Sermon for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost
2ndSamuel 5:1-5, 9-10 Psalms 48 2ndCorinthians 12:2-10 Mark 6:1-13
A millionaire, a construction worker and a miser walk into a bar and order a beer. All three beers were served with a fly in them. The millionaire promptly asked for another glass. The construction worker fished out the fly and downed the beer. The thrifty man sticks his hand into the beer, grabs the fly by its wings, and shouts, “Spit it out! Spit it out!”
Jesus moves on to his own country, from the area where his amazing works have seen astounding success. Mark never explains Jesus’ movements. We only know that Jesus intends to proclaim the message throughout Galilee, and that he will not be confined to any one town. We know that he frequently seeks to escape the press of the crowds. Jesus’ home turf would seem to have good potential for success except that we know his family has already tried to collar him and bring him back there because they were convinced he was unbalanced if not insane. Again, Jesus teaches in the synagogue on the Sabbath and again “many who heard him were amazed.” We should not be surprised that Jesus excites astonishment in others, but in this town it swiftly turns to suspicion.
Blindness to truth takes many forms, and those closest to Jesus don’t have an advantage in understanding who he is. They are perplexed about the source of Jesus’ wisdom and deeds and ask themselves, “What’s this wisdom that has been given him…?” Mark doesn’t tell us the content of Jesus’ teaching or what the mighty works he performed that stir up the curiosity of his fellow townsmen. But the miracles are directly related to his teaching and wisdom. The question assumes that wisdom has been given to Jesus and that miracles have been done by his hands. What they can’t figure out is where one so familiar to them could get all this power. Their preoccupation with this issue means that they never get around to asking the critical question. What does it all mean? The answer to that question will ultimately lead them to the answer of its source. They are not driven by a desire to know what is behind Jesus’ miracles. They are driven by an itch to confirm their private prejudice that Jesus can’t be all that remarkable.
Their question about Jesus is the third in a series of questions raised by those who have been bowled over by his teaching and his deeds. First, a synagogue gathering asked, “What is this?” Next, some teachers of the law and then Jesus’ disciples asked themselves, “Who is this?” Now, the question has to do with the source of his deeds and teaching, “From where is this?” The hometown crowd doesn’t go as far as the teachers of the law from Jerusalem and attribute his ability to Beelzebub. They simply think it unlikely that God can work so dramatically in this guy who comes from their neighborhood. They can’t get beyond the tiny size of the mustard seed and can see nothing else.
Jesus is in his old stomping grounds, and his town’s folk believe they know all there is to know about him and his family background. Nothing about it leads them to suspect anything foreboding about him. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth and his life before his baptism and ministry were unimportant to Mark. He has only told us that Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee. We later learn more about Jesus’ background from the incidental question, “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon?” These details aren’t crucial to the gospel about Jesus, but they do stir up curiosity.
A carpenter is someone who could work with wood, metal or stone. He could be a builder, a mason, or a carpenter. In Jesus’ Palestinian context, it probably meant a woodworking handyman. He would have the skill to do almost anything – from crafting plows and yokes for farming, to making pieces of furniture, cupboards, stools and benches, and to erecting small buildings, particularly making the beams, window lattices, doors and bolts. Jesus must have been technically skilled and physically strong. Some of the paintings fail to show Jesus’ strength.
We hear the names of his brothers to show they are a good Jewish family who name their sons after patriarchs. You may notice his sisters are unnamed and unnumbered, reflecting the ancient bias that females are embedded in males and don’t merit much attention. They are generally seen as property.
The people of Nazareth identify Jesus as “Mary’s son.” Normally, a man is identified as the son of his father. Some have suggested that by identifying him only as the son of his mother they are maligning him and looking back to the circumstances of his suspicious birth. Others have argued that they refer to him as Mary’s son to distinguish him from Joseph’s children from his first marriage. Still others suggest they refer to him in this way because his father is no longer alive and they are expressing their familiarity with his mother who lives there. The first option has little to support it. The second option is possible, but the last seems to be the most likely because the references to his brothers and sisters emphasize that he is simply “a local boy”. He is well known as a carpenter. Everyone knows his brothers and sisters, living right around the corner. They think they have Jesus pegged. This one is just Mary’s boy, who used to be one of us.
The Bible is full of miracle stories about Jesus, but maybe today’s reading could be called an un-miracle. This an “un-miracle” story, in which Jesus didn’t heal anyone, while his family and friends sat shaking their heads a safe distance away. I think it probably stung him – this first taste of rejection. He had been doing so well up to this point. Simon’s mother-in-law was feeling fine and back to her normal routine, the Gerasene demoniac was back home with his family, Jairus’ daughter was back to jumping rope with her friends. Jesus had been preaching and teaching all over Galilee, and had collected a small band of followers who were ready to leave from him.
When I was called to be the Interim Rector of St. Michael’s in Waynesboro in 2008, this was the scripture I thought about. “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” I would be returning to my hometown, the church I grew up in. Who is this, Anne and Buddy’s youngest? Who is this and where did the power come? After much pondering and praying, God assured me this was what was right for me. I received a note from one of my mother’s dearest friends before I started working. I was often called Kittybug when I was growing up. Usually a nick name is shorter, but Kittybug was it. The note began, “Dear Reverend Kittybug”. I knew the old and the new could be melded. I knew that God would be present in my humanness and humor and that all would be well. The 23 months with them helped me heal from the grief of the death of my parents. It helped me see the “me” I was now and helped them to see Jesus in each other. We began a Heaping Hands Ministry which feeds needy folks breakfast every Saturday. It has grown to feeding about 60 folks each week and so many relationships have grown out of their service. So, it is true that we can go home again, but only if God is in the midst of the growth and the going.
So Jesus shook the dirt off his shoes and moved forward. Shook the dirt so that would not cloud his next steps. So he can begin anew. The people forgot Jesus’ groundedness. They forgot the love he and his family had shown in the community. They forgot the solid feeling of the tables and chairs in their homes that had been crafted by Jesus. They got distracted by the chatter of doubt that they lost sight of the light. But the light was still there and Jesus passed the light and his teachings on to the disciples.
We get to a point that we believe we know what is right and what is wrong and we don’t welcome anyone challenging our beliefs. And yet, that is what God does, because it is the only way to get us to believe in God more than we believe in our own beliefs. Jesus was not the only one God sent to shake us up, to disturb our complacency, to wake us up. God is not behind us, holding us back. God is ahead of us, calling us forward – to new ideas, to new ways of doing things, of encouraging and accepting all people.
Celebrating Independence Day, we remember and celebrate our freedom. We are grateful to our founding fathers and mothers and all the military men and women who have made and continue to make our freedom possible. There are so many lives, so many voices that have made our nation great. Some we are so familiar with and others are a distant echo.
We so easily abstract ourselves from the ranks of the heroic and the brave. We admire them and we sometimes even follow them, but we seldom, see them in the mirror of our lives. Change happens. I believe we have everything – and everyone- we need to hear what God has to say to us. We have God’s stories and God’s food. We have a baptism that calls us to love and respect each other. And we have each other’s stories, which are full of God’s graceful power. Let’s not let Jesus get away from us again. Let’s listen to him, and to each other, and live together like people who believe. Let us live this day anointed by God’s word as one who brings good news to all those in need. Amen.