Fostering Amazement!

Jul 07, 2024

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
“Pulpit Switch” with Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
Text: Mark 6:1-13
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     It’s such a blessing to be leading worship here at Holy Trinity on a Sunday morning, and to receive your warm greetings, in this faith-filled setting where God has been, and continues to be praised, and the Good New proclaimed. Since I’ve been in this area my entire ministry – 36 years – I’ve attended and been inspired by many worship services, concerts and workshops here. In recent years I have been blessed to participate in DLM, an outreach that you birthed and have so graciously supported, so that needs in the community are met. Yet, while I preached at one funeral, this is the first time I’ve been privileged to lead worship on Sunday. It’s great to be here, to see many familiar faces and to be beginning this new journey together, nearly 70 years after this congregation helped bring Faith Lutheran into being, which means I hear stories from older members whose faith was nurtured here.
     As we turn to today’s Gospel lesson, I want to begin by noting that on Sunday evening, last week, I was watching the women’s gymnastics Olympic trials on TV, which were exciting to see, and I noticed something interesting. The gymnasts returned to a central area after they competed. Sometimes an athlete was greeted with hugs, happy tears and exuberant high-fives, and other times with a muttered “good job” and a double, not-too-high-five; these were all responses to the same athlete for the same performance.
     It’s not too difficult to figure out what was going on; no doubt the responses represented close friendships, training partnerships and, dare we say it, envy or resentment. Those are, of course, common reactions in the competitive world. Well…actually…in every arena including when doing God’s work is involved, as is the case in today’s lesson.
     Jesus had been transforming lives wherever he went, and he decided to return to Nazareth, his hometown, where he taught on the sabbath. You would think that hometown crowd would have been excited to see him; no doubt the news of his healing and restoring acts had reached them, and we read that when they heard him teach that day, they were astounded.
     That sounds positive to us, except that the Greek word translated as “astounded” or “amazed” does not have a positive connotation. It implies incredulity, as if something is not quite real; it's questionable. That was how Jesus’ neighbors felt; they could not quite believe what they were witnessing and what they had heard; it must be a trick, that is, not what it appeared to be.
     Why? It’s because this was Jesus, the carpenter, the boy next door; they had seen him grow up and knew his family. While they may have heard a rather “astounding” story about the circumstances of his birth, that too was questionable. So, while it seemed that the wisdom and deeds of power he displayed were from God, that could not be true, they thought. (Even though it’s the obvious explanation.)
     Who does Jesus think he is, they asked? They took offense at him; the Greek literally means “to be tripped up” by someone. For them, Jesus was a stumbling block rather than a source of inspiration to lift them up.
      Jesus was amazed at their reaction to him. A different Greek word is used for his response; it means to have one’s breath taken away. As a consequence of all this, he either would not or could not – I tend to think it's the former - do much for the people who felt that way about him. It seems that envy or resentment were at work here, all of which have destructive power.
     Commentator Scott Hoezee notes that the miracles and deep teachings of Jesus were meant to rebound to the glory of God. I’ll quote him, “These were signs of the kingdom, arrows pointing to the new day dawning through Jesus’ presence on the earth. But when people were torn up with envy and riven with disbelief, none of that could happen. Criticism replaced praise, doubt displaced thanksgiving. And if people were not going to glorify God for what they see – if they were not going to become hungry for the kingdom as a result – then the very purpose of the whole enterprise was short-circuited from the get-go.” (1)
     The irony is, though, that this does not halt Jesus’ mission. Instead, he expanded it by sending out the disciples, two by two, to bring healing and Good News to people’s lives. They were to trust fully in God, and the people they met, to take care of them. Moving around in a particular location to find better lodging and meals was not allowed, Jesus said; their focus was not to be on themselves, but on the message and the people. If a place did not welcome them, they were to move on and not waste time and energy on them. They had a singular mission, introducing Jesus and bringing healing to broken lives.
     We, of course, are the beneficiaries of that mission enterprise, and those that followed it, which required trusting God and moving on if need be. My friends, fellow Lutherans, we are at an interesting place in the life of the church, and of our congregations. We are embarking on building relationships with one another for the sake of collaboration. Our mission is to proclaim the Good New, always emphasizing our Lutheran focus on grace.
     We are doing what the disciples did, introducing Jesus and bringing healing to broken lives. And we too must be willing to move on if anything – including what once was - is getting in the way of fulfilling our mission.
     During my years of ministry, I’ve noticed that collaboration can be a challenging venture, even among Christian churches, even among congregations of the same denomination. Each group has its own culture, a particular style, gifts, location and histories that may intersect, often in positive ways, but not always. It is a lot to manage while keeping one’s eye on the prize – Jesus – and sharing his love in the world and with one another.
     When envy and resentment, and their counterparts, pride and fear show up, the view of the prize (Jesus) begins to dim. Oh, you might say, that would not happen in the church, Pastor Jean. Well…perhaps not at Holy Trinity and Faith Lutheran churches…but often collaboration is stopped in its tracks by such feelings; often that is what’s beneath failure to compromise or to support or to acknowledge each other’s gifts and strengths. All of that can stop the forward movement of the Gospel, not in all places, but in that place.
     That’s what happened in Nazareth. The people were envious of Jesus. They thought they knew best, knew who Jesus was, and resented even the possibility that he was someone through whom God’s power could be revealed among them.
     So…it wasn’t … much to Jesus’ disappointment. He was amazed at their unbelief. But, God’s power was revealed elsewhere and the Good News was proclaimed.
     As we share in this “new thing” call collaboration, may all that could get in the way, including envy and resentment, be set aside. May Jesus be amazed at our belief, may it take his breath away, and may we be amazed at what Jesus can do among us. AMEN     
  1. “Mark 6:1-13 Commentary” by Scott Hoezee, July 8, 2018,