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Sermon for 6th Sunday after Pentecost 2021

2nd Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 Psalms 48 2nd Corinthians 12:2-10 Mark 6:1-13

O God, you have taught us to keep your commandments by loving you and our neighbor. Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection. So many questions: Are loving God and our neighbor different things or two ways of saying the same thing? What is love, and is it possible to love someone that you don’t like? Is love like respect? Like honor? Like passion? It is more than a feeling, but is it related to feelings? Is it possible to be exhausted, bored, disgusted, neglectful, hurtful, but still love?

Christ has taught us that the commandments are summarized in love of God and neighbor. He taught this not so much as a rule but as an example for all of us. His example brings many questions for us to find answers. First, loving God and loving our neighbor are not different things, but the same thing. Love sees everything in relation to everything else – God, our neighbor, ourselves, all things. All of creation is like an orchestra, the individual creatures like instruments. Not all instruments are the same and not all are equal. Sameness and equality would interfere with the music and are not part of love; mutual need and respect are.

Second, love is a vision lived. It is not merely an awareness in the mind of the relatedness of all things, but a moment-by-moment choosing to live as part of the whole. We tend to like people that share common interests with us, but liking has nothing to do with choosing to live as part of the whole.

Third, respect and honor are essential parts of love. As a man, Jesus respected and honored all of creation, especially those who received no honor or respect from others. Christ respected and honored even those who did not respect and honor others.

Passion is also part of love because passion affirms relatedness. Jesus wept over Lazarus. He raved at the hypocrites. He rebuked demons. But none of us can feel equal passion for all people. Passion is not sustainable and is exhausting. So, exhaustion must be a part of love as well.

Boredom? Did people ever bore Jesus? I don’t recall any stories in scripture. Love always seems to be beyond the trivial conversation of the moment, the story repeated for the tenth time. Behind all these, love detects and connects with a person whose joys, fears, uncertainties, and longings are part of God’s master plan. Love sees the reflection of God in everything, and that is why no one ever bored Jesus.

Disgust? Yes, Jesus grew disgusted with behaviors and attitudes that denied mutual need and respect and perhaps with people who embodied those behaviors and attitudes. Love does not exclude disgust. Neglect and hurtfulness? These are compatible with love, but not with perfect love, not with Christ’s love. Perhaps, we sometimes see them in ourselves. We sometimes hurt and neglect those we love. However, God continues to love us, and we respond by promising in return to love God and our neighbor. Perhaps, in time we will better embrace Jesus’ example.

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.

They are perplexed about the source of Jesus’ wisdom and deeds and ask themselves, “What’s this wisdom that has been given him…?” 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.

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 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.

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.

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