Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | July 8, 2012

2012.07.08 “Going Home” – Mark 6: 1 – 13

Central United Methodist Church

Going Home

Pastor David L. Haley

Mark 6: 1 – 13

July 8, 2012

 

“Jesus left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?”

But in the next breath they were cutting him down: “He’s just a carpenter — Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.

Jesus told them, “A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child.” Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there — he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that’s all. He couldn’t get over their stubbornness. He left and made a circuit of the other villages, teaching.

Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions:

“Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple.

“And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave.

“If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”

Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.”  Mark 6: 1 – 13, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

If we compare our life to a play, what scene are we in? If we compare our life to a book, what chapter are we in? More importantly, how does this scene/chapter fit into the larger play/book that is our life?

Sometimes I wonder.  Personally, I am in the 8th scene of my life. I don’t know how many more there are; I hope a few. But now, I find, when I revisit previous scenes, in so far as that is possible, I struggle to integrate that into the life I live now.

 

I could name several examples, but the primary one would be my old Kentucky home (someone should write a song about that). I grew up in a small town in West Kentucky, running around the woods, living an outdoor life, fishing, swimming, hunting, and playing baseball. In deference to Andy Griffin, who died last week, my town of Hardin, Kentucky, was a lot like Mayberry, so that show felt very familiar to me. I lived there until I was 21 years old.  I haven’t lived there since, except to visit.

Now, when I go back, I find it nostalgic and awkward. Life is different there, people look different, they talk differently. (And they all have aged; and I, of course, have not). When I run into people I know, they seem like people from another life. I don’t look down on them; I just wonder how different my life would be if I had stayed there instead of coming here, for school, for a wife, for my ministry.  Sometimes I wonder whether I have lost something, even whether I should someday return there, and get back to my roots, back to where I began, back to where tombstones have my name on them.

For example, when I was back for my father’s funeral in March, and stood up to do my Dad’s eulogy in the pulpit of the little United Methodist Church in which I grew up and which they still attend, I looked out upon my family and my family’s friends, including people who have known me since I was a child. My 4th grade teacher was sitting in the congregation. Here I was, a United Methodist pastor with almost 40 years experience, who has served five churches, who went away and never came back, except to visit. As I stood up to speak I saw a few people whisper to their neighbor how much I looked like my father. It was an honorable, yet humbling experience.

Have you had such an experience, when you returned to your roots, to the place where you were born and grown up?  What do the people who live there think of you now? And how do you integrate that into the life you live now?

In this morning’s Gospel, I wonder if Jesus didn’t feel that way, as he returned to the town where he grew up, Nazareth. He had been on a successful preaching tour of Galilee, preaching and teaching and healing and consequentially drawing large crowds, attaining star status.

Now, he returns home to Nazareth, a town of less than two hundred people. I suspect as he walked into town with his entourage, no crowds flocked around him. After all, they all knew who he was. I wonder if someone yelled, “Hey Jesus, haven’t seen you in awhile, what you been up to?  By the way, we’re still eating around that table you made us a few years back.”

Don’t know if Jesus still had a house there, but you have to wonder what his family thought about his return home, as just a few chapters back they had gone to bring him home, thinking he’d lost his mind. If you remember, he rebuffed them and said, “Who is my family? Those who do the will of God, they are my mother and brothers and sisters.” You have to wonder now if his family wasn’t tempted to say, “Yeah, well, all those OTHER sisters and brothers you have? Let them give you and your pals room and board.”

Wherever Jesus was, he did what he always did, which was to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath, the same synagogue in which he’d grown up. When he stood up to speak, don’t you think he looked out upon his family and his school buddies and his old girlfriends and 4th grade teacher?  I wonder if someone didn’t turn to their neighbor and say how much he looked like his father, even though they’d heard the gossip. Don’t you think somebody surely said, “Poor Joseph, wish he could be here to see this; he’d be so proud.”

And then, in a story for which Luke supplies more detail, Jesus proceeded to amaze them. Eugene Peterson renders Mark’s account of their reaction this way: “He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?”

But then, almost as quickly, that “familiarity breeds contempt” thing reared its head and things turned ugly:

“In the next breath they were cutting him down: “He’s just a          carpenter — Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We          know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters.          Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they knew          about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further.”

Mary’s boy! That was nothing but an insult. In that culture, every male was the son of their father. Except Jesus, the son of Mary. They’d heard the rumors, and weren’t afraid to use them, when, as we say, “He got a little too big for his britches.”  People can be cruel.

Why is this? Emerson Powery, Professor of Biblical Studies at Messiah College, in Grantham, Pennsylvania, suggests that in an honor/shame society, honor is a limited good. If someone gains, someone else loses. So to be recognized as a prophet in one’s own town meant that honor due other persons and families was would be diminished. Claims to more than one’s appointed share of honor as received at birth thus threatened others and would eventually trigger attempts to cut the claimant down to size.” (Working Preacher, July 8, 2012). Maybe this is why they did what they did.

Or maybe it was just hard to imagine that someone as common as Jesus, especially with his tainted background and upbringing, could make good. Maybe they could not reconcile the ordinary with the extraordinary, and by comparison, felt shown up themselves, in comparison.

Whatever their reason, Jesus summed it up in a memorable phrase still quoted: “A prophet is without honor in his own country.” If you’ve ever aspired to the job of prophet in your house, among your family, among your friends, you will know what I’m talking about. The comedian Henny Youngman used to put it this way: “I don’t get no respect.”

In a story full of “amazing” (they were amazed at Jesus’ wisdom; Jesus was amazed at their disbelief), what follows next is most amazing of all:

“Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there — he laid hands        on a few sick people and healed them, that’s all. He couldn’t get over     their stubbornness. He left and made a circuit of the other villages,      teaching.”

What? Jesus who had calmed the storm, who had cured the woman who was hemorrhaging by the mere touch of his garment, who had raised a dead girl to life with a single word, this Jesus was shut down, hardly able to do anything other than heal a few sick people – maybe of something like a hangnail – due to the unbelief of the people of his hometown?  That is amazing and hard to believe.

Given that, let’s ask this? Who are Jesus’ people today?  Would be us, the church? Is it possible that we who think we know Jesus best may at times honor him least? Is it possible that we may sometimes be the least likely to call upon him, the last to turn to him, even less likely than those not in the church, to be open to his presence and power?

Why would that be? Maybe we are too set in our assumptions; after all, we KNOW who Jesus is. Some of us have known him since we were a child; and truth be told, some of us have not changed in our thinking about him since.

Maybe it’s because in our emphasis upon salvation by faith alone, we have been led to believe that God doesn’t need us, that God is not inhibited by our faith or lack of faith, and that what we believe or think or do doesn’t really matter when it comes to God accomplishing God’s purposes.

On the contrary, the life of faith, we have something to do. Each of us is an instrument, and has an role to play in God’s will being fulfilled in our lives and in the world, even if it sometimes amounts to just getting out of God’s way.  It isn’t so much about salvation as it is about daily living, and the role each of us plays in sensing, experiencing, and doing God’s will and God’s work in the world.

I have always liked the story about the man who took a vacant plot of land beside his house and turned it into a garden.  He worked hard, getting rid of the rocks, tilling the soil, planting the garden, weeding, and watering it (especially if it was as dry as it’s been lately.) Finally, when that garden was looking pretty good, one of his overly pious neighbors came over and said, “You and God have done a good job on this garden.”  “Oh yeah,” says the gardener, “you should have seen it when God had alone.”

If what we do or don’t do matters, the next question becomes: “Am I encouraging – or inhibiting – God’s work in my life? Is there an opportunity to which God is inviting me, which I’m finding difficult to accept or embrace? Is there some regret I can’t get over, some grudge I can’t let go, some hurt that has come to define me, some addiction that imprisons me, some anger that poisons me, even wrong assumption, that get in the way? To get past such things, we may need help, and that too, means not just from God.

In this story about Jesus visits to his hometown, these are some of the questions Mark raises. If we stop and honestly ask them of ourselves, we might be surprised at what assumptions we discard and what new conclusions we reach, what old things we let go and what new things we take on, and what Jesus might both in us and through us in the world.

As far as how we deal with those previous scenes of our lives, here’s what I intend to do someday: write a spiritual autobiography. A spiritual autobiography differs from a regular autobiography in that it is less about the details of time and place, than the lessons learned in that time and place, both for better and for worse.

Some of the best spiritual autobiographies of our time are those written by author Frederick Buechner, Presbyterian minister and author of more than 30 books. Buechner’s autobiographical works are The Sacred Journey (1982), Now and Then (1983), Telling Secrets (1991), and The Eyes of the Heart: Memoirs of the Lost and Found (1999).  If you prefer a sampler of Buechner’s works to begin with, I highly recommend Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner (1992)

In Now and Then, Buechner writes of his encounter with Agnes Sanford, a Christian healer. Listen to what he had to say: “The most vivid image she presented was of Jesus standing in church services all over Christendom with his hands tied behind his back, unable to do any mighty works because the ministers who led the services [and might we add, the people in the pews] either didn’t expect him to do them or didn’t dare ask him to do them . . .”

That’s quite an image: Jesus standing in church, his hands tied behind his back. Shall we unbind him and let him go?

 

 

 

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