Date: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost –
Texts: Genesis 12:1-4; Psalm 96; 1 Corinthians 7:17-24; Mark 5:1-20
Context: Something different this week. I’m preaching in two small congregations in Northern Arizona on Sunday and the pastor serving them both is preparing a sermon for the previous Sunday (8/22) entitled Go When God Calls. Since he’s setting things up for a mission-oriented sermon I decided to step away from the assigned three-year lectionary readings and select a set of readings that highlight different aspects of mission work. The Old Testament reading and the psalm both emphasize the going aspect – sometimes God calls us to pack up and leave where we are and go somewhere else. The Gospel and the Epistle reading each highlight that God doesn’t always call us to massive changes – geographically or otherwise.
Genesis 12:1-4 – The seminal text in terms of God calling someone to faith and trust in him as well as calling them to relocate. Abram is called to leave his family – a far dicier proposition in those days than it is for many people today. The larger family unit provided stability and protection, a very close social network of people committed to one another as well as to the good of the family as a whole. An interesting aspect is that Abram’s father, Terah, had moved his family as a whole from Ur of the Chaldeans. They were headed towards Canaan, but ended up stopping in Haran instead. At the time, Ur was likely very close to the northern edge of the Persian Gulf but those waters are thought to have receded considerably since then. Haran is located about 30 miles south of Şanlıurfa in Turkey. The journey from Ur to Haran would have been approximately 750 miles, so no wonder they decided to stop! But just because the family was done traveling doesn’t mean God’s intentions were done. He calls Abram to complete the journey without his two remaining brothers, taking only his wife Sarai and their nephew Lot and their servants, slaves and possessions. They would not be returning to Haran. God calls Abram to be faithful and trust in him – not even revealing directly where he will be headed though would likely have been roughly a 600-mile journey.
Psalm 96 – The lectionary assigns this psalm to be read at a midnight Christmas service. It is an eminently missional psalm, both calling people around the world to faithful worship and praise of God as well as calling for God’s glory to be declared throughout the world (v.3). God is not the narrow, limited God of a particular people or place. As the Creator of all creation, praise is due to him by all of his creation. Of course, due to sin and the demonic lies of Satan not all of God’s creation recognize him as God any more or acknowledge any power greater than what they can identify with their senses. For this reason God’s glory must be declared continually. Whatever other false gods may be worshiped ought to be replaced with praise directed to the one, true God of all. The work of mission is to share the good news of this God with those who have forgotten or been misled into false worship of false gods or blinded by the conviction that there can (and must) be nothing greater than ourselves. The Church as God’s people in all places and times is entrusted with the primary responsibility of declaring these truths both to her own people, who must always be reminded, and to the world beyond. Ultimately even nature itself will give God praise, and all of this truly is good news, because when the Lord comes He will establish righteousness and faithfulness.
1 Corinthians 7:17-24 – Paul is responding to questions from the Corinthians regarding marriage, believers, and unbelievers. But this section in the middle is more generalized. Some might be called to exotic or unusual service, such as Paul himself. But Paul never presumes this is the expectation or goal for every believer. Rather, God the Holy Spirit is the one who determines how each should serve. Ideally, issues of ego should not enter into matters. Where has God called you? Coming to faith in Christ is no excuse for divorcing an unbeliever. Likewise faith in Jesus does not require other changes in status, even from slave to free (though Paul acknowledges the latter is more to be desired than the former if possible). Change is possible, but is not always required. Seeking to understand how God has equipped us to serve – as well as where and what – is the duty of the individual Christian as well as their Christian community around them. The blessings of Christ are real and present and not dependent on our marital or economic status or any other markers of this age and world.
Mark 5:1-20 – What often gets lost in reading this passage is the ending. This man – likely not Jewish if he was living in the non-Jewish Decapolis – seeks to join Jesus’ disciples. His intentions no doubt are sincere but Jesus denies his request. There is no hint of Jesus seeing this man as unworthy of such a calling, but undoubtedly understands that the presence of a Gentile amongst his inner circle would cause innumerable problems in having his message heard and received by his primarily Jewish audience. Rather, Jesus redirects this man’s desire to serve and follow to his hometown, to people who already know him and will likely be very soon aware (if they aren’t already) of the radical transformation and change in fortunes in his life. This man will have the opportunity to give glory to God in telling how Jesus delivered him from slavery to demons.
Unlike many other recipients of Jesus’ blessings, this man is not commanded to remain silent but rather commanded to speak! Commanded to share specifically the amazing story of what Jesus did for him. The result is that people marveled, to be certain. But also the result is likely such that when Christians begin to travel after Easter to share the good news, the people in this area will already know about Jesus despite not being Jesus. They have a living witness to his power right in their midst.
Some Christians have an amazing story to tell about Jesus’ deliverance in their life. Perhaps deliverance from drugs and alcohol and other addictions. Perhaps deliverance from abusive relationships. Perhaps deliverance from the blindness of disbelief or false belief. Such stories can be powerful opportunities of witnessing to people who knew the former circumstances of these converts. Incredible transformative stories are never required of those who come to faith in Jesus, despite the erroneous but well-intentioned doctrines of some Christians who insist there must be a conscious conversion story or spiritual evidence such as speaking in tongues. But the Holy Spirit can use all believers and their unique stories as He best sees fit. The Church’s job is to ensure all know their stories are a gift from God to be used to his glory rather than their own.