A Sermon on Mark 6: 1-29
“There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell but the mere pleasure of God. Therefore let everyone that is out of Christ now awake and fly from the wrath to come!” On this “Throwback” Sunday, those are the words of Pastor Jonathan Edwards when he preached a sermon titled “Sinners in the hands of an angry God.” That sermon from 1790 is still studied today-as a literary form and as an example of fire and brimstone preaching, preaching designed to emphasize hell as a real place. Now before you run away screaming, give me a chance to redeem the theology behind such declarations.
In Edwards time the goal of preaching was in part to keep people scared enough of hell that they’d live a good life despite themselves. Such sermons were crafted to awaken an audience to the horror that awaits them should they continue life without devotion to Christ. My opening words this morning were Edwards’s final ones—every Sunday. Yikes.
His words and approach do not represent the God of love that I follow, just like we don’t beat our children in the shed anymore. But there are times when we would be well served by being made a little uncomfortable.
Paraphrasing Brian McLaren, if your goal is to keep yourself untouched by the world, preserved in roses until you can arrive without blemish in the afterlife, you’ve missed the heart of the gospel. The gospel isn’t something you learn. It’s something you live. The gospel is a verb. And there is a certain heresy to playing it safe when it comes to your faith.
Jesus loves me, yes or no? If you’re not sure, maybe you’ve grown too comfortable with your faith and possibly with Jesus?
Today’s gospel reading is largely about rejection, beginning with Jesus’ own rejection in his hometown. What if we are the ones rejecting Jesus…. maybe because Jesus is just so darn familiar to us in the church. We, the church, are Jesus’ hometown. We’ve known him since we first heard the Christmas story. We’ve grow up with him. He is our constant companion – so constant a companion that we hardly notice him anymore. He’s one of us, a good buddy, a comfortable presence. And when he acts in divine ways and calls us into that same work with him, we’re no better than the Pharisees saying – who is this guy anyway?
Jesus loves me, yes or no? Is your belief mere intellectual assent or is your faith a radical get-off-your-couch-to-join-God-where God-is -working kind of belief?
Verse 6 reports Jesus “was amazed at their disbelief.” Would anyone want to be in the number to whom Jesus referred? God, no!
Their disbelief was not only crippling their own lives, apparently it was crippling his! Save a few minor healings here and there, we’re told he could do no deeds of power. Think about that for a moment. Despite or perhaps because of rejection he sends out the twelve to proclaim and heal. Sending out is always at the center—even of these bookended stories.
Next… Mark reminds us of Herod’s own rejection of the truth and how it resulted in John the Baptist’s death– his head on a platter. He couldn’t say yes to John OR yes to Jesus but he couldn’t say NO to his wacky wife! Herodias’ problem was that she was offended because John the Baptist condemned her marriage to her brother in law. And Herod didn’t want to acknowledge John’s indictment. To do so would diminish his power because the one who rules the king, rules the kingdom. And did you catch that Herod was freaked out because he thought Jesus might be John the Baptist resurrected?
Resurrection was at the heart of Jewish faith. It was connected to hope and hope is one of the most dangerous things oppressed people can have. As king, Herod couldn’t risk hope if he couldn’t be the one to deliver it. Jesus loves me, yes or no? No matter. After all Herod might say. It’s my birthday.
When we follow the narrative arc of God’s unrelenting pursuit of us, how can we answer the question without absolute confidence? Jesus loves me, yes or no? Jesus loves me THIS I KNOW!
You and I are called to tell the story, not only to be prophetic to others, but to be prophetic to ourselves: to rediscover who this Jesus we think we know so well, really is. We don’t need fire and brimstone to live a good life. We need a reality check!
God came down in Jesus to: bring good news to the poor, free the oppressed, release the captives, and to recover sight to the blind. Even today, Jesus’ message of good news is often met with rejection. Where would Jesus stand on the issues of our day?
Justice isn’t about violence and retribution. Justice is what loves looks like in public!
Jesus came to confront us. See Mathew 23.
Jesus came to include us. See Luke 18.
Jesus came to challenge us. See Matthew 9.
Jesus came to call us into service. See Mark 6!
Jesus loves me yes or no? See the whole bible! Frankly I’m tired of anyone using fear to sell a good life. Fear sells. But love transforms! Don’t live the gospel because you’re afraid not to! Live it because God first loved you and now you’re crazy in love right back!
Today’s preaching is designed to call you off your couches to share that good news with the world.
As for hell. Hell isn’t a place. It’s an experience: Hell is what the families in Flint Michigan are going through. Hell is a child going to bed hungry, their parents frantic and broken not knowing where their next meal is coming from. Hell is hoping the war in the Middle East doesn’t claim more children-our children. Hell is standing at the border of an unfamiliar country, holding a sick child, only to be turned away.
Ask any gay person if there was a time when Hell was being afraid that the answer to Jesus loves me, yes or no– really was no!
Truth is, there is nothing that keeps the world at any one moment out of hell but the mere fact that God sends us to make sure that does not happen. It is silence and inaction that makes hell a possibility for any of us. Let’s reform Edwards benediction saying therefore let everyone that is out of Christ now awake and fly towards the LOVE to come!
People of God, the world is waiting on our next move.
In Jesus name. Amen.