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 I 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 between 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?
- The risks of discipleship and living in a way that witnesses to the reign of God?
- 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?
- The impossibility of resisting it anyway because of God’s divine persistence?
- God’s inclusion of Jesus’s disciples in the mission of God?
- 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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