The Gospel of Mark:
“Expanding the Scope of His Ministry”
3 August 2014 The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Year A: Color: Green
First Reading: Genesis 32:22-31; Psalter UMH 749 Psalm 17;
Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5 *Gospel Mark 3:13-19 (alt. rd.)
First Light Reading Mark 3:13-19
Originally preached at Pleasant Hill Parish 23 December 2004
According to the writings of the New Testament, by the time of his death and resurrection, Jesus had about 500 followers. Out of these 500 followers, Jesus choose 12 of them to be a part of inner circle, to be his closest disciples. These 12 were invited to share life with the Master and to be with him as his constant companions.
The number 12 was a historically meaningful number for Jesus people and for their nation. Israel was comprised of 12 tribes of closely related people, who all shared a common ancestry and heritage. Twelve was the number of Israel. It symbolically reminded the Hebrew people who they were. By choosing 12 disciples to be his core followers, Jesus was communicating that Israel was being restored.
The calling of the twelve disciples had yet another meaning. Jesus purpose in calling the twelve was to expand his ministry, so that not only would Israel be restored; so would all of creation. Jesus’ own ministry was about expanding the Kingdom or Reign of God throughout creation. The 12 disciples were being invited to become a part of that plan, to multiply the work of Christ.
The value for us, of looking closely at the work and lives of the twelve followers of Jesus, is that we, as part of God’s people, are called to carry on their work. We take up were they and others who have gone before us left off. We too have been invited to be a part of Christ’s work of expanding the Reign of God and thus multiplying the work of Jesus. We too are called to be disciples. So, this morning, I want us to look at what that means by looking carefully at the work and lives of Jesus’ original 12 disciples.
I. The unique task of the disciples is to be with Jesus.
Their ministry flowed out of their identity and their identity flowed out of their relationship with God. If we want to really understand both our purpose and our true identity we must spend time with God. Our point of reference must stay constant and all of life must revolve around the person of Jesus.
Now I want to be really careful here. The twelve original disciples were not super saints who floated about 2 inches off the ground. Neither were people of privilege, who had the luxury of following Jesus, because they had not a care in the world. Most of these men came from very humble backgrounds. A few of them were business owners, most were hired hands. They were regular people who were following Jesus the best they could, in spite of not having the luxury to do so.
Let me say it another way, be telling you a story. My father grew up in the sixties. When I was a kid, I became fascinated by hippies and the counter-culture. One day I asked my father if he had been a hippie. His answer surprised me. “No,” he said. “My family was far to poor for me to be a hippie. I had to work.” He went on to say that every hippie he knew was someone who had rich parents, who paid for their college tuition, bought them a car, and paid for their living expenses, so that thy could go around singing, “All you need is love.”
I’m afraid that my father’s view of the counter-culture is who many of us view being a disciple of Jesus. It’s a fine thing to do for people who have no worries and responsibilities. And perhaps you even imagine yourself being a disciple someday when the kids are grown and the house is paid for and you no longer have so many responsibilities to oversee. When you finally get enough time and financial security, whenever life finally settles down and you get enough time to think and breath, then you will finally have the luxury to consider getting serious about spiritual matters, like following Jesus.
If this is how we think about discipleship, we have it all wrong. The real dangers to our spiritual-life is not hardship but comfort. In his book The Comfort Trap: Spiritual Dangers in the Convenience Culture, Tim Bascom writes,
We're too comfortable to be spiritual…. We think we will be able to pursue God better without danger or hardship. And yet it works in just the opposite way. Nothing is more difficult than to grow spiritually when [we are] comfortable.
That's why … Alexander Solzhenitsyn's reaction to his exile to the Soviet labor camp was to bless it, because it was there that he discovered that "the meaning of earthly existence lies not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prospering, but in the development of the soul.” In the worst possible circumstances of hardship, deprivation, brutality, and inhuman treatment, Solzhenitsyn learned what it meant to follow Christ.
Citation: Tim Bascom, The Comfort Trap: Spiritual Dangers in the Convenience Culture (Intervarsity, 1993); submitted by Bill White, Paramount, California
II. The symbol of discipleship is not a throne and crown, but a towel and basin.
Whatever else being the right hand men of Jesus meant, it did not mean a life of worldly privilege as miniature kings of God’s kingdom.
One person who really understood this was Basil of Ceasarea. In 370 A. D., Basil of Caesarea, one of the "church fathers," became the archbishop of Caesarea, which brought him into conflict with the Arian emperor Valens. In an attempt to intimidate the stubborn bishop, Valens sent the prefect of the imperial guard, Modestus, to threaten him with punishment. Basil answered that he was ready and eager to die for Christ, and that he had so few possessions that banishment, confiscation, or imprisonment would mean nothing to him.
When Modestus complained that no one ever talked to him like that, Basil answered that perhaps he had never met a bishop before: "When the interests of God are at stake, we care for nothing else."
Citation: Edwin Woodruff Tait, "Three Wise Men from the East," Christian History, Issue 80
Following Jesus does not give us an exemption from troubles, sorrow, and inconveniences. We have been called to the trenches. We are soldiers in the Lord’s army and our fight is against oppression and suffering, sorrow and death, and all the forces of evil that seek to dehumanize and enslave the people of this world.
One morning, near the turn of the 20th century, Bramwell Booth visited his elderly father, William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army. The elder Booth didn't even say "good morning" to his son.
"Bramwell!" he cried, when he caught sight of me, "did you know that men slept out all night on the bridges?" He had arrived in London very late the night before from some town in the south of England and had to cross the city to reach his home. What he had seen on that midnight return accounted for this morning tornado of emotions. Did I know that men slept out all night on the bridges?
"Well, yes," I replied, "a lot of poor fellows, I suppose, do that."
"Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself to have known it and to have done nothing for them," he went on, vehemently.
I began to speak of the difficulties, burdened, as we were already, of taking up all sorts of Poor Law work, and so forth. My father stopped me….
"Go and do something!" he said. "We must do something."
"What can we do?"
"Get them shelter."
"That will cost money."
"Well, that is your affair. Something must be done. Get hold of a warehouse and warm it, and find something to cover them. But mind, Bramwell, no coddling!"
That was the beginning of The Salvation Army Shelters."
Citation: "Did You Know Men Slept on the Bridges?" Christian History & Biography, issue 82; submitted by Kevin Miller, Carol Stream, Illinois
The members of the Salvation Army Church, laity and clergy alike have been in the trenches fighting the good fight, following in the footsteps of the original twelve, helping the poor, rescuing the perishing, nursing the sick, and fighting addiction.
II. Expanding the Reign of God is not an assignment for the weak-of-heart.
Fighting the forces of evil meant taking hits and acquiring scars. The Apostle Paul knew this.
2corinthians 4:7-11 But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh
Our enemy is the great satan is a defeated enemy but not one that has yet conceded the battle.
David Garland writes that this idea might be compared to the Battle of the Bulge, when Hitler made one last desperate gamble and three all of his forces into battle to try to halt the Allie’s advance after the successful invasion of Europe-The arrival of the kingdom of God in the ministry of Jesus is only the beginning of the end for evil powers.
The fact that evil is still at work in the world means we will have to be very persistent in the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
In standardized math tests, Japanese children consistently score higher than their American counterparts. While some assume that a natural proclivity toward mathematics is the primary difference, researchers have discovered that it may have more to do with effort than ability. In one study involving first graders, students were given a difficult puzzle to solve. The researchers weren't interested in whether or not the children could solve the puzzle; they simply wanted to see how long they would try before giving up. The American children lasted, on average, 9.47 minutes. The Japanese children lasted 13.93 minutes. In other words, the Japanese children tried 47 percent longer. Is it any wonder that they score higher on math exams? Researchers concluded that the difference in math scores might have less to do with intelligence quotient and more to do with persistence quotient. The Japanese first graders simply tried harder.
That study not only explains the difference in standardized math scores; the implications are true no matter where you turn. It doesn't matter whether it's athletics or academics, music or math. There are no shortcuts. There are no substitutes. Success is a derivative of persistence.
Mark Batterson, The Circle Maker (Zondervan, 2011), pp. 134-135
Luke 18 New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
The parable of the persistent widow
18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.”
4 ‘For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’
6 And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’
Galatians 6:9New International Version - UK (NIVUK)
9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.