Weekly Seeds: Deeds of Power

Sunday, July 7, 2024
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost | Year B

Focus Theme:
Deeds of Power

Focus Prayer:
Astounding God, show us your deeds of power using our hands. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Mark 6:1-13
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown and among their own kin and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff: no bread, no bag, no money in their belts, 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

All readings for this Sunday:
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 and Psalm 48 • Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Psalm 123 • 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 • Mark 6:1-13

Focus Questions:
How have you changed from your youth?
How would those changes be noted by your those who were familiar with you only from that time?
How have your circles and communal relationships changed since that time?
What points of resistance do you encounter in ministry?
What opportunities could benefit from your deeds of power?

By Cheryl A. Lindsay

For many, leaving home becomes a rite of passage in the journey toward adulthood. Some may be leaving difficult or even abusive circumstances. Others may simply seek the opportunity to find their way in the world with loosened ties to the safety net of parents or guardians. I remember preparing to attend college and my high school best friend saying she did not even know if she was a morning person yet because she had not yet decided her schedule, routines, or waking hour for herself. Making even small decisions for yourself requires thought, consideration, and evaluation. Moving from one’s family of origin can be identity-shifting as self-discoveries abound or self-revealing as the restraints of that particular form of communal life give way for individual expression and new bonds to form.

Those changes do not require rejection of the past even as they necessitate some degree of separation. People who have known an individual during the formative years may believe they have seen a fully developed and concretized version of the person, when in fact, they have witnessed the journey to becoming. Imagine not knowing that a caterpillar eventually becomes a moth or butterfly. One day, without explanation or expectation, that caterpillar begins a radical transformative process. You may believe it to be dying or at least unwell. The response to the new form would be stunning. Human development does not happen as radically, yet if significant time has passed between encounters, the impact of growth and change may be just as stunning.

In Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, the main character wakes up one morning completely and surprisingly transformed into an insect to the shock of himself, his sister and his parents. “Gregor Samsa, experiences personal alienation from the people he has cared for and served, he is transformed, losing himself altogether. Simultaneously, in ironic contrast to his experience, his transformation enables those around him to grow. Their lives are renewed at the cost of his own.” (https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/metamorph/analysis/) His death comes not from the radical physiological changes in his body but from their rejection. While a work of fiction, the truth is that rejection of identity holds life and death consequences.

The gospel narrative mirrors this. Unlike Luke’s version of this account, Mark does not recount the people’s offense rising to murderous levels. They do not threaten Jesus’ life; yet their offense, doubt, and rejection hampers their own. Jesus was unable to perform deeds of power in his hometown because they could not acknowledge and embrace his transformation from the child they knew to the person he now revealed himself to be. They would rather hold on to the comfortable image than benefit from the fullness of his identity and his power.

Mark follows that incident of rejection with the calling of the twelve disciples who will form the core of his ministry for the remainder of his life and following his physical departure. The juxtaposition of the two stories demonstrates more than chronological occurrences. The stories are connected. When Jesus calls the disciples, he invites them from their current lives into a new experience. Their identities will also shift. Their transformation to leaders of this movement will also inspire doubt, isolation, offense, and rejection. They will be hampered in their ability to do the work they have been called to do when confronted with the lack of faith of potential recipients.

In fact, that truth is so central to this moment that Jesus provides particular instruction around rejection. He does not just empower them to do the work, he prepares them to respond when the power does not work.

This section reveals the possible consequences of sowing the word. The theme began with the sending out of the Twelve whom Jesus called to be with him, proclaim the message, and have authority over unclean spirits (3:14–15). This is the same ministry work that Mark records Jesus doing and that the disciples now perform (6:12–13). Jesus gives them specific instructions on how to govern themselves and what to bring with them. It is clear that Jesus expects the people to welcome the itinerant ministers because he tells them to take nothing with them except a staff (6:8). The Didache also shares this expectation of hospitality (Did. 11.1–12). However, Jesus is aware that not everyone will receive the Twelve. In this instance, they are to shake the dust from their feet (6:11), thereby disassociating themselves from the bad soil that does not listen and accept the word.
Racquel S. Lettsome

Recently, there has been significant infrastructure work on the street where I live. Last year, water started to stream down the street as it bubbled up from random points on the road. I assume the repairs are correcting whatever caused that to happen. As a result of the repairs, occasionally access to water has to be cut off for a period of time. The first time I became aware of it was Christmas Eve. As I was hosting Christmas dinner, and did not know what was going on at that point, I panicked until I noticed one of the repair workers walking up and down the street knocking on doors and informing residents that it would only be a couple of hours. Since then, there have been days when the water gets shut off for an hour or so with no warning. This past week, I received a written notice that the water would be off from 8 am to 5 pm on a given day with suggestions on how to prepare for that lengthy lack of access.

Advanced notice and preparation facilitates a different response. Jesus increases the fruitfulness of their ministry by informing them when they should suspend their efforts due to resistance and rejection.

The proximity of the commissioning (6:6b–13) to the rejection at Nazareth may be deliberately ironic; while Jesus meets with unbelief in his hometown, the disciples’ mission of exorcism, healing, preaching, and teaching is successful (6:7, 13, 30). Jesus’s instruction that “if anywhere they do not receive you nor listen to you, leaving there, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them” (6:11) is an indirect commentary on the previous pericope, where Jesus’s compatriots fail to accept his teaching (6:3). In the rabbinic literature, the act of shaking the dust off one’s feet is an act performed by Jews on returning to Israel from unclean (pagan) territory (m. Ṭohar. 4.5)….The instructions in 6:8–11 probably reflect the missionary practice of the Markan church…. This brief narrative thus inaugurates the missionaries’ proclamation of God’s reign as they go throughout the world (Mark 13:10; 14:9).
Mary Ann Beavis

Holding these two stories together, as Mark does, cautions the reader that even Jesus and the first disciples experienced disappointments in ministry. For the church today that so often bemoans the loss of influence, stature, and position in society, these words are instructive and encouraging. It is not that the church does not have power; after all, power comes from God, an inexhaustible source. Rather, our efforts may be misplaced. Perhaps, we’re pursuing opportunities for rejection rather than possibilities for reception. Some practices need to be allowed to conclude their life cycle, some places need to be left behind, and some old things need to be eschewed to make space to do a new thing.

In business, it’s called opportunity cost. That measures the value of what you could have if you did not do what you did and pursued the new opportunity instead. The church is not a business yet it can learn the lesson of evaluating the cost of missed opportunities. Or, simply follow Jesus’ instruction in the gospel passage and learn how to shake off dust in inhospitable places in order to perform deeds of power when in receptive spaces.

Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.

“Dawn Revisited”
— Rita Dove

Imagine you wake up
with a second chance: The blue jay
hawks his pretty wares
and the oak still stands, spreading
glorious shade. If you don’t look back,

the future never happens.
How good to rise in sunlight,
in the prodigal smell of biscuits –
eggs and sausage on the grill.
The whole sky is yours

to write on, blown open
to a blank page. Come on,
shake a leg! You’ll never know
who’s down there, frying those eggs,
if you don’t get up and see.

For Further Reflection
“How absurd it was that in all seven kingdoms, the weakest and most vulnerable of people – girls, women – went unarmed and were taught nothing of fighting, while the strong were trained to the highest reaches of their skill.” ― Kristin Cashore
“I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” ― Mary Wollstonecraft
“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at //ucc.org/SermonSeeds.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor, public theologian, and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.