Sermon - Sunday, 8 July 2018

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Sunday, 8 July 2018.

Scripture: 2 Samuel 5: 1-10 / Mark 6: 1-13

Text: Jesus said, Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour                                                          (Mark 6:4)


How did you measure success?

It is twenty years since Scotland last qualified for football’s World Cup finals – and given the current state of Scottish football, even the most optimistic supporter might concede it could be another twenty years before Scotland qualifies for a World Cup final.

With the tournament in Russia drawing to its climax – yes, I know, fed up with all the football on the television, many of you will be glad when it is over – let me tell you a Scottish world cup story with a difference.

In 1978, when the finals were held in Argentina, encouraged by the manager, a charismatic individual called Ally McLeod, Scotland imagined themselves to be one of the favourites to win the tournament.

 ‘We’re on our way with Ally’s army’ sang Andy Cameron, ‘we’re going to win the World Cup’ as a packed Hampden stadium gave the team a great send off.

The opening match was against Peru and the manager was in no doubt, it would be a doddle, a walk in the park, and Scotland would gie Peru a hammerin!’

The tide of optimism was tangible.

Scotland’s time had come.

We were the champions in waiting – our name was as good as engraved on the trophy - and oh how the football fans among us lapped it up.

Unfortunately no-one told Peru – the match finished 3-1 in favour of the South Americans.

In the next match Scotland stumbled to a 1-1 draw with Iran and although their tournament ended on a brighter note beating Holland 3-2 in the final group game, Scotland were out – and the television images of angry fans shouting abuse at a distraught Ally McLeod, head in his hands, were painful to watch.

Poor McLeod – the newspaper headlines were savage in their condemnation of his failure – and on his return home he was forced to resign as the international team manager.

Sometime later the same Ally McLeod was appointed manager of Ayr United, one of Scotland’s small provincial clubs, where my colleague Stewart McPherson, takes up the story.

Stewart comes from the small Ayrshire village of Drongan, a former mining village with a population of some 3,000 people.

When Stewart was growing up in Drongan, one of the youngsters in the village suffered from leukaemia.

The boy was an Ayr United fan and on occasion Stewart would take him in his wheelchair to Ayr’s Somerset Park.

With a special area set out for wheelchair users, Stewart recalls Ally McLeod would often come across to speak to the wheelchair supporters.

Stewart also recalls on one occasion McLeod pushed his young friend into the changing rooms to meet the team.

Sadly the boy’s condition deteriorated and at 12 years of age he died – and yes, you’ve guessed, who turned up at his funeral service but Ally McLeod and the entire Ayr United team to pay their respects and offer the family their love and support.

So how do you measure success?

In footballing terms, although Ally McLeod enjoyed a good career as a player and a manager, he will be forever remembered for the failure that was Scotland’s World Cup campaign in Argentina.

Yet to this day ask Stewart or anyone from the village of Drongan about Ally McLeod and they will tell you a very different story, not a football story but a heart-warming human story of one man’s compassion for a sick child and his family.

Was Jesus a success?

According to the dictionary to succeed is to prosper, to obtain one’s wishes or accomplish what is attempted while a successful person is someone who attains wealth, influence or fame.[1]

Expressed in these terms it would appear self-evident that having been born in a stable, forced with his family to flee as refugees and with the latter part of his adult life spent as an itinerant preacher, teacher and healer, executed after a mockery of a trial and laid to rest in a borrowed tomb, Jesus was anything but a success.

Yet that begs the question, doesn’t it: how do you measure success?

The well-known and much loved meditation One Solitary Life offers a different perspective.

From his humble beginning in life, Jesus never married or had a family and as far as we know he never owned property, attended college or university or was elected to any kind of public office.

Indeed far from getting to the top of the tree, Jesus ended up being nailed to one.

And yet the meditation concludes by declaring that during the last two thousand years;

all the armies that ever marched and all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, have not affected the life of people on earth as much as this one solitary life.

So if it is not about wealth, position and power, the world’s accepted criteria of success, what do the gospels suggest success looks like?

Jesus said, Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour 

Mark reports that having returned to Nazareth on the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach where those who heard him were amazed by the authority with which he spoke.

Quickly however the adulation is transformed into sneering gossip because it appears many in the congregation remember the preacher from childhood.

Had they seen him playing in the fields with their own children or watched him working as a young man in his father’s carpenter’s shop?

Whatever the collective memory, as the passage unfolds it is clear the synagogue congregation know something of Jesus’ background and are familiar with his mother, brothers and sisters.

Or as Scots would put it, they kent his faither.

And because they kent his faither, the congregation start to question Jesus’ wisdom and authority. 

Isn’t this the carpenter?

Isn’t he Mary’s son?

Aren’t these his brothers and sisters?

So just who does he think he is coming here and speaking to us like that?

St John expressed the tragic irony of the situation best when in the prologue to his gospel he wrote:

(Jesus) came unto his own but his own recognised him not[2]

Mark does not spare Jesus’ blushes.

The synagogue sermon was not well received and Mark reports Jesus’ astonishment at the congregation’s negative reaction and their evident lack of faith.

Acknowledging the absurdity of the situation, that a prophet has no honour in his own town or among his own people, Jesus is forced to leave Nazareth.

One commentator summed up the episode thus; 

Jesus’ mighty works do not automatically produce faith. Instead it is possible for his fellow countrymen to note these works and yet to label him as ordinary and so repudiate his claim.[3]

So how does Jesus respond to this apparent set back?

Mark tells us that having left Nazareth, Jesus continued his ministry of teaching, preaching and healing through other towns and villages and, having warned his disciples that they would not always be welcomed, he sent them out to preach the gospel and instructed them to travel light without bag or purse.

In other words, recognising the opposition to be faced, Jesus redefined the success of his ministry, and the success of his disciples, not in terms of wealth or popularity but in terms of faithfulness and service.

And so as the narrative unfolds slowly but surely, a different picture of success emerges.

Jesus knew that far from being on the road to fame and fortune, his destination was Jerusalem and a cross.

Soon we will discover that his badge of office would not be a fancy title but a towel wrapped around his waist and although he would be called a king, the only crown he would wear would be a crown of thorns.

If all of that is to follow, it is evident even early in his ministry that Jesus will encounter opposition because the values and standards of the gospel run headlong into those of the world.

In the world’s eyes Jesus does not measure up...................and that is just the point!

Jesus never tried to measure up to the world’s ways but sought to show people a new way of living, God’s way of life based not upon wealth, status and power but upon the qualities of forgiveness, compassion, hospitality, generosity, faithfulness, service and love.

So was Jesus a success ?

Two thousand years later the real question is not whether Jesus was a success; the real question is whether we have the wit and the faith to grasp what real success looks like?

Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end, Amen


[1] Chambers English dictionary

[2] John 1 : 11

[3] Hugh Anderson, The New Century Bible Commentary : The Gospel of Mark, Marhsall, Morgan and Scott Publ. Ltd., London, 198, p158