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Give Me a Sign, Lord

Updated: 5 days ago

Reverend Philip Stringer

Mark 6:1-13

LET US PRAY: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Feed us with your Word, and speak to our hearts, that we may be filled with your endless life, now and forever. AMEN


Krehl going to college— it wasn’t until the car was pulling out of the driveway that I realized what I was losing. What I had was wonderful -- but because it was “ordinary” I hadn’t realized it.


When Jesus went home to Nazareth, what he experienced was similar -- but sort of in reverse. The people of Nazareth knew that Jesus had left -- They don’t seem to have been particularly bothered by that -- They had heard a lot about what he was doing while he was away -- teaching and healing. They were excited at his return -- But when he refused to be used by them, their excitement quickly changed to anger, and they reminded each other, “it’s only Jesus.” It’s hard to impress the folks back home -- the ones who’ve seen you in diapers and with cereal all over your face.


What happens in our gospel text today is more than a simple hometown dynamic. Jesus was not only a surprise to the folks back home. There were a lot of people surprised by him. The deeper issue in our text today is about our expectations of God. How do we expect God to relate to us? That’s the question. For many of the people who met Jesus, the answer -- when they looked at him -- was, “Not like this.” Jesus just didn’t fit the bill.


And we agree. Jesus often does not fit the bill of how we want God to relate to us. Is this not true? Who here has never asked God for a clear, unambiguously divine sign to show the correct answer for a question or problem? Even when we know better, that is often what we want -- something out of the ordinary to show us clearly what to do. That’s what we call being “spoon fed.”


Today, the Living Word of God speaks to us, reminding us that there is no physical boundary between the divine and the ordinary. There is no line above us where the world ends and heaven begins. There is no line below us where the earth ends and hell begins. There is no country for the ordinary and country for the holy. Today, the Living Word of God speaks to us and says that if you want to see the Almighty -- then you’re going to have to look into the most mundane and ordinary places in creation.


Something out of the ordinary. Something not natural. Something not part of our reality. Somehow, one reasons that having something “unreal” happen will make the right choice “more real.”


But here’s an idea. What if the clear, unquestionable sign from God is not unreal, but real -- not un-natural or SUPER-natural, but simply natural? What if the sign God gives to us, and the encounter God has with us is not something foreign, but meets us on our turf, in our conditions? Wouldn’t that be something truly remarkable? Truly life changing?


Jesus. We embrace the “divine” in him, but so easily minimize the human. We demand that he be something other than he is.


Mixing the divine and the human is difficult business. Even the gospel writers seem to have shifted the balance to suit their needs -- Matthew wrote very much about the humaneness of Christ. John, on the other hand, depicts Jesus in such a way that we halfway expect that he really DID have that glow around him that we see in so many paintings!


In our gospel reading, the people couldn’t fathom it -- they WOULDN’T fathom it. “And Jesus was amazed at their unbelief.” Here was something -- someONE more than they hoped for. But they insisted on something less, actually -- they insisted upon a God removed from them.


Our readings today speak to us about the amazing, paradoxical, seemingly foolish way that God meets us -- in weakness.


It must certainly be one of God’s favorite things to do: to work surreptitiously. And yet, when we take time to consider it, it is easy to find the hiddenness of God -- the power of God cloaked in weakness. In the scriptures it is shown to us over and over again --


A homeless couple in their 90’s becomes the chosen instrument of God to heal the world.

Tiny, unfaithful, selfish Israel is the nation through whom all the nations will be blessed.


A baby pulled from a basket in a stream leads God’s people to freedom through the Red Sea and into the promised land.


A simple mere mortal, named “Ezekiel” is sent to prophesy to Israel as the mouthpiece of God.

A powerless (and many would argue valueless) peasant girl and her carpenter husband are the parents of God, who enters the world helplessly as a child, unimpressively surrounded by the stink of a barn in the night.


The glory of God is clothed in weakness, because that is where we live. God is intending great things for us, but God works in ways that include us. The book of Revelation tells us, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is among God’s people.” We look forward to the day when this is proclaimed openly among all people. But today God meets us where we are, working God’s extraordinary will through the ordinary.


In ordinary water, you have been born again, by God’s will and made members of a holy people; ambassadors of Christ, and co-heirs with him of the kingdom of God. you are ordained as God’s holy priests in the world ... and we snicker -- outwardly or inwardly -- at the though . . . and maybe tremble, too. Surely God isn’t serious! You people -- we are all SO ordinary.


Do not underestimate what God has done and is doing inside of you. It is the Holy Spirit who dwells in you. Do not overlook the quiet greatness of the Holy Spirit’s power.


It is God’s grace that is revealed in you. Do not underestimate the power of God’s grace. Instead, celebrate that plain old, ordinary you -- have become a demonstration of just how wonderful and all-encompassing God’s grace is. As Paul has pointed out, “on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses . . . a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” Jesus is near to us, and by his grace, God is including you and me in God’s plan of salvation for all of the world.


Never-the-less, sometimes it seems to me that it would be simpler for God to stay an arm’s length away. Like the people of Nazareth, what we may prefer is the supernatural. But what we get is Jesus.


So, Jesus comes less obtrusively. The people of Nazareth could not accept that God could be so ordinary -- so Jesus sends his disciples, giving his godly authority to them. This is more exciting for the people, somehow -- that men should act more like gods than for God to act like a man. But nevertheless, it worked. God cloaked in the weakness of the disciples.


And that’s still what we get. Since you and I know the big picture (that Jesus reigns in glory) that’s what we want -- supernatural signs and mandates from God on High. What we get is the church; a bitter disappointment by supernatural measures. But that’s what we get. And thank God for that. As Jesus encounters you, he does it in your condition, on your turf, with ordinary water he bestows his Holy Spirit and sets you apart, firmly and forever as an heir to the kingdom of God, never to be defined by the world’s measures of value.


He places you -- holy and ordinary -- into a family we call the church, full of ordinary, holy people like yourself, who are weak but strong. And together, through many failures and missed direction, we live by grace, and thus continue to seek the will of God in our ordinary lives and serve him. And living together, we grow in faith, hope, and obedience to the will of God. That is God’s gift -- God’s sign to you.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “He who can no longer listen to his brother will soon no longer be listening to God, either.”


God is still clothed in flesh. If you’re looking for a sign from God, well -- it is sitting right next to you, and in front of you and behind you. The Almighty -- The creator of all that is, seen and unseen -- is living in your neighbor!


So, with apologies to the liturgy, I would like for us to share the peace with one another now, and as we do, I encourage you to look into the eyes of your neighbor and see God coming to you. Listen to them bless you with the peace of our Lord, and believe: God is veiled in flesh, but God is most certainly here.


STAND AND SHARE THE PEACE.

AMEN

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