Jesus sends out his disciples

Pentecost 7 – July 7, 2024

Jesus 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.


This year from Pentecost through until Advent we are following Jesus’ life and ministry in Mark.  As you know Mark is the first gospel written and by far the shortest.  Matthew and Luke used this narrative as the basis for their own, adapting the stories for their purposes and adding materials from other sources.   Mark’s lean text begins with Jesus as a mature man and moves quickly through his life.  In Mark, things happen “immediately”!

We read two episodes today.   In the first, Jesus is teaching his hometown synagogue.   He had been traveling throughout the region of the Galilee, drawing enormous crowds as he taught and performed spectacular healing exorcisms.    You might think his homies would rally to praise the native son; but instead the Nazareth townsfolk mock him.   In Eugene Peterson’s  version of the story in The Message they say,   “Who does he think he is?”  In other words, we all know he’s just a carpenter.  He should stay in his place, not dare to teach!

Jesus sends out his disciplesJesus is stymied by his hometown’s response.   It’s one of the times when we need to remember that Jesus is “fully human”.  He felt their scorn.   Their rejection blunted his ability to do “deeds of power”.    Instead of casting out spirits, he cured a few people on whom he laid his hands.  Still, not bad for a carpenter.

In our second episode, Jesus is back on the road.  He sends out the twelve disciples in pairs empowering them to heal and perform exorcisms as he had been doing.

Jesus instructed them to go with nothing but a staff and the clothes they wore: no food, no money, no bag, no change of clothes.

Through the Community

The first Christian missionaries!   Some of you have been on “mission trips”.   My first time was from seminary to be with the people of Honduras after Hurricane Mitch.    Ten of us went including my dear pal and classmate Posy Jackson.    I blush to recall how Posy and I prepared.   Each of us took a big duffle bag loaded with provisions–mainly food we could prepare on this uncharted journey.   We even brought a small water purifier apiece!   We got to the seaside village of Puerto Cortes to find we were staying in a nice apartment over a market that had everything we needed—including the fundamentals: chocolate and red wine!

red wine and chocolateAnd the faith we found there was so much greater than the faith we brought.   Through the community, God provided abundantly for us.

Jesus sent the disciples out with no provisions because he trusted in God’s provision for them through the community.    Arriving as humble, vulnerable visitors, they were more likely to be welcomed.   And because they were staying with families and radically dependent on the hospitality of those whom they served they might more easily be trusted.

Note that if they weren’t welcomed, Jesus commanded them to move on.   He learned that lesson in Nazareth.

Although the two episodes in today’s gospel may seem unrelated, they are actually contrasting studies in how the power of community can work for ill or for good.

The people who mocked Jesus in Nazareth didn’t just affect him.   By limiting his power to heal, they harmed many towns people who were suffering from debilitating, isolating diseases.     Thus, they harmed the whole community.

On the other hand, in the communities that welcomed the disciples, people were blessed to be cured of illnesses and demons.   Always terse, Mark doesn’t give details.   He didn’t have to.  His audience knew that these healings utterly transformed the lives of the afflicted and all who loved them.  Lifting and healing those people, God lifted and healed the community as a whole.

Gods Were to Be Feared

Before Jesus came, two thousand years ago, all gods were to be feared.  The Jews thought that Illness was God’s punishment for the sins of that person or of their parents.  At minimum the diseased were shunned.  At worst—like lepers or the woman with hemorrhages we heard about last week—they were completely isolated.

SisyphusGreco-Roman culture also blamed afflictions of body or spirit on the wrath of the gods.   Those gods were famously capricious and cruel in their punishments.   Do you recall the tale of Sysiphus, in Homer’s Iliad?  Sysiphus was a tyrant.   Foolishly he tried to trick the gods.  His punishment was to push a large stone up a steep hill only to have it roll back down again and again and again for all eternity.   As I was pulling weeds out of the gravel driveway this week, knowing they will just sprout again after the next rain, I’ve thought a lot about Sysiphus.    But I digress.

To pacify or placate their fearsome gods, both Jews and Romans held rituals of sacrifice, where priests presented burnt offerings.   The Jews did so at the Temple in Jerusalem, the Romans at temples of their gods.

Imagine what it meant to Jews and Gentiles alike to hear from the disciples that the creator of the universe was a benevolent God!   What’s more, that love was the “sacrifice” this God asked: love of God, love of neighbor, love of self.  Simple?  Yes.   But not easy, as we all know.

God’s love was the ultimate healing gift.   It’s no wonder the Christian faith spread and flourished in secret, despite persecutions.   In just over two hundred years grew until it overwhelmed the Empire.

Mark particularly couches Jesus’ healing ministry as a cosmic struggle against evil spirits.    We don’t do many exorcisms these days, but the power of evil is alive and well in our world.    Sean Rowe, our new Presiding Bishop, reminded us of that in the first sermon after his election.    Bishop Rowe cited hatred, racism, bigotry in any form among the present-day evils.   Afflictions of the soul, they are just as serious as bodily illnesses and much more damaging to community.

Countering Evil through Community

How are we supposed to counter evil today?   Just as we did then.   “Do not be overcome by evil,” Paul wrote in Romans, “but overcome evil with good.”    We overcome the evil in ourselves and confront it in others with God’s help, through the power of God’s love.      We do that as individuals and here in this beloved community.

Claudia and I visited Emmanuel the Sunday we moved here six years ago. We stayed because of your warm welcome and the ways that this loving community reached out through the city.   Then our Rector was Anita Schell, a wonderful priest who had restored Emmanuel to health after a grave crisis in leadership.

The Rev. Della Wager WellsA year later, Della came to be our Rector by God’s grace.    With vision, creativity, intelligence, patience, diplomacy, charisma, and a lot of hard work, Della has energetically built on that firm foundation of love and community outreach.   She hasn’t done it alone, but by engaging the myriad gifts among us, trusting the Body of Christ that she found at Emmanuel, and that she and God continue to build here.    I stand in awe of her leadership and thank God for it.

“Build on islands of health and strength”.    The late business guru Peter Drucker gave that advice to people wanting to serve non-profits.   Emmanuel is an island of health and strength.   Let that encourage us all to go out,  expanding the reach of the love from this community of faith, and bringing others back here to join us.

In closing, dear friends, we really do not know what the future holds.  But we know where we are, who we are and Whose we are.   We are God’s beloved children here in the Emmanuel community.

“Be still and know that I am God,” wrote the psalmist.    Centering ourselves in that stillness we better can bring the deep peace and love of God to share with a world in need.   How do we keep on centering ourselves in the midst of crises and conflicts that fills the news?

A dear pastor friend, who is a mystic, said she is using—almost as a mantra—the words that Jesus taught us: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”