Message for the sixth Sunday in the season of Pentecost
Based on Mark 6: 1-13 Jesus is rejected at Nazareth and the mission of the twelve
Opening Prayer: Holy, gracious, and amazing God, may we know your abiding and hospitable grace as reflect on the meaning of your word for us this day. Amen.
To begin with I have a story to share about an old friend I’ll call Peggy. Peggy was a former classmate I met years and years ago when I was a student at UBC.
I remembered Peggy as a soft spoken, shy, but confident and focussed student who took a huge leap of faith in her life by applying to the UBC program for speech therapy.
Peggy could have done similar training in her hometown of Toronto but because she felt called to this particular training program in Vancouver, we became classmates and friends.
To me, Peggy had done the most unthinkable and impractical of things by moving such a long way from home for a difficult course of study.
One day I asked her how hard it must have been to leave her large family and her mother and father behind. “Oh no, not hard at all”, she told me.
“My mom always told us kids that all of her children were all a gift from God on loan to her and that one day she would have to give us back.”
This was quite astonishing to me for a number of reasons.
My own experience as the eldest beloved daughter in an immigrant family was quite different.
So tethered was I by my responsibilities to the family, I could not imagine moving away regardless of God’s call.
Then to realize that Peggy and her mother shared in the faithful certainty that Peggy would be safely guided by God’s grace wherever her life’s path led.
This kind of mother-daughter relationship seemed an astonishing idea to me which took me some considerable time to digest.
To put it another way, it seemed to me that both Peggy and Peggy’s mother understood that they both would be always be protected in the shelter of God’s wing regardless of where her life’s purpose took her.
I wonder if Jesus’ mother might had understood her beloved son as being ‘a gift from God on loan’ the first time he went missing at the age of twelve as the entire family gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover.
Finding him instructing those gathered in the synagogue on that occasion, Jesus’ mother might have recognized him as being on loan from God and as such, one would be guided by God’s grace wherever his life’s path led.
To put it another way, Jesus mother might have understood that he would always be protected in the shelter of God’s wing regardless of where his life’s purpose took him.
Jesus’ mother might have recalled that first giving over of her son to the shelter of God’s wing when he and his disciples as he and his disciples land in the small village of Nazareth the setting for our stories from scripture this morning.
No doubt, news of what Jesus and his itinerant band of disciples had been up to in the surrounding region would have arrived long before he did. Word does travel fast in small, rural communities! Yes?
Here, this morning scripture tells us that the first response of the community gathered for worship in the synagogue at Nazareth is astonishment at Jesus’ eloquent and wise teachings.
But then, scripture also tells us, as Jesus’ teachings unfold and as people recall what they know of Jesus background, a growing sense of fear begins to amount.
As people hold up with they know about Jesus’ background against his radical and subversive teachings, there is a definite downward shift in emotions.
Numerous and sundry questions about identity and authority emerge as the people ask one another ‘Where did this man get all this?’ ‘Who is he again?’ ‘Wasn’t his trade carpentry?’
And then, the feelings change to sense of offense and outrage and ominous whispering begins as key questions about lineage and responsibility bubble up: ‘Is not this the son of Mary and brother to four others and several sisters?’ is overheard….
Surely Jesus’ response in quoting the familiar and well known proverb: “Prophet has no honour in his hometown” seals the lid on his homecoming time capsule as both he and the gathered community reach the same conclusion: Jesus has crossed over the line of what’s expected and what’s acceptable and indeed, he learns firsthand:
Prophet does have no honour in his hometown!
The impact of fear-based rejection or unbelief carried to the extreme is not new in Mark’s gospel.
In fact, if we were to flip back a few chapters in Mark’s gospel, we would find ripples of fear building the momentum for full blown rejection already growing among the religious leaders of the day and even amongst members of Jesus’ own family who have concluded that he must surely have lost his mind.
As Mark’s gospel moves towards its conclusion, the ripples of fear will grow into a tidal wave of rejection ultimately resulting in a storm of hatred and cruelty engulfing Jesus’ and his followers unfolding sense of mission and ministry.
But for this morning, our reading from this morning, we learn that Jesus moves beyond “home as the place where you can say anything you like because no one will listen to you” (anonymous) to a new understanding of his purpose as in the second story Debra read for us this morning. Here, Jesus moves beyond his experience of rejection at Nazareth.
In this portion of Chapter 6 of Mark’s gospel, Jesus provides the twelve disciples with clear and definite instructions:
They are to travel light
They are be recipients of God’s gracious hospitality
To where? None other than the regions entirely surrounding Nazareth.
What to do when hospitality is not offered? Here, Jesus relies another familiar proverb appropriate to the context as he advises the twelve to ‘shake the dust off’ their feet.
Calling them into the same rejection he has experienced at Nazareth and knowing that there will be more rejection based on unbelief yet to come, Jesus encourages them to stay focussed instead on their roles in the rapid unfolding of God’s kingdom.
And so it is he and the twelve continue their relentless demanding healing ministries together a “They cast out many demons, and anoint with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
In a nutshell then, here we have two more fine stories from the gospel according to Mark on offer this morning with several nuggets of truth worth gleaning:
Sometimes, when we are rejected by those who know us well, we are released from the bondage of expectations and acceptance.
Sometimes, it’s in this very liberation from ‘the way things have always been’ that we can become the gifts to the world God calls and needs us to be.
Scripture gives us permission to literally shake off the dust from inhospitable encounters and situations.
Thinking back to my story about my friend Peggy, I am mindful that not all of us can pick up and move across the country because our vocation calls us to do so.
Nor are all of us are called into the unfolding of God’s kingdom in large and dramatic ways. Some of us are needed to stay back with the hometown folks, the ‘Nazarene folk’, the ones to whom God will come calling again seeking some small glimmer of hospitality emerging.
If that be your thought pattern, hear these simple words adapted from a poem attributed to Mother Theresa with some clear and simple instructions for how the unfolding of God’s vision of Shalom or God’s peaceable reign, or God’s coming kingdom can come close right here and right now.
‘The Do It Anyway Prayer’
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self centered. We are called to forgive them anyway.
If we are kind, people may accuse us of selfish or ulterior motives. We are called to be kind anyway.
If we are honest and sincere, people may deceive us. We are called to be honest and sincere anyway.
What we spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. We are called to create anyway.
The good we do today will be often forgotten. We are called to do good anyway.
When we give the best we have, we know it will never be enough. We are called to give our best anyway.
Resting in the sheltering wing of God’s holy and abiding love, we pray fervently that it may it be so. Amen.