Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (July 7, 2024)

Gospel: Mark 6:1-13

By yesterday morning, I still didn’t know what I was going to say about this passage from Mark’s Gospel. Several of you in past years have asked me about the sermon writing process, and about when I figure out what I’m going to say. Some weeks what I want to say hits me like a bolt of lightning early in the week, and it’s finished. Some weeks I write something on Monday that by Thursday I no longer like, and I ditch it and start again.

Then there are weeks like this one, where I read the text of the passage (over and over and over again) and read the commentaries and listen to the sermon preparation podcasts … and still arrive at nothing. Yes, occasionally mild panic sets in, but in the back of my mind I always have confidence that something will arise from the nothing. What I never know is how.

This time the answer came out of time spent reflecting on a few pastoral visits made this week. They were visits where I had a basic idea of what to expect when I arrived but otherwise could only trust in God to give me what I needed in those moments. I could only go with the three things I knew I could offer: my time, my prayers, and my presence. I’m sure most if not all of you have had similar experiences in your lives: you go to see and spend time with someone, perhaps someone going through a difficult or emotional time in life, and you’re not sure what to do while you’re there.

Dr. Franklin Duncan, an Atlanta-based chaplain and counselor, summarized a lifetime of walking with others through significant moments in their lives into four pastoral rules. The first is to show up; the second is to listen.[1] That’s it: show up and listen. Don’t come charging in trying to fix the situation by providing all the answers. Just go to them, be with them, and listen to them.

That’s what we have in this commissioning of the disciples by Jesus. They’re not being asked to wait around for those experiencing difficulties, trauma, or loss to seek them out; they’re being sent to go to those people. They’re being sent to take the message of the Kingdom of God and authority over unclean spirits and to do so with nothing more than the staff in their hand and the clothes on their back. They’re being sent into the world to see what they find … to show up, and to listen.

I’ll pause here to say that there is an added instruction Jesus shares with them: if they don’t like what you have to say, don’t get angry. Don’t seek revenge. Don’t hold a grudge. Just get up and go on your way. It’s an action Jesus had just modeled after being called out by the locals, in the moments when they had transitioned from being amazed at what he had shared with them to chastising him for not doing what they expected. He was a carpenter; he was a son; he was a brother. He had a societal obligation to do his work and support his family, not walk around proclaiming God’s Kingdom.

So they rejected him. But he didn’t retaliate; he didn’t argue; he didn’t try to control the situation; he didn’t try to call them out for anything they may or may not have been doing. He simply moved on, taking his message to other villages in the region. He shook the dust off his sandals and moved on, just as he instructed the disciples to do. It’s something found in Dr. Duncan’s fourth pastoral rule: you can’t take responsibility for the outcome. You can only do what you can do. The disciples weren’t called to be successful; they were called to be faithful.[2]

And so are we.

Let’s return to my opening point, though: simply being present to the needs and situations of others. While I was writing this, I saw that my friend Becca Stevens, the founder of Nashville-based Thistle Farms, posted one of her wonderful brief reflection videos. In it she talked about how it’s crazy for her to consider that when she started 27 years ago with a home for five women, she had no idea it would grow into a global movement. She had no idea that six new homes would open just this year. As she said at the end of her video, “It’s crazy what doing small things with great love can do.”

Hearing her say that was one of those Holy Spirt-led, sermon-writing “Yes!” moments. That is I think exactly what Jesus was asking of his disciples in this moment of commissioning. Go out. Don’t take anything with you except what God has placed within you. Do the small – and yes, perhaps to some of you, crazy – thing of going and simply being present with those in need of a message … in need of healing … in need of a presence. Don’t try to fix everything or give all the answers. Just give of yourself and of your love. Don’t worry about the conclusion. Just … be.

Friends, this call – this commissioning – is one extended to each of us. Go to others with nothing more than what you have within you. Don’t try to prepare for what you’ll find, because honestly, you’ll never be able to fully prepare. Don’t try to say the right thing or do the right thing. Don’t worry about the outcome of your time together; that’s up to God. Just go and do small things with great love. Just go and be with. Just go and be present. Just go and be.

What you say may not be remembered. That you were there always will be.

Amen.


[1] Bob Setzer, Jr., “Mark 6:6b-13 – Pastoral Perspective.” Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, p. 469 (Kindle edition).

[2] Setzer, p. 471.