Sunday, July 7, 2024

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. Brent Gundlah
“Going Home”

First Reading (Ezekiel 2:1-5/NRSVUE)
Gospel Reading (Mark 6:1-13/NRSVUE)

Jesus delivers.

And by “delivers,” I don’t mean that Jesus frees anyone from captivity or constraint (like God did for the Israelites who were enslaved in Egypt); and I don’t mean that Jesus liberates humankind from the power of sin (though, some would say that he actually did that); and I don’t even mean in the Dominos and DoorDash sense of bringing people what they want. What I do mean is that Jesus goes and meets people where they are to bring them what they need, wherever that may be, rather than expecting people to come to him. And he calls upon his disciples to do the same thing.

In the first part of today’s story from Mark, Jesus goes to that most challenging of places — his own hometown of Nazareth — in order to do some deeds of power (like curing sick people), and to preach and teach the gospel. Let’s just say it doesn’t turn out too well. As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt, and that certainly seems to be the case here.

As Jesus begins to speak in the synagogue, many of the people who hear him are astounded (and not in a good way). Interestingly enough, the source of their discontent doesn’t seem to be what Jesus says; their problem appears to be that Jesus is the one saying it. And the underlying reason for that is twofold.

For starters, the hometown crowd sees Jesus as “the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon” (and apparently Jesus even has some sisters too — who knew?). The person conspicuously absent from this list of Jesus’s immediate family is Mary’s husband, who would normally be considered the head of that household.

One can infer that, in his absence, this responsibility would have fallen upon Jesus (because, by all accounts, Jesus was Mary’s first born child). But instead of staying home and taking care of the family — as this society would expect him to do — Jesus is out there wandering about the region with his disciples preaching and teaching and healing. And this dereliction of familial duty would not have gone over too well with the good folks of Nazareth.

The second problem is that they see Jesus as a “carpenter.” Now, we might look at this word today and assume that Jesus was a skilled tradesman, as a carpenter would be in our place and time, but this wasn’t really the case. Back then and there, Jesus was more likely to have been a common laborer — someone who worked with his hands for the benefit of other people for a simple (and probably very low) wage. Jesus wasn’t a farmer who worked primarily for the benefit of themselves and their immediate family; and Jesus wasn’t a noble person who would have done no work at all. In fact, it’s fair to say that Jesus was just a notch or two above a slave in the social hierarchy of that place and time.   

What I’m saying is that Jesus was not someone they would have seen as being capable of teaching about important matters of faith with wisdom and authority. Jesus isn’t the college kid student comes home after one semester and makes everyone mad by trying to explain to them how the whole world works; he’s the kid who never even would have had a shot at going to college in the first place. And he’s certainly not someone who would be blessed by God with powerful gifts of healing. They simply can’t picture Jesus as being anything other than what he’s always been in their eyes.

There was such a disconnect between the message and the messenger here that the Nazarenes can’t find a way to reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable things; and so they do what we humans often do in such situations — they take offense; they double-down on what they know; they retreat to their understanding of the way things have always been; they close their hearts and minds to the new and exciting possibilities that are, quite literally, right there in front of their faces. At this point, the people haven’t even had to consider the idea that Jesus might be God’s anointed one, that Jesus could be their Messiah — and we all know how well it’s gonna go when they eventually have to wrestle with that possiblity.

Jesus, we’re told, is amazed at their unbelief — not angry, frustrated, resentful, hopeless or anything like that, mind you. He simply can do no deeds of power there among this unbelieving hometown crowd, and so he does all that he can do, really — he picks up and moves on. Because, for some reason — I know not why — God seems to need us as partners in order to make meaningful change happen.

In the second part of the story, Jesus grants his disciples some measure of his healing powers and sends them into the world two by two in order to cure the sick and to proclaim the need for repentance, which, as I’ve said here before, simply means to change the entire way you understand the world (as if there’s anything simple about that).

Jesus orders them to travel light — and by that I mean really light. They are “to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts.”

They are to wear only the sandals on their feet and the tunic on their backs. They are to avail themselves of the hospitality of strangers for whatever else they need as they go about their work.

They are to stay wherever they are welcomed and move on from wherever they are not (much like Jesus just did back there in Nazareth).

They are to level the proverbial playing field.

They are to be humble.

They are to be vulnerable.

Devoid of all artifice, stripped of all their privilege, bearing nothing but the gospel, Jesus’s disciples are called to go forth into an always uncertain, sometimes dangerous and frequently inhospitable world in order to share that gospel of love for God and neighbor by meeting people where they are and tending to their needs, even though they don’t know how that might actually work out or how they’ll be received.

We may find ourselves in a much different time and in a much different place than Jesus and his first disciples did, but our call to discipleship remains pretty much the same as it’s always been — meet people where they are and tend to their needs.

Much of the focus in the Church these days — in this church these days — is on getting people to come to us, to show up in this place, to do the things we do, to be a part of our community, to sustain this congregation, to let them know (as we do every week) that they are welcome… here. And, please don’t get me wrong, this is all great — heck, Jesus actually invited people over to share a meal every now and again. But, if we take Jesus at his word here, it’s also not enough.

And so maybe a question we should be asking ourselves is this: How are we going forth from here into the world to meet people where they are and to tend to their needs in ways that level the proverbial playing field, in ways where we set aside our privilege, in ways in which we engage with folks on their terms, in ways that lay bare our own vulnerability? Jesus delivers. Do we?

But, make no mistake about it, this could be a difficult and uncomfortable endeavor. In an increasingly secular and divided world, Christianity, if it’s even talked about at all, is frequently used to promote and defend a vision for society that seems to stray pretty far from the radical inclusiveness that Jesus advocated and gave his life for.

Let’s be honest: the commitments we share in this faith community, the things we stand for here, might not be received too well in certain quarters out there, as we seek to share the gospel of love for God, love for all God’s people, and love for all God’s creation. There are some who will see us as unlikely or unworthy bearers of the good news because of who we are — and we have to accept this as a real possibility. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Because, when it all clicks, we can — in partnership with one another and with God — change the world. And that’s definitely a good reason to keep trying.

So let’s throw on our tunics and sandals (or whatever else you feel like wearing); let’s check our privilege and all the rest of our baggage at the door;

let’s go meet people where they are and talk with them about their needs.

And who knows? When we do that, we might just find our own needs being tended to in ways we never even thought possible.