I remember Mr. Straehla, our elementary school principal, coming into the classroom one day in third grade to teach us this idiom:

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

His definition has stayed with me.  And it came to mind immediately, first, when I was reading this Sunday’s lesson (Mark 6: 1-29), and then again when the I Love to Tell the Story podcast highlighted the them of divine persistence.

This is one of those Narrative Lectionary selections we’ve all grown to love that seems to have too much going on to deal with in one sermon. (OK, maybe some haven’t.) Any one of these three moves – Jesus returning to Nazareth, the sending of the disciples, and the death of John the Baptist – could inspire a sermon on its own.  Some of us have likely preached these individually or maybe in smaller groupings.  That’s certainly an option for a preacher this week.  However, I believe the fun of the Narrative Lectionary and one of its purposes is to see how the stories flow into and out from each other, how the structure of the narrative holds the gospel and call from God as well as the words themselves.

When I look at both the rejection of Jesus in Nazareth and the death of John the Baptist, I see “proof” and expansion on Jesus’s own words, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town.”  Sure, prophets aren’t easily accepted by their own Jesus’s experience shows us, but John shows us that prophets are in a risky position wherever they go.  Prophets are called to difficult work, challenging work, work that can be dangerous.  It doesn’t matter if you speak the truth at home or publicly, challenging expectations, resisting the status quo, doesn’t do much to win friends among those who are supported by the status quo.

I’d be hesitant to focus too much on individuals as prophets.  While some are certainly called to be prophets, I’m a little wary of the self-identification of prophets.  It seems an easy thing to do, and something I think we pastors are tempted to do often, to say, “A prophet is not without honor, except in her home town” when they didn’t like what said. However, I do think prophetic living, living that witnesses to the reign of God, living that demonstrates God’s desire for wholeness and healing for all, living that resists powers of this world and harness the powers of God, is a potential preaching focus here.  That this prophetic living is difficult living, that it will be met with side eye or refusal to pay attention on a bad day, and animosity or death on the worst day is important to understand, but it’s not a reason to avoid the call.

In fact, that call is emphasized, I believe, by the sending of the disciples, sandwiched sandalbetween these two honest testimonies of what sometimes happens when the will of God is followed and the reign of God is proclaimed in word and deed.  Even when the word might not be honored, even when it makes others nervous, even when people may not welcome you or listen to you, there is still a call to follow, God’s purposes to purpose.   Those obstacles don’t limit the call, and they certainly don’t limit the power and Spirit of God.  This is the divine persistence.

Where do you think you might head this Sunday?

  1. The risks of discipleship and living in a way that witnesses to the reign of God?
  2. The examples in this text of why we even need a call to repent, turn to a new way living, that doesn’t resist the nearness of God’s reign?
  3. The impossibility of resisting it anyway because of God’s divine persistence?
  4. God’s inclusion of Jesus’s disciples in the mission of God?
  5. The call and sending of the disciples as an example of the persistence of God?

Join the conversation as we move toward Sunday in the comments below.

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18 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: If at first you don’t succeed (Mark 6:1-29)

  1. I am going with the 12. Being in a denomination that seems at times to have forgotten that part of being people of faith is to be sent out to share the story, being in a congregation which can accurately describe itself as “the church more people stay home from” (judging from census data about how many UCCan folks are in town compared to our actual attendance) means that I want to highlight this idea that part of being a disciple is risking rejection as we share the story.

    My early thoughts are here:
    http://ministerialmutterings.blogspot.ca/2016/01/looking-ahead-to-january-31-2016.html

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    1. I think I will ultimately spend a lot of time with this, too. It will be a part of the divine persistence, for me. That the calling and sending of disciples is one way Jesus awakes awareness to the reign of God in the world. Risking rejection is an important word for my congregation, too. Risking rejection or “failure” when we try new things.

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  2. On the Divine Persistence (well tangentially anyway)…
    A couple weeks ago when we read about the careless sowing of seed on all sorts of ground it occurs to me that this is not how we try to spread the seed in the church. Before we launch a new program or project we want to be sure that “it will work”. How many possibilities in life are squashed by the simple question “are we sure it will work?” or “what if it doesn’t work?”

    Jesus says you shake your shoes and try again in a new place (or possibly in a new way). ARe we prepared to fail on the way to what we think success is?

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    1. Oh yeah! This is where I read that! I almost quoted you to you above. I loved this. Shaking our sandals has come to sound like almost a snooty thing, or maybe that’s just me. The way you said it, maybe just by saying trying again in a new place or new way, sounds so much more positive or just part of what happens. Nothing to fret over. Nothing to beat ourselves up over. We try, it may or may not work, God is still in charge, so we can move on a try again. What good news! Failure doesn’t mean the whole faith falls to pieces because of us.

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  3. I have been thinking of how the kingdom of God is disrupted and even offensive to some- like the mustard seed that grows into a huge, invasive plant, or like the woman with the discharge or Jairus, who both interrupt each other and Jesus- both the daughter and the woman would be considered disruptive, even offensive…and for those who go out…well, you know what most of us think about door to door evangelists! But I also think, in daily life, it is uncomfortable and inconvenient and disruptive to witness to the love of Christ….when we so easily offer help to someone “if you need anything, just give me a call…” but when the phone call comes, it is never at a convenient time….or when the person shows up in our office for help/pastoral support, its always in the middle of a really hectic week…

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    1. I hear you. We say ministry often happens in the interruptions, but it’s easier to say before or after the interruption. And also the “offense” is a sign there is something for us to pay attention to. I can relate to the reaction Jesus’s hometown has initially. Being confronted with news, even “good” news, that we don’t want to hear or aren’t ready to hear or comes from a source we can’t hear yet can really turn me off. A wider version of myself remembers to pay attention to that reaction and sits with it for a little before fully discarding it. JtB’s arrest (and eventual execution) shows the worst case scenario of what happens when news from an unlikely, offensive source is rejected. The disbelief of folks in Nazareth is a take version or maybe even a mixed response. They don’t believe but the sorta do because some still come for healing.

      But the best news to me (I really grabbed onto this persistence thing) is that Jesus still heals and the disciples are still sent; God doesn’t give up.

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  4. I am drawn to all three stories in our reading – Jesus being rejected in his own hometown, the 12 being sent out without anything but faith and the death of John the Baptist. They remind me of times when life is uncertain and even scary. Our congregation is in an interim right now and there is a lot of uncertainty, doubt and apprehensiveness. We stumble on our faith journey at times. We relate to Jesus’ rejection, going out to the unknown and the loss of life. These are tangible experiences. But in the midst of it all, stands Jesus with the cross in the background. He is steady and his arms are open wide. This is the image I see and cling to. I might title my sermon “When I trip and fall”

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  5. My title is “The First Circuit Riders.” Initially I was thinking about the (likely unwelcome) attention the disciples attracted from Herod, triggering a flashback to the beheading of John. Now I don’t really know where I’m going to go, although I do like Christie’s ideas above. We’re meant to be faithful, not safe.

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  6. I am new to preaching the Narrative Lectionary and so glad to find a solid, thoughtful, searching perspective here. What I’ve been thinking about the pericopes in this strand is that the sending of the disciples centers the other two parts of the story: hometown crowd offended by Jesus’ preaching and John the Baptist killed by the powerful. At the core: God still calls, Jesus still sends. So often we are the 12, or the seventy, the ones sent, though it isn’t easy. I am an interim in the first week, second Sunday at a church and the church has just been rocked (this very week) by a key elder’s diagnosis (at 55) with leukemia. As we worship tomorrow we will be dealing with the reality that the news and conditions of our lives can shock us and rock us so that we MUST look back to the core of our faith. We have to hold on, though still we have work to do. Though we are still sent.

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