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Seventh Sunday after Pentecost — July 7, 2024

We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful. — Tara Bulger

Mark 6:1-13
Year B

In my career as a minister, I have provided pastoral care to lots of folks. I have visited people who are grieving and suffering and those whose illnesses make the future uncertain. As I travel to visit with these people, I oftentimes doubt myself — how can I help in the face of real trouble? What am I going to say? I get nervous, scared even, at the very real truth that there is nothing I can bring these people that will make them better. Often, there isn’t enough money in the world that can take their pain away. So after I park and before I go in for my visit, I frequently pray. I ask God to give me the words to say and the heart to love, that the Holy Spirit would be with us. In those moments, I am keenly aware of how I have nothing to give but the words of Jesus, the words of the gospel.

In our passage today from Mark’s Gospel, Jesus sends the 12 out to call people back to God and to heal the sick. They are equipped with nothing but the authority given to them by Jesus and the words of the gospel. In the process, the disciples help many and, maybe more importantly, grow in their faith.

We have learned from the previous chapters in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus has power over everything. He has taught and healed and sent demons out of people. And now we see him in his hometown. Surely he will do great things here!

But from the beginning, Jesus’ reception is cold. The crowd doubts him: isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Don’t we know his brothers and sisters? This is no one special! In their doubting, Jesus could do no deed of power. Somehow, faith is required for the miraculous to occur.

Afterward, Jesus extends his authority to his disciples. They are to go and do all that Jesus himself has done. He gives them particular instructions on how to do this. They are to take nothing with them except a walking stick: no money, no bag, no extra clothes. They are to arrive in each town with nothing and find someone to stay with. And while they are in that town, they are to stay in one house. Jesus tells them that some will not receive them, so to those towns, they are to leave and shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against them. Perhaps, like his hometown synagogue, these are towns where the faith required for the work is not present.

Jesus is sending the 12 out with nothing so they will rely totally on God. They must rely on the hospitality of strangers rather than on their own resources. They must rely on the power of the Spirit. They have nothing except the words and power of grace and healing that Jesus has given them.

There is a sense of urgency in this mission, too. They are sent out quickly — with little to no preparation because the world desperately needs to be called back to the way of God, and the world needs healing from Christ.

In this urgency is the acknowledgment that some will not want to hear what they have to say. They are to leave, shaking the dust off their feet, and move on to the next town. This is not a mission obsessed with “how many” they can evangelize; it is a mission wherein the thing that matters is how faithful they are to Christ’s direction. They are not called to be successful; they are called to be faithful.

We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful.

The same is true for you and me today. We are not called to be successful; we are called to be faithful. When we go to minister, all we can take is a belief that God will provide in every interaction we have — especially as it matters to faith. We don’t like to talk about evangelism, but the truth is that we are people who should always point toward Christ. We rely on Christ to give us what we need to be faithful to Christ’s calling.

This is how the disciples grow. They left with nothing except trust and belief in Jesus. And God provided. They cast out many demons, anointed many who were sick and cured them.

For all the people in Jesus’ hometown who didn’t believe in Christ, we see what can happen when people have faith.

For all the worrying I have done about what I have to offer those who are sick or suffering, the words of grace and healing in the gospel have always been enough. In fact, they are often more than enough. For all my doubt and anxiety going to the pastoral care visit, I leave with a heart full of gratitude and faith. And I, like the disciples, grow in those moments. I grow in my trust in God.

Thanks be to God for a Savior who gives us the words of grace and healing we all need. May we each have the faith to see it.

Questions for reflection

  1. What does evangelism look like in your life? In the life of your congregation?
  2. Remember a time in your life when you doubted your ability to do a task God set before. How did God meet you in your doubt?
  3. What does faithfulness look like in your setting? How is it different than success?

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