Counterfeit Christianity – Rationalism – That You Can Find God in Your Mind

Mark 6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 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, that he even does miracles! 3 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 offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.

If someone would ask me to name the two most challenging places for a preacher to preach, I think I would say that preaching at the Seminary chapel in front of my classmates and professors was tough. And then preaching in front of my home congregation was equally tough. A key challenge in both places is that those listening might not see me first as a preacher.

At the Seminary, those listening could be tempted to see only a student or a classmate (whose foibles and failings they know quite well). In my home congregation, they could see only the little boy they watched gumming Cheerios in the pews.

We see just such a stumbling block impact the preaching ministry of Jesus. He comes to Nazareth and preaches in the synagogue where he has worshiped since childhood. As the preaching reviews come in, at first all seems to go well. They asked, “Where did this man get these things?” “What’s this wisdom that has been given to him, that he even does miracles?” But things degenerate quickly. “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?” All of this Satan happily uses to help trip them up and turn their hearts from Jesus’ powerful message. “And so they took offense at him.”

Notice that the people of Nazareth rip on Jesus by calling Him the son of Mary. Not the son of Joseph which would have been the normal way to talk about someone in that culture. But this was a reference that they knew Joseph was not Jesus’ father. (Not that they believed that God was His Father, though.)

They thought that the hands of Jesus were carpenter’s hands, not God’s hands. And carpenter’s hands shape wood, they don’t heal people. They thought that the mouth of Jesus was a carpenter’s mouth, not God’s mouth. And carpenter’s mouths don’t utter the wisdom that He did. They thought that Jesus was an ordinary man from an ordinary family. So their weakness of faith and the strength of their unbelief would not let them believe that a prophet was among them, let alone that the very Son of God was once again in their midst.

They had allowed the counterfeit Christianity of rationalism affect them. Rationalism is trying to figure out the divine with human minds. Rationalism discounts anything that does not make sense, that does not fit, that conflicts with our puny reasoning. Those in Nazareth rejected Jesus because they had rationalized that He was nothing more than the illegitimate son of a carpenter.

Then Jesus responds to them. This is not “nice Jesus.” So many people today imagine that Jesus is just a “nice” guy who has some nice platitudes and who is never controversial or confrontational. However, this is not the Jesus who says He’s going to win people over by letting them whatever they want about Him. He doesn’t say, “Here let me change my words to make them more palatable for you.” This is the Jesus who says, “You reject me? Fine. See how you like it on Judgment Day.” Then He quotes a proverb, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” Everybody else sees Jesus as a prophet except for the morons who happen to be His childhood friends, cousins and in-laws.

Others elsewhere marvel at Jesus’ miracles. Now Jesus marvels that their unbelief about His miracles.

The Word of God is a rejectable Word. People can take offense at it. People can mock it and laugh at it. People can close their ears and minds to it, literally walk out of the church, shut their Bibles. The Word is as rejectable as Jesus.

All three readings this morning testify to the rejectability of the Word, its vulnerability, the fact that God forces Himself on no one. The prophet Ezekiel is sent to a stubborn people, a nation of rebels – an Israelite people with a track record of disobedience. The apostle Paul tells Pastor Timothy people “will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:4). And then Jesus offends those in His hometown of Nazareth.

What offended them was how ordinary Jesus was. Just plain old Jesus, the guy next door with the calloused hands who built their tables and chairs. They knew His folks, they knew His family, they knew all about Him. He lived in their neck of the woods for thirty years and no one thought anything out of the ordinary. It’s not as though there was a glowing halo hovering over Jesus’ head when He was a kid. They could not rationalize how He could possibly also be the Son of God, the promised Messiah, their Savior from sin.

What offended them, and the world, and even you and me at times, is the ordinariness, the everydayness of Jesus. When God appears to save the world, we expect Superman, or some larger than life extra-terrestrial, something not of this world – not a carpenter from Nazareth. That’s too ordinary, too much like us, too much a part of everyday life. We expect holiness to have glowing halos, not dirt under his fingernails and wood splinters in his hands.

“Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor,” Jesus said. Familiarity breeds contempt, especially when it comes to holy things. We who are lifelong Christians, and especially we “lifer Lutherans,” might confess an honest word about that. We are all too often like that Nazareth congregation. We’ve grown up around holy things. We’ve known Baptism and the Scriptures from our infancy. Our ears are accustomed to the sound of sins being forgiven. Our tongues are liturgicallly disciplined to pray, praise and give thanks. We easily take our place at the Supper of Christ’s body and blood. And we just as easily skip it when it isn’t convenient or “we have better things to do on a Sunday morning.”

I hear people’s rationalized excuses all the time: “I don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” “I know enough to get into heaven. So I don’t need to go to Bible study.” “We’ve been married a long time. We don’t need to go to a Family Workshop to hear what God has to say about marriage.” “I believe that Jesus would support gay marriage.” It doesn’t matter to them that God never said any of those things. It doesn’t matter that God said the exact opposite of every one of those things. Rationalism means we can just make stuff up and call it “true.”

Rationalism’s lie is that you can find God in your mind. Rationalism believes that you can theorize, text, experiment, and discover truths. If it makes sense, then it must be true. If it doesn’t, then it isn’t.

As rationalistic Christians, we refuse to really listen to or read God’s Word. The less we know of it the better. Then we can make up whatever we want in order to rationalize anything in our culture or our lifestyles that we think might be in conflict with God’s Scriptures.

Rationalism will believe anything so long as God did not say it.

We Christians have been infected with this Rationalism. I asked my confirmands a few years ago for their opinions on Bruce Jenner’s sex change situation. They all said that it was wrong, but they based their judgments on feelings, not on clear Bible verses.

Last week former President Jimmy Carter weighed in on the gay marriage debate. As an evangelical Christian, he said that he felt that Jesus would be for gay marriage. However, he was honest enough to admit one big sticking point – he couldn’t point to any specific Bible passage where Jesus says that marriage is anything other than between a man and a woman.

Recently the feminists in the Anglican Church have unveiled their latest campaign. Not only are they ordaining women as priests and bishops, but they are also changing the language of the liturgy to call God “Mother.”

In every instance, Christians are failing to make a strong response to society’s ills. Why? Because we listen to every other voice than the clear voice of the Lord.

God doesn’t talk to us in our feelings like Mysticism or our minds like Rationalism or in anything else that we might actually have to “interpret.” He speaks to us in the clear words of Scripture. Real, true, actual words. Words that have meaning. Words that have power and contain salvation. Words that don’t need to be interpreted – only heard, believed, and accepted. They are the original oracle of truth.

It often takes the outsider, one of the exiles, one who knows what 70 years without the Sacrament is like, to take hold of us and shake us and say, “Do you have any idea what treasures you have here?”

Do you? It’s all so ordinary. That splash of baptismal water, the sacrament of your rebirth in Jesus. The spoken Word that says, “I forgive you,” God’s absolution of your sins. That bread that is the body of Christ, the wine that is His blood, the sacrament of your union with Christ. That homely Bible of humble origins. This ordinary congregation led by an ordinary pastor.

But don’t be fooled. And don’t stumble. There’s power here, buried under weakness. The power of Jesus’ death and resurrection to save.

Look at how the Word comes to us to weakness – Scriptures words, baptismal water, communion bread and wine. The strength is hidden. The glory muted. The gift is rejectable. Talk to anyone who rejects the Lord’s Supper, they all say the same thing: It’s only bread and wine. Or anyone who rejects Baptism: It’s only water. Or someone who rejects the Scriptures: It’s only the writings and opinions of men. Or anyone who rejects Jesus: He’s only a man, a carpenter from Nazareth who got crucified.

But this is how God has chosen to deal with us – quietly, gently, humbly, rejectably. God has hidden His power and perfected it in weakness precisely so that it will contrast with the world’s way. God’s wisdom is foolishness to the world precisely to counteract our rationalistic false theologies.

But to those who welcome Jesus, there is a power – power to become the children of God. It is the power of sins forgiven, washed away by the blood of Christ crucified. The power of the open, empty tomb that conquers death forever. The power of the One who is seated at the right hand of God and reigning now over all things. The power of baptismal waters bringing us into God’s family. The power of bread and wine so that we might unite with the very body and blood of the risen Christ. The power of the Son God who is right now in our midst.

A power and a holiness and a glory that are hidden, irrational, unexplainable. The exact opposite of our counterfeit Christianity of Rationalism. Amen.