6 Pentecost B-7/5/15
Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
Pr. Scott Kramer
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
Wow! Such a big family. If you’re in the habit of imagining the Christmas Eve version of Jesus’ family—Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus—this passage might come as a surprise. Jesus may have been the firstborn but according to today’s reading his family eventually grew to at least nine—maybe more!
But it’s not the size of Jesus’ family that matters in today’s story. It’s their attitude toward him, as Mark writes: And they took offense at him.
Something had happened to this local boy. His family and townsfolk thought they knew him. They’d watched him grow up. He was one of them. But all of a sudden he was doing and saying things that troubled them. Everybody that knew him said that it had something to do with John the Baptist. After John was executed Jesus was never the same. It was like he was transformed, like he’d experienced a conversion. And they didn’t like it. Give us back the Jesus we remember from childhood!
Jesus knew what people were saying. Prophets are never without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house. In this story, those who are at a distance give honor where honor is due. Those who are closest take offense.
So where are we in this story?
This is the weekend of our great national celebration of individual freedom and material abundance. Few Christians would question these things as evidence of God’s will and God’s favor.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is all about freedom. But when we take time to study the scriptures we find that gospel freedom doesn’t necessarily have much to do with the freedoms we cherish. The human freedoms we crave are all about independence, personal rights, economic power, stability, and maybe above all, self-sufficiency and endless choices.
By way of contrast, listen to what disciples of Jesus might expect: Sending them out two by two Jesus ordered them to take nothing for their journey, except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. Does that sound like freedom to you?
There’s more: Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place—which is Jesus’ way of saying, “Make a commitment, for God’s sake! When you’re on your journey and you’re invited in by one household, if you see a better house, or better food, don’t pick up and move. Be content with what you have”—which is very different from human cravings for more, and bigger, and better.
Mark tells us that Jesus’ family and hometown folk took offense at him. Does Jesus offend you? No? Not yet?
Well, how did you feel when you drove into the parking lot this morning and saw fireworks debris scattered everywhere? Were you offended? Good! The neighborhood is the Christ—our mission!–and when we allow Christ to come near we will see him as he is. And we will be offended!
In his letter to the Corinthians St. Paul writes about what we might call limits of freedom. Paul is tormented by some mysterious physical affliction that we know nothing about. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ might dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
Does Jesus offend you? Today’s readings seem to imply that if we’re not offended by Jesus, it may be because we’ve never allowed him to come close enough to see him as he is. Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house. It’s a lot easier to admire Jesus from a distance—even to put him up on a pedestal—rather than to get close and deal with the uncomfortable messiness of a real relationship, and follow.
The story of God’s people is the story of people who often as not turn to God only after we’ve tried everything else. People who are comfortable, self-sufficient, privileged and in control of their lives turn to God not as a first choice but as a last resort. People accustomed to wealth, health and privilege tend to get down on their knees only when they’re out of all other options.
Jesus experienced a transformation in response to the death of his teacher and friend John the Baptist. The world he knew had collapsed and he discovered a new path he may not have chosen on his own. Paul the Apostle faced what he calls a “messenger of Satan” that was beyond his control and not something he would have chosen. But it was that hardship that helped force him to rely on God’s power and God’s grace.
What might this look like in our own time?
We talk a good line about “liberty and justice for all” but often fail to walk our talk. Nevertheless, last week the Supreme Court handed down an astounding ruling, acknowledging the right of all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, to marry. This has been an incredibly difficult journey, and remains far from finished. As we’ve seen in the case of African Americans, for example, just because slavery was abolished doesn’t mean that discrimination, violence and hatred have disappeared 150 years later!
But leading up to this ruling on marriage equality a different kind of transformation has been happening in very ordinary households. Over the past decades many parents have discovered that their child is gay or lesbian. At that point they face a choice. Some parents, tragically, have kicked their children out and made them homeless. Others, however, have chosen love. These parents might have started out shocked and angry and offended by their children, just as those close to Jesus were offended by who he was. But love overcame these parents’ habits of thinking. Love overcame their fear of what people might think. Faced with the reality that no amount of power, or money, or influence could change their child or change their situation, these parents discovered a share of God’s power, which is made perfect in the parents’ weakness.
We come before our God this morning as people who chase after human power and human freedom, often choosing gospel power and gospel freedom only as a last resort, only out of desperation, only in response to feeling powerless to change circumstances. As a result, we who cling to human definitions of freedom miss out on countless opportunities to experience God’s power and God’s grace. We are, therefore, often woefully unprepared when faced with circumstances beyond our control.
There is good news. Many of those who were close to Jesus–and who were at first offended by him–over time experienced some kind of transformation. By the end of Jesus’ life they had become some of his most courageous and faithful disciples.
Dear friends in Christ, is there some area of your life beyond your control that weighs you down? Is there some burden that you do not choose and something that no money, power, influence or human freedom can change? It may be that God’s power…is waiting to be made perfect…in your weakness.