Ten years ago, I was installed as the pastor of Abiding Grace. Now, it doesn’t seem like it was that long ago, but I guess the calendar doesn’t lie. So, when we come to milestones like this, it makes sense to think again about what we’re doing and to ask if it is what we hoped for. Is this working out?
Today’s Scripture reading from Mark 6 gives great opportunity to do that. In Mark 6, Jesus is sending his disciples out on a mission journey, two by two.
And, as we see him do that, we are reminded what he’s looking for. And that’s important, because if I base my ministry on what will please the people and forget about what Jesus is looking for – I’m a failure. So let’s look at what he says in Mark 6:7-13:
6 - "Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 - Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. 8 - These were his instructions: …‘Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 - And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them.’
12 - They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 - They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them."
What is Jesus looking for in a ministry? What he wants is that through the work for which we have been appointed, the evil spirits are fleeing, like they did for the disciples in our text. That’s what happens when they come into contact with the Word we’re carrying. What I pray is that our work here is that of the disciples – preaching that people should repent – should get a change of heart, that’s what that word means – a heart transplant, from the heart that beats to the drum of this world and longs for the things our society values to the heart that beats and bleeds the love of Jesus.
And you see the love of Jesus throughout our entire text. First, we see him doing the work – teaching what really matters from village to village – showing the world God’s love. Then, in verse 7, he tasks the disciples with that same work. Now, of course, they weren’t worthy of representing God – showing God to the people they would meet. Only Jesus – God’s own Son could do that, right? But no – Jesus called them. He "gave them authority" our text says, like he still does with his disciples today. He uses us – certainly no better qualified than those fishermen, farmers and tax collector – sinners all of them.
Notice how they were to treat that provision. The message was key. They were not to change the message so that they would be liked or be better taken care of.
Think of how important that is. I think that’s one of the things plaguing our nation’s churches today because it so attacks our hearts.
People try to excuse differences of teaching on the basis of what they call "interpretation." What they mean is that they want to teach what they want to hear or what might make sense to them, and they are willing to twist God’s Word and take it out of context to make it say what they want it to say, what they think it should say. That’s not interpretation – that’s a rejection of the Word, and the disciples were told to be ready to leave before doing that.
God says in Malachi 2: "I hate divorce," not, "I suggest against it unless you really don’t feel like loving one another". He says in Leviticus 18, "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable," not, "Do whatever you feel comes naturally as long as you call it love."
He says, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure" (Hebrews 13:4), not, "As long as you’re in a committed relationship and are both consenting adults, after all, no one can really wait for marriage." God’s Word is clear.
But our society and our sinful selves struggle when God’s will means our hearts needs to change. We don’t want to go through the difficulty of that "repenting." And all too often, we go with the flow of what everyone else is doing, of what seems to come so naturally. You know what that’s called? Sin d…the wages of which is still death.
And for every one of those sins came Jesus. He changed first. True God became frail man. Lord of glory became despised sinner. Judge of all was judged and found guilty and scourged and whipped and killed. He changed so that he could change us and fill our repentance with His forgiveness. He came so that we could repent – so that he could change our hearts.
And having changed our hearts, he now sends out us repentant sinners. He sends us out with that message that first affected us, and we now have the responsibility to share. Notice, the disciples weren’t responsible for how the people would receive the message (some would reject). They were just responsible to share it.
And how did it go when they proclaimed that message? Look at the last verse. Success! Just like those disciples, we’ve been sent with a message. And just like them, our Savior is with us to bless it. And he has. Keep it up.
In Christ. Amen.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 8 and 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.