Sunday’s sermon: Called to Hard Things

called to hard things

Text used – Mark 6:1-29





  • I grew up in a small town here in Minnesota. I grew up in a town that was fairly homogenously white. I grew up in a family that let me know I was loved and valued. I grew up running the halls and singing my favorite hymns in a church building that was happily and safely nestled among a dozen other Christian buildings in our town. The biggest sacrifice I had to make for my faith growing up was dragging my tired, teenage, out-too-late-the-night-before butt out of bed “early” on Sunday mornings to attend services … even earlier if it was a choir morning. A lot of my friends went to church. Some of them didn’t. But it was whatever. If you went, you went. If you didn’t, you didn’t. It wasn’t a big deal. Then, when I was in high school, I found this book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble. [HOLD UP Jesus Freaks: Martyrs by dcTalk[1]] This book tells the stories of people around the world and throughout history – from the early church all the way up to today – who have suffered for their faith.
    • Read “A Pirate from the House of Prayer”[2] → And believe me when I say this, friends, this is one of the tamer stories. Actually, it’s probably the tamest story in this book and the other book that followed.[3] These books were stark eye-openers for me. Intellectually, I knew what persecution was. I knew that it existed in the world. But that was where my knowledge ended. For me, faith was and always had been a comfort, an encouragement, a support, and a soft place to land – soft, easy, pleasant. And there’s no denying that sometimes – often, even! – that’s what our faith is for us. But our faith is also a call – a call to do and be and follow the Holy Spirit into the world. And sometimes, that call is anything but soft … easy … comfortable.
      • Scripture reading this morning take us into three places where those involved are called to hard things
  • First story finds Jesus himself called to a hard thing in what’s supposed to be a soft and easy place – his home
    • Text: Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him. On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised.[4] → Let’s pause for a minute to remember where Jesus has been – where “that place” is that he’s just left.
      • Today’s passage comes right on the heels of what we read last week – Jesus healing the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and bringing Jairus’ daughter back from the dead → Those are some pretty miraculous exploits! I know he’s the Son of God and everything, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine that those events had Jesus feeling pretty good! Feeling So from the resurrection bed of Jairus’ daughter, Jesus heads back home and starts teaching in his home synagogue.
        • My first opportunities to teach and preach were in my home church → first time: summer after my freshman year in college and once every summer after that
          • Surrounded by people who loved me and were excited to explore this new journey with me
          • Experience that was welcoming, encouraging, uplifting, and affirming of my gifts for ministry
      • But that’s not exactly the experience that Jesus had. – text: Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.[5] → From the spiritual and emotional high of raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead … to being doubted and scorned and rejected in his own hometown. Reading this passage, I have to wonder if Jesus knew this was coming. Very often, the gospels make it clear that Jesus is aware of the outcome before it happens, but I wonder if this was one of those times. Or if this was a time when Jesus was utterly taken aback – when he expected welcome and support and instead received ridicule and disapproval.
        • Gr. “they were repulsed by him and fell into sin” = really complex word (yup … just one word for the majority of that phrase!): connotations of falling away, being led into sin, taking offense, being angered or shocked, something scandalizing → Surely, this was not the next step that Jesus wanted to take in his ministry – causing people to fall away … to be led into sin.
          • See a hint of this at the very end of this section in Jesus’ response – text: He was unable to do any miracles there, expect that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. He was appalled by their disbelief.[6]
            • Gr. “appalled” = wondered, marveled at, be astonished (element of surprise and the unexpected) → Clearly Jesus didn’t expect this response.
    • No doubt that Jesus is called (Son of God, and all that) → And Jesus knew that parts of this calling would be difficult, of course. But did he expect this to be one of those times? Or was this one of those times when he was called to something and expected one response and received something wholly different.
      • Times like that in our lives and our calls: affirmed that we are called to something – a position, an action, a stance, an opportunity – and we think it’s going to be good (positive, encouraging, healthy, nurturing) and it ends up being far from those things (challenging, contentious, stressful, and draining) → That doesn’t mean we weren’t still called to do that thing. But it also reminds us that all the things to which we are called aren’t necessarily easy. It reminds us that we are indeed called to hard things, sometimes unexpectedly hard things.
  • See the flip side in our next part of our reading this morning → Jesus sending the 12 disciples out to work on their own for a bit
    • First part of the text: Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching. He called for the Twelve and sent them off in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits.[7] → So here we have the disciples being sent out by Jesus on some mission trips, right? And he’s being generous in that he’s sending them off together, he’s sending them off in pairs. But as he sends them off, Jesus makes it clear to the disciples that this mission trip will not be all fun and games and adoration and glory. Right up front, the disciples know that they are being called to a hard thing here.
      • 1st sign: they are to take nothing with them – text: He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick – no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts.[8] → Clearly, this is not going to be an easy trip. They are to take nothing with them but their faith and their companionship with each other. No security. No luxuries. Nothing to make their road more leisurely or assured. They are to rely on faith alone – their own faith and the faith of others.
      • Leads to 2nd sign: they are to depend entirely on the hospitality of others – text: He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.”[9] → I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but the introvert in me is positively screaming at the thought of this! This is so far outside of “comfort zone” that I can’t even see a glimpse of the edges of that comfort zone. And yet this is what Jesus called the disciples to do.
        • Cannot help but hear ringing of calls to overseas mission in this – reminded of Luke and Andrea and their call to Nepal
          • Nepal = not going to be an easy transition
            • Different language (different alphabet!)
            • Maybe not the safest country in the world
            • Not the most luxurious country in the world
            • Predominantly Buddhist and Muslim
          • But I kept hearing the way Andrea described their call [READ ANDREA’S DESCRIPTION] → Indeed, friends, sometimes we are called to do hard things – things that we know from the get-go are going to be hard, hard, hard. Uncomfortable. Unfamiliar. Uncertain. Maybe even unsupported. But that does not mean that there is not abundant blessing and hope and transformation to be found in the midst of those hard things.
  • Last part of today’s text = example of the hardest thing of all: martyrdom → recounting of the story of the beheading of John the Baptist
    • Remember John’s call from before he was even born
      • Miraculous birth to Elizabeth and Zechariah who were old and had long since given up on having children
      • Angel Gabriel to before John was born: “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. He will be a joy and a delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”[10] → mighty and lofty call
      • John certainly lived out that call – Mt: In those days John the Baptist appeared in the desert of Judean announcing, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” He was the one of whom Isaiah the prophet spoke when he said: The voice of one shouting in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.” John wore clothes of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey. People from Jerusalem, throughout Judea, and all around the Jordan River came to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River.[11]
      • And yet in service to that call – in staying true and faithful and obedient to that call – John made plenty of people uncomfortable and irritated … including, unfortunately, King Herod and his wife. – today’s text: Herod himself had arranged to have John arrested and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of Herod’s brother Philip. Herod had married her, but John told Herod, “It’s against the law for you to marry your brother’s wife!” So Herodias had it in for John.[12]
        • Herodias bides her time
        • King Herod is having a birthday party à his daughter (also confusingly named Herodias) dances and so pleases her father that he tells her she can have whatever she wants
        • Herodias (daughter) run to her mother (Herodias) and says, “What should I ask for?”
        • Herodias (mother) sees her chance: “John the Baptist’s head,” Herodias replied. Hurrying back to the ruler, she made her request: “I want you to give me John the Baptist’s head on a plate, right this minute.”[13] → And it was done. King Herod had John beheaded because John had called out truth and the abuse of power and propriety where he saw it.
  • Friends, as Christians, we are called to speak and live out God’s word in this world. Very often, that word is love and hope and compassion, but sometimes, especially when that word of love and hope and compassion is for those on the margins … those on the outside … those deemed “too different, too useless, too worthless, too lost, too Other,” God’s word makes other people uncomfortable. It is a convicting word. It is a word that brings light to dark places, places that other people would prefer stay hidden. And that is indeed a hard call to live into. It takes courage. It takes conviction. It takes a bold and undeniable leap of faith. But it cannot be denied, friends, that we are called to hard things. It is our blessing. It is our challenge. But it is our call. Amen.

[1] dcTalk and The Voice of the Martyrs. Jesus Freaks: Martyrs – Stories of Those Who Stood for Jesus, the Ultimate Jesus Freaks. (Tulsa, OK: Albury Press), 1999.

[2] dcTalk, 84-87.

[3] dcTalk and The Voice of the Martyrs. Jesus Freaks, vol. II: Stories of Revolutionaries Who Changed Their World Fearing God, Not Man. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers), 2002.

[4] Mk 6:1-2b.

[5] Mk 6:2b-3.

[6] Mk 6:5-6a.

[7] Mk 6:6b

[8] Mk 6:8-9.

[9] Mk 6:10-11.

[10] Lk 1:13-17.

[11] Mt 3:1-6.

[12] Mk 6:17-19a.

[13] Mk 6:24b-25.