July 7, 2024 - Seventh Sunday After Pentecost

"Ordinary People"

Rev. Gary Percesepe

Mark 6: 1-13

So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people.”~ Mark 6: 13

A disciple in Mark’s gospel is someone who follows Jesus despite never fully understanding what it means or who he is.

The identity of Jesus is a major theme in Mark’s gospel. Rulers, religious authorities, vast crowds, disciples, hometown folk, even family members cannot figure out who he is or what he’s up to. Mark skillfully prods us to ask the same question.

Don’t judge the people of Nazareth harshly for their unbelief; we too disbelieve when we restrict the power of God to transform our lives and communities.

If you have doubts about Jesus, you have lots of company. If you believe in Jesus and place your trust in him, you’re in the happy minority, but this earns you no special favor with God because faith, like life itself, is a gift; you can’t earn it and certainly aren’t entitled to it, it’s freely received but comes with obligations.

Like so many, my father volunteered for the Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Two and a half brutal years later he landed on a Normandy beach in France. He somehow survived the Battle of the Bulge; 80,000 U.S. troops didn’t. He helped liberate Paris, saw camps where Jews were murdered. After the war he met my mother in church, married her and started a family. My father told me he fully expected to die in that war. His faith was tested. As for life after the war, he called it “gravy.” “I survived,” he’d say. “After that, it’s all gravy.” Gravy and grace. He was grateful but wouldn’t think of saying he deserved to survive when so many didn’t. He knew he’d been lucky. He didn’t understand why he'd survived. Blessed are they who believe, even without fully understanding. They are healed; their demons are cast out.

Watching his own family reject Jesus shows his disciples that God entered the human condition fully, complete with suffering. They came to know that they were no longer alone in their weaknesses and failures—and neither are we.

Abandoned by the crowds, Jesus turns to a small group of ordinary people, commissioning them and sending them into the world to do what he’s been doing: proclaiming the good news, offering forgiveness of sins and inaugurating a non-domination system that welcomes all, affirms all, and creates an open table. As disciples we go head-to-head with the principalities and powers, with spiritual wickedness in high places. Jesus sends us to proclaim good news and heal those who are sick at heart and broken in body. Ordinary people empowered to do extraordinary things.

Some years ago, Emory University held their commencement. Dignitaries received honorary degrees and made the customary speeches, which the assembled graduates blithely ignored, chatting through the ceremony. There was only one moment they listened, and that was when a man named Hugh Thompson was speaking. Thompson was the least educated person on the platform. Like my dad, he didn’t finish college, choosing instead to enlist in the Army, where he became a helicopter pilot. On March 16, 1968, he was flying a routine patrol in Vietnam when he happened to fly over the village of Mai Lei just as American troops, under the command of Lieutenant William Calley, were slaughtering dozens of unarmed villagers—old men, women, and children. Thompson set his helicopter down between the troops and the remaining civilians. He ordered his tail gunner to train the helicopter guns on the American soldiers, then ordered them to stop killing the villagers. Hugh Thompson’s actions saved the lives of dozens of people, and for his efforts he was nearly court-marshalled.(1)

As he stood at the microphone that day at Emory, the rowdy student body grew still. Thompson talked about his faith. Simple words. He said, “My parents taught me do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Words of Jesus remembered from Sunday School, words of Christian testimony that affirmed life in the face of death. The students leapt to their feet and gave him a standing ovation.

The Gospel is always proclaimed by flawed mortals—otherwise it would never be proclaimed at all. The Gospel is also always heard by flawed mortals—otherwise it would never be heard at all.(2)

I’m sorry if you thought that God works solo, that God will somehow reach down to stop the viscous wars or shut the mouths of lying leaders or give the native Hawaiians the justice due them or stay the hand of LGBTQ+ teens who would kill themselves because their ‘ohana has cast them out. Maybe you thought that because God is all powerful God does it all alone. But I stopped by here to tell you some good news: this God who comes to us as Jesus Christ is calling you to do his work. The Savior of the world chooses not to save the world all by himself.

Amene.

(1) This story is told in many places. I discovered it in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3.
(2) I owe this insight to Nadia Wolz-Weber.


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