The failure of Jesus’ preaching at his hometown in (Mark 6:1-6), and Sending the twelve disciples out to expand his mission (Mark 6:7-13) give us some important insights about ministry in general and parish ministry in particular.
The first learning is about preaching; yes it’s difficult to preach in front of a crowd that remembers you as a young person. When I first preached in my home parish in Lexington, the father of my best friend, who now was the senior warden came up to me and asked if I still collected baseball cards!
Jesus faced a similar kind of reaction. But what really contributed to the failure of his preaching in his hometown of Nazareth was that he didn’t preach on what the congregation wanted to hear. He wasn’t just another synagogue preacher telling people that if they continued to obey God’s law that one day a better future awaited them.
Instead, He told them, apparently on his own authority, that the future was now. Where he was the kingdom was. And he was doing things that demonstrated that-would they be on board? The challenge didn’t go over so well did it? From Jesus’ example we can extrapolate that good preaching is proclaiming the truth of God’s word whether it makes people feel good or not.
Secondly, the text tells us that “he could do no good deed of power there.” In other words, as we learned last week with Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood, an atmosphere of faith is an essential part of any ministry; ministry in Christ’s name can’t flourish without it. Ministry has to operate within the context of trusting relationships and belief in the cause of Christ. If there are other agendas more important than that, ministry cannot flourish; additionally, if there is animosity in the community, clearly it will not be ready for the healing necessary in the lives of the people it seeks to serve.
When he sent them out for mission Jesus told the disciples to travel light; no excess baggage; he told them that if their ministry was not well received they needed to move on to something else; For today’s parish it means when after a time a ministry initiative isn’t working anymore- it needs to die. We need not be afraid to let go of things in the parish that clearly are diminishing because after all our Christian meta-narrative is out of death comes new life- resurrection.
The mission of the church today is to discern fertile places where the Christian message of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation can take root. These places are going to be different from where they were even ten and fifteen years ago. In a time in which Bishop. Johnston calls “institutional fragility” the ministries of today will need to be creative, nimble and flexible.
Bottom line is that for this parish or for any parish the main mission of the Church is to be faithful to the call of Christ-and in the culture we live in now that will mean taking some risks, not playing it safe;. Risking is always a part of the Gospel; we can’t be discouraged by failure; Remember the growth of God’s reign on earth is God’s work not ours. In a time of frustration and discouragement God spoke these words to St. Paul, “my grace is sufficient.”
My hope and prayer is that a parish with the name Grace Church will remember that as your future unfolds. That is the most important thing.
A few years ago while serving as interim Rector in a church in Wisconsin, a Lutheran pastor shared a prayer with me that I think fits in nicely with what our readings say about Christian mission and our role in it.
Lord, your church is composed of people like me.
I help make it what it is.
It will be friendly if I am.
Its pews will be filled, if I help fill them.
It will be known as a place of forgiveness, if I can forgive.
It will make generous gifts to many causes if I am a generous giver.
It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship if I invite and bring them.
It will be a church where people grow in faith, and serve you if I am open to such growth and service.
Therefore with your help Lord, I shall dedicate myself to the task of being all the things you want your church to be for you honor and glory. Amen.