7TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, 7-8-2018

Pentecost 7 B 2018
Proper 9

Texts: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Psalm 48, 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10, Mark 6:1-13

“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.  And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief.”  Mark 6: 5-6

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  Amen.

St. Louis is known for many things: The Arch; The Cathedral Basilica which contains what many scholars consider to be the finest mosaics in the Western hemisphere; Forest Park, which is twice as large as Central Park in New York City and was the site of the 1904 World’s Fair which introduced hot dogs and ice cream to America; Ted Drewes Frozen Custard, and, of course, the best baseball team of all-the St. Louis Cardinals!

St. Louis is also known for a very odd and somewhat obnoxious question posed to people within a minute or two of meeting them:  “So, what school did you go to?” I have been asked this question more times than I can count in the 35 years I’ve lived there. And my answer was, “I went to Valparaiso.” That answer had me pegged immediately as someone who didn’t grow up in St. Louis, because if I had, I would have known that the question always means “what high school did you go to?”

This St. Louis question is so different that it has been written up in various periodicals such as The Atlantic and Columbus Underground.  A researcher from Southern Illinois University has been given research funding to investigate the origins and meaning of the question and its impact on the impression of the area by newcomers by the Institute of Urban Research.

There are different theories about why this question just won’t die and why it is really asked, but the overall thinking is that how you answer that question tells the asker a whole lot about you in a very short period of time. It tells them things such as what neighborhood you grew up in, the socioeconomic status of your parents, your religion and possible political persuasion. This question assists the asker in making quick judgements about the person in front of them. It tells them what to expect from you, more or less, how to relate to you and where similarities and differences may be important. Something akin to this is operating in our gospel reading this morning.

In today’s reading we have another Markan sandwich, a story within a story. To recap, Jesus has just left Jairus’ house where he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead.  Jesus is coming off of a very successful tour. He has shown he is the master of nature by stilling a great storm. He has healed a man filled with demons and a woman who was hemorrhaging for twelve years. He is finally home for some R and R and to take things a little easier. He is where everyone knows him and his family. He can let his hair down and just be Jesus, a hometown boy who went to the same synagogue, played in the same streets, and grew up with all the boys in Nazareth.  

Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath with all the other good Jewish boys and men of Nazareth and begins to teach. Those who heard him were “astounded”, “amazed”, and more than a little put out! This was very much unexpected. Jesus teaching them didn’t square with who they thought he was.  They knew him.  They watched him grow up. They knew what high school he went to! This type of thing just didn’t happen in Nazareth. In Jesus’ time where you were born, who you were born to, the circumstances you were born into defined your life and what you could become.

Carpenters don’t teach in the synagogue!  Men who work with their hands aren’t Rabbis! Who does he think he is reaching above his station? He should be satisfied being what he was trained to be, a carpenter, just like his father! To wish to be something more than you were born into was insulting. What Jesus was doing was insulting to his father, to his family, to the whole town. How offensive! The old adage “familiarity breeds contempt” rings true in this reading. I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases this in The Message: “Who does he think he is? They tripped over what little they knew about him.”

Now it is Jesus’ turn to be amazed-amazed that they don’t understand. Amazed that they can’t see the signs of God in their midst. Amazed that all the good that was done, all the people that were healed, isn’t enough to have them believe and as a result of their unbelief, he could do very little in Nazareth.  

The people who thought they knew him wouldn’t allow themselves to see past their preconceived notions. They wouldn’t even try and get past the way they thought things ought to be to see the way things really were. The reason that Jesus “could do no deed of power there” was because they refused to see his power.  

It is from this place of deep disappointment that Jesus goes into the surrounding towns to teach and to then send the disciples two by two out to learn what it is like to proclaim the gospel and to heal. They are to travel lightly and, like Jesus, they, too, will experience resistance and hostility. And when they do run into disbelief, Jesus tells them that they need to move on as there are others who need to hear the word proclaimed, there are others that are in need of healing. 

Two things struck me as I prayed over this scripture this week. The first was an indictment of sorts. I had to ask myself-when have I hamstrung Jesus? When have I let my preconceived notions about a person, a community, a movement, blind me to the good, the healing, and the possibility of new life?  

How do I reconcile that which I think I know with the different information before me? Am I one of the stumbling blocks to someone else seeing the love of God in Jesus? When has my unbelief or disbelief limited the power at work within me and others? When have I tripped over what I thought I knew about God in Christ?

We all have a role to play in bringing about God’s kingdom. All of us. That is one of the most amazing things to me-that the God of all creation asks us to help bring the kingdom to life, here, now. Today. In little old Granville, Ohio. And we are to do it together. But we can’t do it if we aren’t open to seeing people and things in new ways, in ways that don’t square with our expectations and the way we think things ought to be.

The second thing that hit me was how difficult it can be to be a disciple. I have served many communities of faith where this is constantly surprising. But why, if Jesus met resistance-and resistance from his own family and his own community, why would we think it would be easier for us? Why would we expect smooth sailing, no storms, and easy-peasy walk in faith? 

To expect no difficulties, to expect that everyone would just love what we have to say and accept it no questions asked, would be magical thinking. As magical as refusing to believe that Jesus is exactly who he says he is and does exactly what he says he does just because he comes from some little backwater community that isn’t known for much.  

And as difficult as discipleship can be, we also have a knack for making it harder than it needs to be. We think that unless we have all the theological answers or a fancy divinity degree we don’t know how to talk about the God of Jesus. To think this creates a convenient way to get out of sharing our story, our grace, and our hope. To think that we are not good enough, not interesting enough, or not smart enough to be disciples is to hamstring Jesus with our own disbelief. The same could be said if we think we are too good, too interesting, or too smart and sophisticated to share our faith with someone.

God sends us out. Us. Little old you and little old me. As one writer put it, we don’t need a lot of equipment for this job because together we are God’s equipment. We are the means of God’s grace. We are the voice of God’s message. We are the healing of God’s hands. We are Jesus’ ambassadors and we need to live into that calling. The only thing we have and the only thing we need to do this work is ourselves, our souls, and bodies and belief in the power of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Brandon Wilson