From Pastor Kenny's Desk
July 8, 2018
After leaving there, Jesus came into his own town, followed by the disciples.
When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and the many listeners were astonished and said, “Where did he learn all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted, and these miracles that are performed by his hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses and Judah and Simon? Are not his sisters here with us?” They found these things to be stumbling blocks.
Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometowns and among their own relatives and in their own households.” And he could work no miracles there, apart from laying his hands upon a few sick people and healing them; their lack of faith astounded him. He made the rounds of the neighboring villages instead, and spent the time teaching.
Then Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out in pairs, giving them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff – no bread, no bag, no money in their belts. They were to wear sandals but, he added, “Do not take a spare tunic.”
And Jesus said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. Any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you leave it, shake off the dust from the soles of your feet as a testimony against them.”
And so they set off, proclaiming repentance as they went. They cast out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them. ~ Mark 6:1-13
Anyone interested in talking about prejudice and racism this Sunday? What about the possible new appointee to the Supreme Court, the US Immigration Policy, the GOP or the Democratic Party?
My guess is that a few … probably very few … of us can’t wait to talk about just these
things because they are passions of ours. My other guess is that most of us would rather not. And that we’ve got lots of very good reasons not to. These issues are too controversial, too painful, too divisive. And, perhaps we don’t think people come to church to talk about these things.
But here’s the thing: People are talking about them. With friends, with family members, with co-workers. In fact, because of the constant changes and frustration over policies of the White House and the recent Supreme Court decision to affirm the President’s Immigration Policy … to name a few … MCC Richmond folks are talking about these things in lots of places … some just not at church. Which makes me wonder if our people experience church as a place to go where you don’t have to talk about these kinds of difficult things, or whether church is the place you end up talking about lots of things that don’t seem to matter in daily life.
I have a feeling that more people than we might imagine actually wouldn’t mind having church be a place where you can talk about some of the hard things going on in life and in the news. Not the place where you’re told what to think or how to vote, but where we take the task of Christian formation seriously enough to offer perspectives on how the sacred texts and our faith help us navigate this very challenging world.
Which is the reason I’m bringing all this up … not simply because there are huge issues in the news right now that our people are talking about, but also … and more importantly … because the sacred text appointed for this Sunday has a lot to tell us about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, a disciple in a challenging, difficult, confusing, and at times painful world which is also and simultaneously a place of beauty, wonder and beloved of God.
While there are elements in what amounts to two connected scenes … Jesus preaching in his hometown and then sending his disciples out … there is between them a fascinating movement and even transformation in the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. By the end of these scenes, the disciples are no longer observers, they are no longer just followers. Discipleship, as it turns out, is not just about learning from and following another, but also taking on the role and authority of the one you follow.
What I find fascinating in the first scene is the treatment Jesus receives from his neighbors and hometown friends. Why such disdain? Perhaps it’s just that familiarity does indeed breed contempt. But perhaps it’s also that we have such a hard time receiving grace from unexpected places. Jesus wasn’t what they expected a prophet … let alone a Messiah … to look like. And to accept him as such was to call into question much of what they thought they knew about the world, about people and about themselves.
Isn’t that also what is so difficult when we talk about perceptions of those who are different from us? Whether they are different in terms of their age, occupation, economic status, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual identity, we tend to have strong opinions about how people should be and when we meet someone who differs from that we often find it threatening.
In this case, it’s not that Jesus is different from them … he was one of them! … it’s that he’s different from what they think a prophet should be. And so rather than revise their expectations, they dismiss him. In Mark’s story they name him according to his mother, brothers and sisters … who knew Jesus had such a large family?! … but omitted naming his father, one wonders if they weren’t calling his legitimacy into question, trying to taint him in his person to dismiss his message and teaching.
All too often, we are tempted to do the same, reducing someone who challenges us to a single attribute about that person … whether skin color, gender, age or sexuality … in order to dismiss them and thereby fail to receive the totality of the person God has created, redeemed and offered to us as a gift.
I think it’s interesting to notice what Jesus does in response. First, he heals a few folks but then seems almost unable to do any great work of power because they have no interest in receiving what he offers. Instead, he commissions his disciples to go out. As it turns out, the mission to announce the kin-dom and share God’s love will take more than just one miracle worker, it will take a team of people empowered, equipped, and sent to boldly share of God’s grace, justice, and mercy.
Notice that when the disciples are sent out, they are sent out to live utterly dependent on the grace and hospitality of others. They are not to take everything they need, but to invite others into their mission … and into their lives. Which is interesting, because while Jesus had just been on the receiving end of an extreme lack of hospitality, yet he knows that the human community he is forming has at its core the interdependence, mutuality, and utter vulnerability that true hospitality simultaneously demands and creates.
It can be difficult to talk about intentional marginalization, racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, stigma, gender bias and other injustices because it hits too close to home. Some bear the scars of injustice, while others fear being accused of it. It’s frightening to contemplate changing moral values or, more accurately, noting our changed sense of what really is moral and true. And, in the face of these challenges it can be really, really tempting to want to keep things the same, gather with those who look and think like us, and draw the boundaries of who’s in and who’s out a little tighter.
And yet deep down we know that this is not what God calls us to. Every time you draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, you can bet you’ll find Jesus on the other side. And the steps we may take … the steps most of us actually want to take … toward greater acceptance, even when it means uncomfortable moments and difficult conversations … are easier to take when we don’t walk this path alone. And so we turn for help and courage to Jesus, the one who still sends disciples out equipped with the power to face down the unclean spirits of injustice in whatever form they appear. And we take these steps together, because that’s what it means to be and live as people of faith in this world … learning to step up and speak up … sharing hope of God’s transforming love which knows no boundary.
As I write this, I am anticipating celebrating the 4th of July with my new family … the freedom I experience in their acceptance to be myself and the difference their love makes in my life. Might the reality of this holiday invite us to independence from the idea that we have to go it alone, that we can only rely on ourselves and those just like us, that we cannot grow or change without losing something dear to us. Jesus is still sending out disciples, still inviting us to do great things together, still calling us to discover independence through interdependence and strength through vulnerability.