Jeremiah 33:14-18; 31:31-34, Mark 6:1-13

               Today we finish our study of the book of Jeremiah.  And we finish it with two passages from Jeremiah that are, at their base, all about hope.  This is especially true of Jeremiah 31 with those very familiar words, “this is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my instructions within them and engrave them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.  They will no longer need to teach each other to say, “Know the Lord!” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord; for I will forgive their wrongdoing and never again remember their sins.” This is hope, at its core.  It is a promise that the new relationship the Israelites will have with God will be so close, so intentional that it will no longer have to be heard through words such as the prophets bring, or words such as are written in scripture.  It will be okay that the temple is destroyed because God will live within them and not just at the temple.  The new covenant will be written in our very hearts. Intermediaries will be unnecessary at all. And location will be unimportant.  We will know God because God is right there within us, speaking to us, part of our very beings.  God will be within, not holding grudges, no longer angry, but forgiving and living connected to us. 

               And then we read the passage from Mark.  And there are two parts to this.  In the first we hear that Jesus is not being recognized or honored in his hometown.  And in the second, we hear him give the disciples directions for their future.  He tells them to go into the community with nothing at all on them.  And what are they to do?  We hear it here, “So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives.  They cast out many demons and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.”  Why do you think these two stories are in Mark together? 

The first part of today’s message in Mark is the experience of Jesus that he then, in the second part, asks the disciples to carry through.  Jesus was proclaiming the Good News, liberty for the captives, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed.  And he was healing, bringing these things into a concrete form, making physical what he was proclaiming to be the Good News.  But in his hometown, he was not able to do the work that he felt he was called to do.  So he shook the dust off his feet, did what he could  and then moved along.  In the second part of today’s reading, then, he then tells the disciples to do the same: to go into the world, proclaim the good news, cast out demons, heal and anoint sick people.  If they too are not welcomed or heard, then they, too, are to shake the dust from their feet and move along. 

How does this tie in to the Jeremiah passage?  Jeremiah talks about a New Covenant written in our hearts.  But a Covenant is not a one-way street.  A covenant is something that is created in relationship and it goes both ways.  I commit to doing x and you commit to doing y and we both commit to this out of the depths of love and integrity that form a relationship.  Jeremiah describes what God puts in our heart, God’s commitment to forgiveness and connection.  And the Mark passage describes our part.

And what, again does that look like?  This passage from Mark in which Jesus tells the disciples what they are to do says so very much to us, some of which we recognize in what is NOT said as much as in what is said. 

For example, this passage tells us that the disciples, the followers of Jesus, are not called to fight.  They are not to beat people up with the Bible, with scripture, with the “good News”.  They are not to argue or cause problems.  They are to deliver their message, and if what they share is not received or heard, they are to move on.

               Second, what is the message that the disciples are to deliver?  “to proclaim that people should change their hearts and lives.  To cast out demons and anoint the sick and heal them.”  What is absent here from what we usually think the disciples are being asked to do?  Jesus is NOT telling the disciples to convert people to belief in Jesus.  He is NOT telling the disciples to make sure people have right beliefs.  He is not even telling the disciples to share about Jesus, what he has done and what he will do.  Instead, they are to invite people to change their hearts and their lives.  This is profound.  Once again this is about action, not belief.  And about relationship rather than just a barter exchange of faith for salvation.

               Mark Davis said it this way:  “In my own reading of Mark, I think it is an incredibly important moment when Jesus sends the twelve out preaching repentance. It relates to my somewhat-developed opinion of the so-called ‘messianic secret’ in Mark. The phrase “messianic secret” attempts to name a motif that certainly is central to Mark’s gospel – the repetitive ‘don’t say anything’ moments right where we don’t expect them. For me, however, it is not so much a secret as a re-direction. By attempting over and over to make Jesus ‘the Messiah,’ people were missing the point of his message, which was that the Reign of God was present and that they all were invited to participate in it. As long as they had the Messiah to embody the reign, they were missing the participation part. To ‘follow’ is not to point to, observe, marvel, coronate, or even profess. It is more about joining along, taking up the message, indeed taking up the cross that is central to the message, and “believing” by living in the present reign of God. It is healing the sick, delivering those who are oppressed, etc. In other words, I don’t think the “messianic secret” is a literary device by Mark, but a theological point that Mark saw Jesus trying to re-direct his message away from himself and toward following-as-participating.”

               So then we come to the question of what we are repenting from.  What are the demons that they are casting out?  And this, too, we come to understand by seeing how Jesus lived his life, what his values were, what his call was to the people and what he did.  And we see that lies, greed, addictions, oppression of any kind: these were what he fought against, these were the demons that he was casting out time and again.  They manifested in terrible ways in that time, and indeed they do in our time as well.  And what is at the heart of all of these?  Fear. Fear of not having enough, fear of being the underdogs, fear of losing power or control, or understanding of the world.   Jesus represented change and people were afraid of it.  And their demons were manifestations of that.  Our call, then, as we follow Jesus, is to challenge fear.  To reassure people that in Christ, in God, there is nothing left to fear.   When they accept that truth, accept it in their hearts: take it in as the Covenant in our hearts that God has placed there, then their demons are gone and they can truly live as people forgiven, renewed, and invited into the future.   

               I came across a wonderful song that I will be playing for you later called “Fear is a Liar” by Zach Williams.

               The words are:

When he told you you’re not good enough
When he told you you’re not right
When he told you you’re not strong enough
To put up a good fight
When he told you you’re not worthy
When he told you you’re not loved
When he told you you’re not beautiful
You’ll never be enough

When he told you were troubled
You’ll forever be alone
When he told you you should run away
You’ll never find a home
When he told you you were dirty
And you should be ashamed
When he told you you could be the one
That grace could never change

Fear, he is a liar
He will take your breath
Stop you in your steps
Fear, he is a liar
He will rob your rest
Steal your happiness
Cast your fear in the fire
‘Cause fear, he is a liar

Let your fire fall and cast out all my fears

Let your fire fall, your love is all I feel

Let your fire fall and cast out all my fears

Let your fire fall, your love is all I feel

Let your fire fall and cast out all my fears

Let your fire fall, your love is all I feel

Oh, let your fire fall and cast out all my fears

Let your fire fall, your love is all I feel

                And that leads us back to the Jeremiah passage.  Because the other side of fear is hope.  It is hope that there is something bigger than ourselves and something bigger than our fears. It is the hope that even when things are hard, that God’s love is greater than we can imagine, greater than any problems or struggles or pain that we may have.  It is the hope in a resurrection that overcomes every death and is bigger and stronger than even death.  It is a hope that says we CAN change and that things CAN be better.  God sends us this message of hope in so very many ways.  It is truly, all around us for us to hear. 

As you know, Jasmyn lost almost everything that she owns when she moved back to school at the beginning of the summer.  Her large suitcase, MY suitcase actually, went missing in transit with all of Jasmyn’s clothing, and several of her personal treasures.  Included in those personal treasures were three of her four favorite stuffed animals.  Maybe that feels like a small thing, but these were her comfort toys, her comfort animals, and it really was a blow to Jasmyn to face their loss on top of not having any clothing that is familiar to her, nothing that she picked out, and nothing at all to wear for the first week of her return to school.  And yet the other day, Jasmyn sent me this text:  “There was one stuffed animal that I couldn’t easily fit into my suitcase that I carried with me on the plane.  It was my red panda.  My red panda’s name is Hope.  I lost almost all my stuff, but Hope stayed with me.”

That hope is also there in the words from Mark which call on all of us to be better than we are, to turn, to repent, to be willing to go out into the world with NOTHING but a staff: no money, no food, nothing. 

One of the pastors in my lectionary group is Indian.  He was born and raised in India.  He told us this week that when he came to the United States, he had a small bag of personal items and $8.  That was it.  That was all he had with him, but he trusted that he would find here what he needed and he did.  That is the faith that cannot be separated from action.  That is the faith of repentance, or turning around, changing, going a new way.  And in that is great hope. 

There is also hope to be found in the words of Mark’s first story for today, “He  was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them.”  “Except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them.”  While Jesus knows our experience of rejection, while Jesus has experienced it too, at the same time, he was still able to heal a few sick people.  And that may be our experience too.  We speak, we live lives that follow Christ’s call to us to be changers in this works.  And then the hope tells us that we can let go of the results.  All we can do is the work that is before us to do and trust God to do the change where God will.  The wind, the Spirit, the breath blows where it will and we are not in charge of the results.  Fear of failure is itself another demon of fear, one we are called to release, to “exorcise” or to cast out.  Even where Jesus was rejected, healing happened.  And even when we cannot see it, the lives we live for good make a difference in the world. 

If we look for God, we will see God.  And if we look for hope, we will find hope.  Hope is there all around us, all the time.  It is in Jeremiah’s message of God writing the new covenant directly onto our hearts, no more go-between, no more middle-man, no more needing to be told that God is with us because that new covenant is there for us, now, written directly onto our hearts.  It is in the fact that what we do makes a difference, even when and if we can’t see it.  It is in the risks people take to start their lives anew, to make the changes God calls us to make, to step forward with little to nothing in their hands.  And it is in the very covenant that God has written on our hearts: a covenant for good, for love, for connection, for Relationship!  That is powerful and amazing and wondrous and God gives it to us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.  



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