His way, the gospel way to life, is outside the box of our thinking.

 

What will it take for us to throw away the box?  Because if we do, we will be able to be used, just like the disciples were.  We are not just some club, some IRS code 501 © (3) non profit organization.  We are a family of faith thrown together by the call and commission of Christ.  It is our mission to throw away the box, to tear down the walls and to let Jesus loose! Amen.

 

[1] Anne LaMott said this, but I don’t know where.  So go read all her stuff since she is smart and funny and everything she writes is worth reading several times over.

[2] http://www.progressive.org/?q=mag_camp0805  Dr. Campolo has begun many speeches with this quote, and the incident of using it at the Texas BSU convention is a verbal anecdote.  And no, I am not going to say the word “shit” from the pulpit.  I will say something else less stinky.

[3] Curt Cloninger, sometime in between 1985 and 1989 when I was a student at Furman and I saw him there and he blew me away.