Psalm 123, Ezekiel 2:1–5, 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10, Mark 6: 1-13
In our Gospel passage today Mark continues to raise the question he repeatedly asks in his Gospel: who is Jesus? When Jesus stills the storm on the Sea of Galilee, those in the boat with him wonder, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”. When he brings Jairus’s daughter from death to life, those who witness it are “overcome with amazement”. In this story it is not those who are encountering Jesus for the first time but those who have known him for years who are asking the same question about Jesus’ identity and responding to his teaching with amazement. How could this miracle worker possibly be ‘little Jesus who grew up round the corner’ or ‘Jesus the carpenter who made our table’? They are amazed and perplexed to the extent of offence and rejection.
The story of Jesus’ own rejection at Nazareth sets up the mission of the twelve disciples later in the passage. Mark’s inclusion of Jesus’ experience in Nazareth seems to prepare the ground for the potential of the twelve disciples to meet a mixed reception. When Jesus warns them ‘if 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,’ we cannot help but be reminded of Jesus’ recent experience in Nazareth. Nevertheless, Jesus asks them to go out and to persist in their mission in his name.
This sending out of the disciples to the villages to heal, and to proclaim that all should repent, follows a pattern in Mark’s Gospel of Christ beginning to hand over authority to those who believe in him and have faith. The haemorrhaging woman, who we met in our Gospel last week, healed herself through her faith in Christ when she touched the hem of his garment. As Christ said “your faith has made you well”. But being sent out by Christ in mission is not a reward for the disciples growing faith. Rather, it is a sign that faith brings authority – and authority brings responsibility. We too as Christian disciples share that same authority and responsibility that comes with our faith, to translate that faith to action – in our words, in our deeds, and in our priorities. Just like the disciples we have a responsibility as Christians, to proclaim, to heal, and to claim victory over evil.
This call to action is very present in our liturgy, such as the words we hear every Sunday at our Eucharist. The final words of the service at the dismissal are all about this. We are sent out – “Go – in peace” and told “to love and serve the Lord!” So the service doesn’t conclude with a ‘the end’, but rather a “get ready everybody - this is just the beginning!”. It’s interesting to think about the Latin for the dismissal ‘Ite, missa est’ which those of you who have some Latin knowledge will know, means “go! You have been dismissed!” The Latin dismissal “Ite, missa est.” is in fact where the word “Mass” comes from - “missa est” - which at its most fundamental level means “it is sent” or “it is the dismissal.” More than a mere declaration that it is time to leave, this has the function of emphasizing our Christian call to “mission” (a word with the same Latin origins). The end of our liturgy of the Eucharist is not an ending at all, it is a spring board into action, reflecting God’s mission for the church and the mission we should all see as a personal commitment and part of our own faith journey.
This call to action from God is also present in the wonderful passage we have heard from Ezekiel. The prophet is told by God "o mortal stand up on your feet and I will speak to you". Ezekiel is literally lifted up onto his feet by the Holy Spirit so that he too could be sent out by God, in this case to be prophet to the people of Israel. Just like Ezekiel and the twelve, we are being lifted onto our feet at the end of each service, sent out by God to put our faith into action.
Putting faith into action can take many forms. It could be thinking about whether you can volunteer for anything in church, on a rota, on the PCC, junior church, or the music team, there are lots of different ways to be involved within the church for people of all ages and with different time commitments. (And if anyone is thinking about volunteering for anything, please do come and see me after the service because I would love to talk to you!). That action could also happen outside the church, by getting involved with any community and environmental causes you feel strongly about which are echoed in the church’s five marks of mission. It could also be action in words as well as deeds, in how you speak about your Christian faith with others. To me there is perhaps too much of a distinction between mission – our outreach as a church in deeds, and evangelism – our outreach in words. It is clear that Jesus’ ministry in Nazareth and that of the Twelve to the villages was unified, encompassing both healing, “mission” and proclamation “evangelism”.
I think as Christians sometimes we can feel that speaking about God outside the church is more difficult than doing things. We are aware, of course, of being sensitive to people of other faiths, and none at all, and sometimes it’s hard to find the right words. But often it is the simplest words, talking about where you were on Sunday for example, that can open the doors to honest conversations about faith and what we believe about God. It’s not about polished words or sophisticated theology, but about honest witness to our own faith. These conversations are equally positive as part of an inter-faith discussion or with people who might become interested in exploring Christian faith. For me evangelism is not about getting people on our side or even growing the church, but simply to tell others about the God who has come to mean so much to us. It is about speaking truth in love, from the heart, in our own words, and never being ashamed.
This Gospel passage reminds us never to under-estimate the gifts and wisdom of others, and particularly those who are very familiar to us – who are we taking for granted in our midst? It also reminds us that mission in word and deed is a very special responsibility handed over to us as Christian disciples by Christ himself. As his disciples we have a responsibility to put our faith into action through words and deeds. So when we hear the words of the dismissal at the end of our Eucharist services, we can remind ourselves that this ending is in fact a beginning – we are being lifted to our feet and sent out, empowered by the Holy Spirit to live out our faith in love, and from the heart. And what better response can there be to this recognition of our faith, than “Thanks be to God”.
Amen Rev Melanie Harrington