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Dependence on God and miracles.

Mark 6:1-13

“And Jesus could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them” (Mark 6:5)

Compare that with Mark 6:13
“They (the disciples) cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them”.

A link to the audio of this talk

There was a huge difference between the ministry of Jesus in his hometown and the ministry of the disciples – and, one suspects by the reference to anointing with oil, the ministry of the early Christians after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We long to see those deeds of power. We long to see people set free from the grip of evil, and those wonderful healings.

When I finished at university I went to work as a parish assistant in Hackney. I was asked to visit a young man who was in a long-term coma. I sat by his bed, and I would pray for a miracle.

Perhaps, if I am honest, I wanted to see that miracle so that I could claim that I had power, so that I would be vindicated, so that I would know for certain that God existed. I wanted everyone to know that  we are right when we speak of Jesus. And in my mind, I had thought that a dramatic miracle would prove it.

We do need to examine our motives.

But just because we have the wrong motives it does not mean that longing to see deeds of power is wrong. 
Maybe it really is the Holy Spirit beginning to be at work in us, giving us a desire for works of power because we really have compassion on those for whom we have concern, because their pain has become our pain, and because we long to see the Kingdom of God and the glory of God.

And even though, in the two years that I visited that young man, we saw no miracle - I have seen just enough of those deeds of power to show me that it does happen, and just enough to encourage me to long for more. (Trish’s back, Derek’s eyesight, Joan reading Psalm 25 on retreat)

I suspect that for some of us in the Church, the people of God, we need more God imagination. We need to look beyond the things of this world.

The people of Nazareth had no God imagination. They could only see Jesus from a human perspective.
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”
They saw him and defined him in terms of his human genealogy, his human origins, and in terms of what he did. He was the carpenter, the son of Joseph.

But when they limit Jesus, when we limit another person – and define them only in human, this world, terms, we really do close ourselves off to the power of God.

We need to be willing to look beyond.
We need to be prepared to exercise more imagination.

Last week I was listening to a podcast (Re-enchanting) about CS Lewis. In it they spoke of how he converted back to Christianity because he was encouraged to read the Christian story in the same way that he read ancient myths.

He read the ancient myths as stories which told deep truths about human beings, about relationships, about value and about meaning –not in the language of science, mathematics or logic but in the language of story. The battles of the gods on Mount Olympus were not true in any scientific sense, but the stories about those battles revealed deep truths.

And so Lewis was encouraged to read the Christian message first as a story that is telling us deep truths about human beings, about life and about everything, about ultimate reality. It tells us about death and resurrection, about love and self-sacrifice, about the triumph of good over evil, of life over death in a world that looks as if evil trumps good, and death triumphs over life.

But having started to reread Christianity as one of the myths, Lewis discovered that there were two huge differences.

The first was that the Christian story is not only true in a mythic sense but also in a scientific sense. There really was a man called Jesus who was crucified and who rose from the dead. And the second is that the Christian story is the story on which many of the other myths, or fairy tales, are based. They are echoes of this one true myth. The ugly duckling that turns into a swan, the cursed prince or princess who is released by a kiss, the defeat of the evil witch or wizard with all their seeming power, and the happy ever after. They are true because they are not only the expressions of our deepest longings, but also because they are retellings of the one true story of the king who went to the cross, who died and who three days later rose from the dead.

And our reading today contrasts the unbelief of Jesus’ home town with the faith of the twelve.

They are prepared to look beyond the human, to imagine beyond the human.
They see Jesus as far more than just the carpenter from Nazareth

They have already found themselves caught up by him and following him

And now they are prepared to trust that he can give them authority: authority to do the impossible – to cast out evil spirits and to call people to repent, to turn back to God.

They are prepared to receive that commission, that authority from him, to trust him, to obey him, and to be dependent on God.

Last weekend and this weekend there have been ordinations.

It would take quite some bishop to say to the newly ordained deacons or priests:
“We are sending you out in twos (probably that has something to do with the fact that Christianity is about relationship, there is more protection when there are two, and in Jewish courts you needed two people to act as witnesses);
We will allow you take a staff and sandals with you because we expect you to travel (there are echoes here of the Old Testament when the people of Israel were urged to leave Egypt. They were to eat the Passover meal, the final meal before their departure, with “your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly”. Exodus 12:11)
And the bishop will continue: “But we are not giving you any money, any salary, because you will need to be dependent on God to provide for you. The words, ‘Give us today our daily bread’, will not simply be words, but a deep prayer, an expression of your daily dependence on God.
And we’ll give you one set of clothing because, as Mark Twain said, naked people have not really influenced the world that much. But don’t expect a change of clothes”.

These first missionaries are to go into the communities where they are sent with none of the things that this world can offer.

They have no power, no wealth or status.

Indeed, they are to go in dependence on the very people to whom they are preaching.
They do not stand over the people to whom they are preaching. Instead, they are made dependent on the people to whom they are preaching; they put themselves in their power.

But while they have nothing of this world to offer, they can offer a new world to people who are trapped in this world and the things of this world.

They call people to repent, to stop looking at this world as if it is all that there is. To repent of thinking that life in this world is all about stuff and me.

They call them to begin to imagine.
To stop looking at other people simply in terms of their family or profession. They are so much more.
And to realise that there is so much more than what we can see or feel or hear or smell or taste.

They call people to open their eyes to the invisible, to God.
To become open to the God who provides and who works wonders when people are dependent on him.

And if their preaching is rejected, then all they can do is leave, and by shaking the dust of that place off their feet they are saying, “We simply came to give and because you wanted nothing to do with us, we may take nothing from you, not even your dirt.

There is a story told about Thomas Aquinas. He was being shown around the Vatican treasury, and the fabulous treasures it held.  The person showing him around said to him, “You remember in the Acts of the Apostles when Peter and John looked at the lame man and said to him, ‘Silver and gold we do not have’. Well now we do not need to say that to the poor”. To which Aquinas replied, “Yes, but it means that we cannot say what they then said, “In the name of Jesus of Nazareth get up and walk”.

We long to see those works of power in the Church, in the people of God.

And I wonder whether, in the ‘casting down’ of the institution of the Church from its ‘throne’ we are seeing the work of God.

I have a friend who recently applied for a job as a vicar. She was asked in interview what the church could do to remain at the centre of the life of the town. She answered, ‘Perhaps we need to learn to live not being at the centre’. She got the job!

And perhaps in the financial crisis and vicar crisis and culture crisis, the Church is being taken to that place when we cannot put our trust in our human resources – because they are not there. And we are being put into a position of deepening daily dependence on God. We are called to stop looking down and to again look up, to imagine and reimagine.

And as individuals, when we are compelled to let go of the things that we trusted in, and as we are sent out into the deep unseen, not on our own, but with the Lord Jesus Christ, in dependence on him, then, maybe, we will see those wonderful deeds of power.

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