July 5 – Pentecost 6

Update By: Norm Barr
Date: July 7, 2015

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 05, 2015
Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays

When Dorothy said, “There’s no place like home,” she meant it with nothing but love and longing for home, but of course for a great many people, our feelings about our hometowns and our relationships with our families are much more complex. Up to this point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been on a roll, an unstoppable force doing great deeds of power and attracting large crowds of ardent supporters. I kind of love it that the only thing that can slow him down is his own hometown and the people who have known him since he was a child. In one brief encounter Jesus suddenly becomes more relatable, we see his humanity come to the foreground as his divinity moves to the background, and the stage is set for his ministry to come into focus.
One question I’ve been asked to address in a sermon is about Jesus’s family, namely, the precise way the people described as his brothers and sisters were related to Jesus. This passage in Mark sounds pretty clear, and some people do take it literally, but the question gets complicated because of the ancient belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary, which is not only a Roman Catholic doctrine, but is also taught in the Eastern Orthodox churches, and was also upheld by Martin Luther and Anglicans like Hugh Latimer and Thomas Cranmer. So some people argue that this passage is using the words “brothers” and “sisters” in a colloquial sense to talk about Jesus’s extended family, and others say they are Joseph’s children from a prior marriage and therefore Jesus’s half-siblings. But the people in the passage itself are talking about Jesus’s family in less accommodating terms. They are a hostile crowd, and by calling Jesus “son of Mary,” instead of the customary “son of Joseph,” they are suggesting he comes from a scandalous, unsavory background. We can easily miss the insult, but in the original context, it was blatant.
But Jesus has bigger and better things to do than trade trash talk. He points out that this is the sort of thing that happens to prophets and even cures a few sick people before he leaves town. I love that Jesus was so powerful that Mark portrays a cluster of miraculous healings as kind of an off day. This does raise the question of why Jesus couldn’t do much; does his power depend on our belief? No, that would be Tinkerbell, and I don’t believe in fairies, anyway. It’s more that miracles have a down side, which is that they force witnesses to respond, whether they are ready to or not. We’re supposed to love God, and love can only come out of free will, never coercion. And then there were people who misunderstood Jesus’s miracles and thought they were signs of demonic activity, a perfectly wrong interpretation that only set back Jesus’s mission.
All this is not just to tell a story, but to use contrast to highlight the bigger and better thing Jesus is finally ready to do. His ministry takes a fresh turn when he commissions his disciples to stop literally following him around for a while and go out, “among the villages” of the countryside, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus in word and in deed. If any of the disciples were introverts, I’m sure the mission horrified them. “Go and talk to people we don’t know? Can’t we just skip to the part where they stone us?” But Jesus wasn’t just trying to cover more ground; he wanted the disciples to begin to take a sense of personal investment in his mission; to begin to take on responsibility, and agency; and to gain the kind of deep understanding you can only get by living out the life and the message they had so far been merely observing. I imagine they were apprehensive at first, but I’m also certain it was an incredible experience, tremendously encouraging and empowering, a growth experience that prepared them to grow even more.
This missionary journey only gets a few verses, but it prefigures not only the apostolic ministry that the disciples would begin after the day of Pentecost, but also the life of ministry to which every Christian is called, the Church’s pattern of proclamation and service in every age. As Presiding Bishop-Elect Michael Curry said in his sermon at the close of General Convention, “I am more and more convinced that God came among us in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the way to be reconciled with the God who deeply and passionately loves each and every one of us, to be reconciled and right with that God and to be reconciled and right with each other as the children of that one God who created us all… He came to show us therefore how to become more than simply the human race — that’s not good enough — came to show us how to be more than a collection of individualized self-interests… He came to show us how to become the human family of God. And in that, my friends, is our hope and our salvation, now and unto the day of eternity. Or to say it another way. Max Lucado… a Christian writer says, ‘God loves you just the way you are, but he [doesn’t intend to leave you that way.’”
I should really just read you the whole text of Bishop Curry’s sermon, so please do find it online if you haven’t already. He speaks the truth as an apostle of Jesus Christ, and even though his words are very much his own, and his vocation to the episcopate a rare one, they are but a particular manifestation of the Christian calling to proclamation and servanthood, the calling that Jesus incorporates as the mission of every Christian in the moment of our baptism.
As we grow in knowledge, experience, and understanding, our call grows with us. We have to grow, have to go out of our figurative hometown and go “among the villages,” for while God is always with us, God is more readily manifest outside our comfort zone and when we are less powerful; our own comfort and self-regard can easily blind us to what God is doing, or opportunities God might give us to advance God’s work on Earth. And so Jesus keeps pushing us out of familiar territory, out of the places where we feel secure, or feel we should feel secure, and into new mission fields, new vocations, new opportunities to bring the life and hope and joy of God in Christ to a world that needs them, badly.
As it is with a lot of knowledge, gaining knowledge of God confers responsibility on us. We might not feel comfortable confronting the misapprehensions about Jesus that are rampant in the world, but it is our responsibility. I recently read an article by a priest named Nurya Parish who was not raised in a religious family. As a child only talk she ever heard about God was from fundamentalists who told her if she didn’t believe what they believed, that she would go to hell. To her credit, she didn’t believe them, but that didn’t automatically make her believe God loved her; we all have to be told that by someone. She wrote, pointedly, “Where was The Episcopal Church when I was a child? Why did I never hear of a God who had come to save the world because of God’s great love for all creation? Why did no one ever hand me a book of prayer and invite me to consider the catechism? Why did nobody ever invite me to become a disciple — not because otherwise I would burn for eternity! — but because knowing and serving Jesus is the path to abundant life? Because there are even more kids today than there were in 1978 who have never actually heard the gospel.”
We may tell ourselves that other people don’t want to hear the Gospel, or that religion is strictly a private matter, or that evangelism is something that other people are called to do, but the truth is that there are atrocious lies about Jesus, real whoppers, in abundant circulation, and they are hurting people, and separating them from God. So God sends us out to them. We may feel unready, or uncomfortable. But the power of Christ dwells in us. God’s grace is sufficient for us. You can be a healer without performing a miraculous cure, for the truth will heal a wounded soul. You can be an apostle without walking very far, and you are already well-equipped. There truly is no place like home, but our home is not where we were born; our home is the Kingdom of God, where God wants all people to live as one big happy family.

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