The reading today starts with Jesus going to his hometown synagogue to do some teaching and preaching, where he promptly gets rejected and even insulted. He then sends 12 of the disciples out as apostles, two by two. We then have a big group of verses that got cut, but what we’re missing is the story of the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod, the hands of the Roman government. Then, we come back to the disciple/apostles as they’re returning from their, apparently, very successful preaching and healing tour. That’s the rollercoaster ride these 30+ verses take us on in chapter 6.
Rejection and ridicule in the synagogue, sending disciples out to do some good work, John the Baptist (preacher, prophet, and messenger) dies a terrible death. The disciples come back, pumped and exhausted from all their good work! There’s a little bit of whiplash there! But I don’t think it’s an accident that Mark plops this story of Jesus sending out the disciples for the very first time right between these two stories of failure. Two stories of when things didn’t work out. When all was not right. When the good guy didn’t win.
It’s almost as if Jesus knows the disciples need to see him fail and face rejection before they’re ready to strike out on their own. Like, that’s the last piece of “beginner disciple training.” They need to know that, despite all the fanfare and crowds around Jesus, this disciple thing isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Rejection and failure is a part of the journey, too.
And Jesus is far from done teaching. And they still have plenty to learn. But for the first time, Jesus sends them out, away from him, to do the things that he is doing. But he doesn’t send them to synagogues, or to places of power, but to home. To families. To small groups of gathered people. He said, “When you come to a house, stay there until you leave that town.”
Don’t go to the synagogue. Don’t go to the town square or the market. Go to where the power is the least. Start there. And if you can’t find someone to take you in, just shake it off and keep going. Don’t carry that crap with you. Just leave it there!
Jesus sent the disciples out. But he didn’t send them with a “plan” or a “program”. He sent them out just to talk to people. Just conversation and hospitality and looking at one another eye to eye. And talk about Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven and God come so near we can see him and touch him.
Do you know I know about this congregation? And healthy, faithful congregations in general? We want to make a difference. We want to be a force for good in our neighborhood and in our community. And what a beautiful thing! Truly! But our reading today reminds us that bigger is not always better. Which is hard! Because “bigger” is more efficient. More impactful. More important, right?
And so we get in this mindset that if we can just find the right program or policy or plan, boy, what amazing things will happen! Or if we have the right music, or the right kind of worship service, or even the right church! Or sometimes, we go even bigger. If we could just get prayer back in schools. Or the 10 Commandments in every courtroom. Or if all our politicians were just good Christian men and women.
Boy, what a difference that would make, right?!
But Jesus didn’t send his apostles to preach in the churches, or in the halls of power. He sent them to homes. To ordinary, everyday people. And there was no plan or program. They couldn’t even take bread with them! He just sent them out to talk to people. Because that’s where the Kingdom of Heaven breaks in. In this small space between us. In relationship. In love, given and shared. In conversation and care. In knowing one another. That’s how lives change.
And it’s a ridiculously inefficient way of getting things done! It’s slow. And uncertain. And so beyond our control! But it’s also the only way.
The Kingdom is not birthed through programs or laws or even church policy, no matter how well intentioned. The Kingdom comes alive in relationship. And we can make plans and have big dreams, but if it doesn’t start from knowing one another, from loving one another, it’s not gonna work. Because that’s not how God works.
I mean, Jesus healed tons of people. But the only ones he charged to carry on his work of announcing the Kingdom, of proclaiming God’s love and grace, were the ones who knew him. The one that he knew. Those were the ones he sent out to share with others what they had learned from him.
The church turned their back on him. The religious authorities, despite their good intentions, just didn’t get it. What Jesus was about just threatened the bottom line and little too much. The government, twice, tried to wash their hands of all of it. But the pressure to please others was stronger than the pressure to do the right thing. Better that one man should die than I lose face, right? I mean, after all, it’s just one man.
Far too often, we look to the church, to the government, to our country to save us. To make things “right”. To have the “right” answers. But that’s not the place where God works. That’s not where the Kingdom breaks in. The place God works, the place where the Kingdom breaks in, is in this space between us. In knowing one another. In loving one another.
You want to grow the church? You want to make a bigger impact? To be a force for good?
Then talk to the person you don’t know. Learn from someone different than you. Love someone you don’t agree with.
You don’t need a lot for the journey. – A comfy pair of shoes. A sense of adventure. A willingness to fail and keep going anyway.
And on the way, and in that space between us, we meet our God together. We find the Kingdom, hidden right there in plain view.
It’s not magic. It’s just God at work. Doing what God does.
Loving broken, hurting people.
Forgiving screw-ups and failures.
Making space for all who are aching to belong.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like this! Right here between us! And it is both so much bigger and so much smaller than your wildest imagination.