Jul 8, 2018

“Returning Home” - Mark 6:1-13

“Returning Home” - Mark 6:1-13

            Chuck Swindoll wrote about a farmer who wanted to impress his hunting buddies.  So, he went out and bought the smartest and most expensive hunting dog he could find.  Then, he trained that dog to do amazing things.  Things no other dog on earth could do.

            With that accomplished, he invited those buddies to do some duck hunting.  After a long patient wait in the boat, a group of ducks finally flew over.  The hunters opened fire, and several ducks fell in the water.

            The farmer proudly looked at the dog and said, "Go get ‘em!"  Just like that, the dog leaped out of the boat, walked on the water, picked up a bird, and then returned to the boat.  As soon as he dropped the duck in the boat, he trotted off across the water again, grabbed another duck, and brought it back as well.

            The owner puffed up with pride as he watched his dog walk across the water and retrieve each of the birds one by one.  Smugly, he looked at one of his buddies and asked him this.  "Do you notice anything unusual about my dog?”

            His buddy sat back, rubbed his chin, and thought about it for a moment.  Finally, he said this.  “Yeah, come to think of it, I do!  That stupid dog of yours doesn’t know how to swim, does he?”

            That’s sort of what our reading for today is about.  It’s about a young rabbi who can do amazing things.  Truly spectacular things.  Things no one else can do.  Things that seem downright impossible.  Just think about it.  He can teach and preach.  Calm storms.  Cast out demons.  Heal the sick.  Turn water into wine.  Bring the dead back to life.  True, we don’t know if he can swim, but we’re told he can even walk on water.

            This young rabbi has been in the news a lot lately.  He’s attracted a large following.  He’s made quite a name for himself.  Then out of the blue, he decides to lie low for a while.  To get off the radar.  To go someplace quiet and familiar for a few days.

            So, he up and heads back to his hometown.  A tiny one-stoplight village.  It’s out in the sticks.  Out in the middle of nowhere.  Completely off the grid.  A place that should do just fine.  With that, he and his disciples pack their bags and head to Nazareth.

            As you may have guessed, the young rabbi is Jesus.  Let’s see what happens when he returns to his hometown.  Let’s see exactly what kind of reception awaits him there.

            Let us pray.  Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

            Our reading for today opens with Jesus and his disciples arriving on that scene.  It happens to be the Sabbath.  So Jesus does what he always does on the Sabbath, he heads to the local synagogue.

            As soon as he sets foot in the building, he wastes no time.  He immediately begins to teach.  And everyone in the synagogue is astounded.  They’re blown away.  They turn to one another thinking the same thing.  “Where did this man get all this?  What is this wisdom that has been given to him?  Why, he never went to college.  Let alone seminary.  And what about those deeds of power done by his carpenter hands?  How is he able to do all that stuff?  Where does he get all of that confidence?  Acts like he could even walk on water.”

            But for some reason things change, and those same people begin murmuring to one another.  “Isn’t this the same guy who grew up here?  Isn’t he that carpenter fellow?  The son of Mary.  And aren’t his brothers and his sisters here with us?”  And just like that, they stop being impressed.  Instead, they begin to look down on him.  They even take offense at him.

            Jesus takes in every single word they’re saying.  But he remains silent.  Carefully absorbs this change.  Then all becomes pin-dropping silent.  Everyone seems to be bracing for what Jesus will say or do when he does respond.  They don’t know what to expect from him.  And they are surprised by his response.  Jesus isn’t angry.  Doesn’t even look as if his feelings are hurt.  He just looks amazed.  Amazed at their unbelief.  And when he opens his mouth, he doesn’t yell.  Doesn’t even scold.  He merely quotes an old proverb.  “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”

            Then Jesus leaves the synagogue.  And as a matter of fact, he doesn’t sit foot in another synagogue in the rest of Mark’s Gospel.  Somehow, things have changed.  And not for the better.  For now, in his own hometown, Jesus can do no deed of power.  He’s only able to place his hands on a few sick people and cure them.  All the rest miss out.

            What on earth is going on?  How can those people who had known Jesus all of his life not believe in him and even suddenly turn on him?  Why is Jesus unable to do the mighty deeds he did in so many other places?  Deeds he’s done on both sides of the sea and even in-between.

            Well, I think what’s going on is this.  Now, Jesus is standing before them as God’s agent in the world.  That’s where his authority and power come from.  That’s precisely how he’s able to calm storms.  To cast out demons.  To cure the sick.  To relieve suffering.  All the power to do those things comes from his other Father.  His Heavenly Father.  God.

            The people of Nazareth, however, don’t see God at work in him when they look at Jesus.  They only can see a kid who grew up among them.  They only see the son of Mary and Joseph.  They only see the one who’s brothers and sisters are still their next-door neighbors.  They see before them not God’s Son, but the son of Joseph.  A carpenter’s son.  To them, he’s no different from anybody else who grew up in Nazareth.

            Paul Harvey tells the story of Joe, who was born into a family of Sicilian immigrants.  A family who had a 300-year history as fishermen.  Joe’s dad was a fisherman.  His brothers were all fishermen.  But Joe was made sick by the smell of raw fish and the motion of a rocking boat.  In a family where the only acceptable way to earn a living was by fishing, Joe was a failure.  His dad used to refer to his son as “good for nothing.” 

Joe tried awfully hard to fit in.  But no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t stand the smell of the fishing business.  Now, one thing that Joe could do was to play baseball.  So, to his family’s shock, he gave up fishing and took up baseball full time.  Oh, and did I mention that Joe’s last name was DiMaggio.  And that Joe DiMaggio became on of the greatest baseball players of all time.  You see, people don’t always know the ones closest to them.

            And those people long ago, who think they know all about Jesus, don’t really know him at all.  Why, they out and out reject him.  But Jesus doesn’t let that rejection stop him.  As a matter of fact, it’s a taste of what he’ll face all the way to the cross.  So even though knocked down, he gets right back up.  Doesn’t let it get to him.  Doesn’t go off to his room and pout.  No, he picks himself up, shakes off the dust, and carries on with his mission.  He goes on about God’s business.  He goes right on preaching and teaching and healing and loving with all his might.

            And Jesus does even more than that.  He immediately calls his twelve disciples to his side.  He trains them.  He prepares them.  And then he sends them out into the world with marching orders. 

            But he knows they will also face rejection.  We know that because of what he says next.  “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”  That’s right.  He prepares them for rejection.

            And rejection comes in all shapes and sizes.  Steven was a young man who came from a really close family.  More and more, he felt the call of God.  So, when he finished college, he headed off to seminary.

            After graduating and before going to his first church, he returned home.  There, he visited with all of his relatives, and he even stopped by the church to talk with his hometown pastor.  The pastor asked him if he would like to preach on the following Sunday while he was in town.  Steven felt very honored and took the pastor up on the invitation.

            Sunday morning came.  And with hours and even days of preparation under his belt, he stepped up to the pulpit.  He looked out at the congregation of friends and relatives.  Then he began to expound all the knowledge that he had learned.  He went on and on.  Finally, his six-year-old niece could take it no longer.  She stepped right out into the aisle with her hands on her hips.  Then, in a very loud and clear voice she said this.  “Uncle Steven, you don’t know what you’re talking about!”  Wow!  Talk about rejection!  Now, rejection is hard enough to handle as it is, but rejection from a six-year-old is something else.

            But in spite of that rejection and in spite of not being perfect, Uncle Steven was sent out to minister.  And in spite of our not being perfect, we are also sent out to minister.  To share God’s love and peace.

            And as we share Christ’s peace and love with the world, we’re also bound to experience rejection.  Even Jesus was rejected.  But it didn’t stop him.  He kept right on loving.  He kept right on healing.  He kept right on giving his peace.  And he kept right on bringing God’s wonderful kingdom right here to our earth.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.