Dependence or Independence?
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 6:1–6:13
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 4, 2021
“Dependence or Independence?”
Today is the 245th anniversary of our nation’s founding; the day we call Independence Day. That spirit of independence has been the hallmark of our nation since its founding. At times, this has served us well and fostered a determination to forge ahead amidst great challenges. Times of adversity have served to bring us together. At other times, though, this spirit of independence has not served us so well, and has degenerated into self-serving individualism that comes at the expense of others. “It’s a free country! I can do what I want!” Technically correct, but morally unacceptable, this mindset leads to reckless license rather than true liberty. Is this what so many people across the generations have bled and died for? And yet, as our nation celebrates this day with backyard barbeques, picnics and parades, fireworks and patriotic music, we pause to remember and give thanks for our nation. Even with the many challenges that are before us as – and they are many – we possess freedoms that many other people in many other countries can only dream of. Now, what will we do with that freedom? In today’s Gospel lesson, after encountering rejection at home, Jesus sends forth the twelve apostles to be forerunners and heralds of a new kingdom – the upside-down kingdom of God that is centered in the true freedom and liberty that comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In sending the twelve out, Jesus charged them not to take anything with them for the journey: no provisions, no extra clothing, no money, nothing. In doing so, Jesus called his followers to rely on others who would be moved to provide these necessities for daily life. This becomes the basis for preaching today under the theme, “Dependence or Independence?” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
As Americans, we value our independence very much. It really is built into our national DNA. But this desire for independence runs much deeper than our citizenship in this county; it’s part of our humanity. Most, if not all people, not just here but everywhere, want to be independent and not have to rely on others. We are all aware of unhealthy dependencies in life, which can take all kinds of different forms: co-dependent behaviors, addictions, and more. We’re taught to avoid this kind of thing, assume responsibility for self, and encourage others to do the same. So why does Jesus send out the twelve apostles with the proviso of relying on others rather than self? Is Jesus encouraging some kind of dependency here? Before we unpack what this means, let’s look at how today’s Gospel lesson begins.
Jesus has returned to his hometown of Nazareth, and the folks at home are not very impressed. They had heard all about the preaching and teaching, the miracles and wonders, which Jesus was doing, and they were astonished and amazed. And yet, their response is less than enthusiastic: “We’ve known him all his life. He’s nothing special. We have no idea how he came to do all the amazing things that people say he’s doing.” Tough crowd for sure, and behind it all is unbelief, which leads Jesus to utter those well-known words that have proven true for so many church workers: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household” (Mark 6:4; see also Matthew 13:53-58 and Luke 4:16-30). And then we read this stinging indictment against the people of Nazareth: “And he [Jesus] could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6). And what would the Lord Jesus say about us today? Would he marvel at our own lack of faith and unbelief? Our prayer can only be that of the man whose son was brought to Jesus for healing, who said: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Jesus was blown away by what he encountered among the people of Nazareth, whom he had known all his life. Despite the lack of faith and unbelief in his own hometown, Jesus moves on to preach and teach in other places. That’s how it is with the kingdom of God. It moves on, even as Luther wrote some 500 years ago in 1524: “God’s Word and grace is a passing rain shower which does not return where it once was” (AE 45:352). We would do well to take Luther’s words to heart. If that offer of the free gift of God’s forgiveness and mercy in Jesus is met with faithless unbelief, that gift will move on to other places and other people where it will be received with joy and thanksgiving. May the Holy Spirit work in our hearts and minds to recognize the day of our own visitation so that God’s amazing gift of grace and salvation among us may not be in vain.
In sending out the twelve apostles two by two, Jesus called them to trust that the Lord God would provide for them and their needs as they went forth in his Name. As they went forth to proclaim that in Jesus, the kingdom of God had come near, they were called to depend not on self, but on the Lord. The good news of the Gospel that in Jesus there is full forgiveness and the assurance of everlasting life opens hearts and minds. People who welcomed and received this good news would open their homes to welcome the apostles. And if no welcome was given, the apostles were to “shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (Mark 6:11b). Jesus’ command still works like this on the front line of mission today. Before a missionary, evangelist, or church planter ever shows up in a new community with the Gospel message, the Lord Jesus is out ahead of them. By the power of the Holy Spirit, there are already people in that community who have been prepared and are open to the good news about Jesus. They are called “persons of peace.” Their hearts and homes are ready to serve as an anchor for the Gospel in that community. This isn’t something that just happens in other parts of the world. It happens wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ is shared, including the communities and neighborhoods where we live now. Wherever the Lord has placed us in this life, that is our unique mission field. Every time we walk out the doors of this building, we are entering the mission field. God calls each one of us to serve as Jesus’ hands and feet and mouth to shine his light and love through what we say and do. As with so many things in our faith life, this is about dependence on the Lord rather than independence and reliance on ourselves.
This summer season is a great time to become better acquainted with our neighbors. Today is the Fourth of July, and so over this holiday weekend, as well as anytime there is opportunity, talk with your neighbors. Find out what’s going on in their lives; what’s important to them; what their needs are; what you can do to help; how you can love them as God in Christ has loved us. Begin with prayer that the Lord would create that opportunity and then watch for it to come about – because it will. The Lord will set up that divine appointment for you to meet your neighbor, sometimes in very surprising ways; sometimes when you least expect it. As the good news of Jesus, his life-giving death upon the cross and the blood which he shed to cleanse and redeem us that comes to us in Word and Sacrament, overflows from our lives to the lives of the people around us, we realize that imperfect and sinful though we are, the Lord will absolutely use each one of us to further his kingdom. We often see only our weaknesses and shortcomings; our sins and imperfections. But it is through these very things that the Lord’s grace and mercy are revealed as Paul tells us in our Scripture memory verse: “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me… For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10b).
May God make it so for Jesus’ sake in each of our lives. Amen.