By Paul Koch –
Just about 7 years ago I loaded up my family in our old blue minivan with a roof rack carrier loaded to the gills. The moving truck had already hauled all our stuff away and we began a long road trip out to California. It was exciting. When we had moved away from California, I had never imagined that I would live here again. But now we were coming back, back to the west coast, back to the beautiful weather, back even to the city of Ventura where I grew up and barely graduated high school. In fact, I was going back to the very church of my youth, where my former Sunday School teachers would now attend my classes. And from the moment that I accepted the call to be your pastor to the day that I was installed, and even for a few months afterwards, I would hear over and again the line from Mark 6, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown.”
Now, I don’t know if those who repeated these words to me were trying to give me a warning, sort of a doom and gloom picture of what I might expect coming back here. Or perhaps they just thought it was a funny thing to say. Then again perhaps they were really concerned about the quality of ministry that I could actually do in my childhood hometown. But it certainly left its mark on me. I began to wonder myself if this was the right choice to make. I doubted if I could overcome my youthful misbehaviors and establish myself as a pastor. There were people that I called up and asked for forgiveness, there was a necessity to repent so that I might move forward. I began to look critically at myself and sought ways to clean myself up so that I might be a pastor, a called ordained servant of the Word, in my hometown.
But one of the lessons that I learned coming back home was that I could not actually make myself worthy of being called a pastor. Sure, my past was on display here much more prominently than it ever was in my previous congregation in Georgia, but even if I could escape all of that, I don’t think I would deserve the honor of being called a pastor. I might point to my schooling, all those years at the Seminary, the study of Greek and Hebrew, the countless Bible studies I’ve led and still it would not make me worthy. What I learned in coming home was that the more I examined myself, the more I questioned my past actions and my future ideal, the more I saw that not only was I without honor in my hometown, but I was without honor period. I had no business, based on my own thoughts, words and deeds, to be called a pastor. And certainly, it doesn’t make much sense for anyone to look to me for guidance and the Word of life.
And yet, the context of that famous verse that everyone was so quick to remind me of is fascinating. For our Lord has done some amazing things. He has cast demons out of people and even raised a little girl from the dead. The issue that arises in his hometown doesn’t come from what the people have heard about him, but it comes when they are again in his presence. It is as if they thought this was some other Jesus of Nazareth, some other son of their hometown that grew up to be famous. Or perhaps something powerful and dramatic has happened to him to change how he looked and acted among the people. But when he shows up, he’s just the same kid that they already knew. Nothing has changed. He’s a little older, and yes, he does mighty things and speak with wisdom, but this is still Joseph’s boy. This is the son of Mary and his brothers and sisters still live here with us in town. So, it shifts. It moves from pride to offense. The fact that this is the Messiah is ridiculous. It’s downright scandalous.
The text says that Jesus marveled at their unbelief. The issue was their lack of faith. They refused to believe in who he was because they longed for him to be something more than he was. Something other than the hometown kid they all knew. They wanted the glory and the majesty of a divine healer and miracle worker, they wanted something grander than another rabbi wandering around with a handful of disciples. No doubt, they all had in their own minds what a Messiah ought to look like, what he ought to do, and how he ought to behave. This Jesus just wasn’t living up to the standard. What made it worse is that they already knew him. So, they gave him no honor in his hometown.
Now this desire to build up our Lord, to dress him and make him appealing to others that might be offended by him, this is a temptation that is still powerful in the church today. There is a constant tug to make the gifts of Christ seems a little bigger in our fellowship. Because let’s be honest, baptism and the Lord’s Supper and the preaching of the Word by themselves don’t look all that powerful and awe-inspiring. They seem lowly even ordinary, certainly nothing to write home about. How many of you come into this place, receive the Lord’s supper and as soon as you get home call up your mom or one of your kids and say, “You’ll never believe what I got to do today! I received the body and blood of my Lord for the forgiveness of sins. That’s right; for the forgiveness of all my sins.” No one does that, because it is just part of what we do. It is routine, it is normal, and it doesn’t look all that impressive.
But our Lord doubles down in our text today. He doesn’t try and make himself look better to impress his family and friends. He doesn’t clean himself up. No, he does the exact opposite. He calls together his twelve disciples and begins to send them out, two by two. He sends them out to do exactly what he was doing. He sends them out to drive out demons, to heal the sick and to preach repentance. Think of it this way, if you are scandalized by Jesus then you will surely be scandalized by those who follow him. And yet his work, his gifts, his blessings accompany his disciples. They go as ambassadors. They speak with his authority and hand over his goods to the homes of those they visit.
Now you are the disciples of our Lord. You are those who have followed him who have received from him his blessings and gifts. You, like those original twelve, have been sent in a way. Perhaps you haven’t been sent out two by two to go door to door to preach the good news, but you have been sent. You are ambassadors of the blessings of Christ in the lives of others. In other words, just has he equipped his disciples to do the very things that he does, so he equips you. The one thing that you do better than anything else is speak the Word of truth into the ear of a brother or sister. You speak the Words of promise of forgiveness, of kindness and compassion into the very life of your neighbor. Be that at work, or at the gym, or in the bar, or at home, wherever you are. You carry with you this sending of Christ.
But even I get the temptation to try and make it look better, to hold off until you’ve cleaned things up a bit, and make it look nicer for the home town crowd. But it doesn’t really matter. The power does not rest in how you look or how clean your past is or how faithful you’ve proven yourself to be. The power lies in the Word’s of Christ which find their way to your lips for the blessing of your neighbor. Look at me. I know what I’m talking about here.
This is the ongoing power of the church. It is why we still make our stand here today. It is how we endure and press on. Not by making it look better or more relevant or more entertaining, but by handing on that which we’ve received. The gospel, the free gifts of salvation in Christ alone, this is the power of the church. This is the source of our strength and confidence. So, if I can come home and proclaim the mercies of God to you, you can go out and speak them to your children, to your wives and husbands, to your friends and neighbors. All glory be to God.