He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph 3:4)

Welcome to the gathering of St. Mark’s Church Sunday, 11th July 2021.  Service taken by Jill White.

When you walked in this morning, did you receive a smile, a nod, a look of acknowlegment? Did you receive it with open heart? Worship of Jesus Christ began there with the welcomers and you. A word of God’s welcome was proclaimed and made real there. When you entered the sanctuary, did you see how it was ready for you, warm and set up? Worship of Jesus Christ had begun there, when you sat down cosy and ready a word of God’s embrace was proclaimed and made real here. As we join together for a cuppa afterwards, there we continue worship of God with our words of care and attention with cuppa provided for us to warm our hands and heart. There word of God’s Care is proclaimed and made real. You see God’s word is spoken already, through you and with you. And now as we use our words and voices, as we reflect and pray, we attend to God’s word of life together. Today I have invited Jill to lead the worship service together with me to proclaim God’s word of life to be proclaimed and made real through the gifts God has given us to serve one another for the glory of God who loves us.

I want us to begin with a reflection:

What comes to your mind when you think about God who creates? I often hear people marvelling at the power, God’s omnipotence and omniscience, God almighty, God all knowing! I want to read you a scripture a letter to the church is Ephesus. Here Paul marvels at God who creates and God’s purposes for humanity. As you listen ask yourselves what does Paul focus on? Does Paul emphasise on the powerfulness of God or something else?

Ephesians 1:3-10

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to son-ship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the Beloved. In accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us, in Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment — to gather up all things, things in heaven and on earth, in Christ.

What do you reckon? Words like blessed, in his sight (as if to say the beauty is in the eye of the beholder), adoption (extending belonginng, bringing things into relationship), with his pleasure, riches of God’s grace lavished on us, to his good pleasure, in love. As much as there are praise of God’s creative power, God’s ability to create, there is equal measure if not more on God’s desire for belonging, to bring things into relationship, God’s pleasure in creation – God’s intimacy with creation.

I find this line to be truly awesome: “he chose us in Christ before the creation of the world.” Not awesome merely in the magnitude of it but it is a love poem. We were in God’s thoughts. More than that, we were dreamed of. God dreamed of us. God in his thoughts imagined us of the day beholding us in his eyes. Before the world came to being, we were thought of, we were dreamed of in Christ, in love.

So what would it mean for us if we were to focus on this aspect of God who creates? What would it mean that the mystery revealed to us in Christ is this notion that we were dreamed of? What would it mean that we are created in God’s image to reflect this desire and love of God for God’s people and God’s creation?

I invite you now to a time of prayerful reflection. Here is a picture and a song to guide your prayerful reflection.

Prayerful Reflection:

Reflection Music:  Winter Concerto # 4 In F Minor, Rv 297 Allegro Non Molto Largo Allegro

Pete Monk, Milky Way over Lake Wairarapa (2020)

He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. (Eph 3:4)

Song: ‘Immortal, Invisible’

Welcome and Notices:

Praying the Psalm:

We will pray a psalm together, but before we do, let me say a few words.

Psalm 24 is a song of praise and jubilation. In 2 Samuel, we read about King David bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. There was a great crowd of people with David, singing and dancing. This is the Psalm that they were singing. They brought the Ark into David’s city and placed it on a hill inside a tent which David had pitched for it. Later, King Solomon built a temple on this hill. Only the righteous (those of clean hands and pure heart) could go up the hill with the Ark, and receive God’s blessing. This was a day of great celebration as David was established as King of Israel in his city. God had given David victory over his enemies and the people of Israel rejoiced in God’s greatness.

When the Jews brought the Ark into Jerusalem, they believed that God came in with it. God was so great that they told the gates to open up higher so the greatness of God could enter. The Jews believed that God went everywhere with the Ark, so as they carried the Ark through the gates, they were proclaiming God as king of Jerusalem, the king of glory. The priests shouted, “Who is the king of glory?” and the people answered, “The Lord!”

We will pray a psalm together, but before we do, let me say a few words.

Psalm 24

1 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,

the world, and all who live in it;

2 for he founded it on the seas

    and established it on the waters.

3 Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?

    Who may stand in his holy place?

4 The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,

    who does not trust in an idol

    or swear by a false god.

5 They will receive blessing from the Lord

and vindication from God their Saviour.

6 Such is the generation of those who seek him,

    who seek your face, God of Jacob.

7 Lift up your heads, you gates;

be lifted up, you ancient doors,

that the King of glory may come in.

8 Who is this King of glory?

    The Lord strong and mighty,

    the Lord mighty in battle.

9 Lift up your heads, you gates;

lift them up, you ancient doors,

that the King of glory may come in.

10 Who is he, this King of glory?

The Lord Almighty –

    he is the King of glory.

 Prayer for Others:

We respond by singing the Lord’s Prayer together [offering to be brought up during the chorus “Amen”]

Offering and Dedication Prayer:

Song: ‘I the Lord of Sea and Sky’

Scripture: Mark 6: 1-13 (NIV)

Jesus left there and went to his home town, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him.

Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few people who were ill and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

 Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them.

Sermon Reflection:

The Gospel reading today has two sections. First, we are told that Jesus returned to his home town of Nazareth. He had been travelling with his disciples, drawing large crowds, and healing people. Perhaps he needed a break; a time to refresh in a familiar place; a time to reconnect with his childhood home. Perhaps he went home because his family had been wanting to see him. In Mark chapter 3, we are told that his family were concerned for him, and went to a house where he was teaching, but it was so crowded they couldn’t get inside.

Jesus often withdrew from the crowds to have some time to recharge his batteries, as it were. I think we all feel the need for this from time to time. I can tell you that at the end of another school term, I’m feeling a bit like that at the moment! Some of us feel this need more than others. Alone time was one of the things that I enjoyed about lockdown last year, and I have heard other people say the same thing. However, other people found that forced isolation extremely difficult.

Jesus often withdrew alone to pray and reconnect with God, but he wasn’t alone in this case; and he hadn’t gone to a place of solitude, but to his home.

At first, he was well received when he spoke in the Synagogue on the Sabbath. People noted his wisdom and insight, but in so doing, they wondered where this wisdom had come from. He was, after all, just Mary’s son, a carpenter, a local lad; no-one special at all.

Interestingly, while there is mention of Mary, and brothers and sisters, Joseph isn’t named. Was Joseph no longer alive, or is there still some lingering gossip and unease about the circumstances of Jesus’ birth; conceived out of wedlock? In a society where honour and shame play a big role in how people behave and their understanding of social behaviour, your birth status defines your place in society, and it lasts for your lifetime.

However, the absence of Joseph could merely be a translation issue, as the account of this incident in both Matthew and Luke’s gospels do mention the carpenter’s son, or Joseph’s son.

Nevertheless, people in Nazareth don’t expect Jesus to be anything more than a local carpenter. They see his actions and teachings as pretentious rising above his station. Who does he think he is?

This comes not long after Mark’s account of Jesus calming the storm, when his disciples asked themselves the same question. This is a theme of Mark’s Gospel. Who is Jesus? Of course, Mark’s purpose is to lead his reader to the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. As we read the gospel, we are challenged to discern who Jesus is for us. We can reflect on our own answer to the question – “Who is this man?”

In verse 4, Jesus indirectly claims to be a prophet; someone who receives revelations from God for others. Old Testament prophets were God’s messengers to the people. The people in Nazareth were not prepared to accept Jesus’ credentials, and as a result, Jesus was unable to do more than a little minor healing there. Their lack of faith in him affected his ability to heal them. Contrast this to the faith of the woman in the previous chapter who had faith that just touching Jesus’ cloak was enough to heal her; and Jesus’ response to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Thus dishonoured in his home town, Jesus moved on from Nazareth with his disciples. Having called them, instructed them, and allowed them to experience his mission of healing and teaching, Jesus decided they were ready to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons, as prefaced in Mark chapter 3.

What do we notice about the way Jesus set up this mission for his disciples?

He sent them out in pairs, and gave them authority to heal; he told them to take nothing with them except a staff, and to wear sandals, but not an extra shirt; he told them to stay at one house in each town; he told them to leave a place if they were rejected and shake the dust off their feet as a testimony against that place.

What could this mean for us?

Firstly, we are not alone in our mission to follow Jesus. We are part of a community of faith, and that community will support us as we travel on our journey with Christ.

Secondly, we have been given authority by Jesus to do what he would do. The disciples, given this authority, “drove out many demons and anointed with oil many people who were ill and healed them.” Is this the mission we are given by Jesus? Is this a literal mission, or may we interpret this for our time and place, with 21st century understanding? I personally, don’t feel called to laying on of hands, or driving out demons, in the way I have seen in videos. This doesn’t mean that I think there is necessarily anything wrong in this, it’s just not something I feel called to. However, I do feel called to a mission of listening. I have been told that I am a good listener, and I seem to be someone who people unburden themselves to. Is this a casting out of demons, that I can listen to people’s troubles and perhaps help them to resolve their issues, or at least help them shed light on their issues and explore solutions together? It has taken me a while to recognise this ability to listen, and I hope in claiming it, I am not setting myself up to being dishonoured in my home church! My purpose in reflecting on it, is to share with you the possibilities of the mission you may be called to, and to acknowledge that it may only be on reflecting in hindsight that we recognise what it is for ourselves.

Thirdly, we are to take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money – and to wear sandals, but not an extra shirt. Jesus sends us out with some urgency, stripped bare, and unpretentious. We are to fully rely on God. However, we are prepared for a long journey, with a staff and sandals. This is unlike the instructions for mission recorded in Luke and Matthew, where the disciples went barefoot, carrying nothing.

In Biblical Palestine, clothes reflected status and race or culture. By not wearing an extra shirt, the disciples were not to convey anything by their appearance that would make them seem superior, or suggest a particular race or culture. The people they visited were to receive them just as they were, without bias. I find this a really hard ask. How can I go on a journey and take nothing? And yet I have heard stories from people who pretty much do just that. They have an idea for mission and amazing things happen in terms of helpers and finance, as a result of prayer. To fully rely on God makes us vulnerable, and this threatens our sense of wellbeing. Yet, holding back threatens our spiritual wellbeing.

Fourthly, Jesus’ mission is to households, not synagogues. Our mission is to be personal and direct. We are to build relationships by staying in the same household, and not continually moving on.

Finally, Jesus prepares us for rejection, just as he was rejected in his home town. We need to know that our message will not always be well-received. However, we don’t dwell on this rejection, but rather shake the dust off our feet and move on to somewhere more receptive of the message.

And so, this passage from Mark is challenging us to discern who Jesus is, and to reflect on the authenticity of his message. Then we are sent out by Jesus to do the things he gave most of his time to; trusting in God’s providence, and depending on God’s grace. This is quite a challenge, but through prayer we can remain in touch with the Good News that we are invited to preach, and through love we can be genuine messengers of this Good News.

Song: ‘We Come to Your Feast’


Sharing the Peace of Christ: In Christ you are included!

Song of Sending: ‘Now As We Go’


The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ the Love of God the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and forever. Amen