an ordinary hometown sermon

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 | Psalm 48 | 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 | Mark 6:1-13 

This sermon is part of a summer worship series we’re calling Holy Scandal:The Outrageous Stories of the People of God.

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Today is the day that Jesus brings his new friends home to meet his parents.

For some time now, they have been traveling around the whole region: teaching, healing, and casting out evil. Just recently, Jesus calmed a violent storm at sea, cast out a Legion of unclean spirits, healed a bleeding woman with the touch of his cloak, and raised a twelve-year-old from the dead. Now Jesus and the disciples make a stop in Jesus’s hometown.

I imagine that the people who gather around to hear Jesus teach that day are his neighbors and family friends, the kids he played with growing up, or the elders who taught him to be nice to his friends. And they are offended at what Jesus is saying and doing.

This passage often provides preachers a good chance to talk about the radical nature of Jesus’s ministry: how he said offensive things, and how his actions made some people angry. Jesus would’ve likely disagreed with family members at a holiday meal. Jesus used controversial political slogans like “the kingdom of God.” Jesus unapologetically preached “blessed are the poor.” Maybe Jesus’s family and friends just aren’t ready or willing to hear that.

Some of us have had similar experiences with our families. That’s why, for Jesus, and for us, chosen family becomes so important. In the Jesus movement, the good news binds people together even more powerfully than blood or kinship. In this gospel work, we need people who are ready to love not only who we have been, but who we are becoming.

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Photo taken in Lynchburg, United States by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash.

So Jesus is a radical and his hometown is offended. But there is more to their reaction than offense. Hear the way they’re talking to each other: Who is this guy? Where did he get all this? Isn’t this the carpenter? I mean, our Jesus? The one we watched grow up? How is it possible that our Jesus has this rich wisdom, and these hands with the power to heal?

I can practically read their own shame and self-doubt between the lines: People who come from this town can’t do that sort of thing. Surely the miracle workers and the people of wisdom couldn’t be born in a place like this, to a family just like ours.

Jesus’s family and friends think he is a radical, probably. But they also just plain can’t believe that such a powerful movement could have started in such an ordinary place, with such an ordinary person.

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“Memory: My childhood girl gang” by Anita Jankovic on Unsplash.

And yet, it is their Jesus who is doing this amazing gospel work. This is the same little baby who they bathed, and watched take his first steps. It is the same kid who they comforted when he scraped his knee. This is the same Jesus whose sister is your classmate, and whose mom you wave to every day on your way to work.

As powerful as Jesus is, their doubt is powerful too. Their dishonor makes it impossible for Jesus to do healing work while he’s there. The effect is immobilizing.

These feelings of self-doubt are familiar to me. I’m remembering that a few months ago I was in a meeting of activists, organizers, and people of faith who were getting ready for another year of work for economic and racial justice in Chicago. We set aspirational goals, and committed to taking big risks together, and talked boldly about God’s vision for our communities – and it was scary as hell.

If you’ve ever faced an impossible decision, or taken on a high-stakes responsibility, or been thrust into a situation for which you felt unprepared, then you know the feeling: Surely there is someone better qualified to do this than me. Surely I lack the training, or experience, or wisdom, or skill, or authority to do this difficult thing.

I often feel that way about the work of the gospel. There is nothing I feel more deeply in my bones than the certainty that my life is meant to be caught up in God’s power-overturning, hungry-filling, world-changing mission. And at the same time, there is nothing I fear more than the idea that I am the one who is supposed to do it.

I am not perfect. I often don’t even know where to begin. I worry about not being good enough, and that self-doubt freezes me in place. I mess up a lot, and my mistakes often hurt people I care about.

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“Falling” by ian dooley on Unsplash.

Actually, the apostle Paul can relate. Paul has been doing his best to lead the Jesus movement into a new era – building up the church near and far. And with one of the churches, the one at Corinth, the relationship has hit a rough patch. The church begins to distrust Paul, and the whole project is on the verge of falling apart. The best way Paul knows how to fix it is by doing what he learned from Jesus: Paul shows them his wounds.

Instead of matching their doubt with self-aggrandizement or defensiveness, Paul spends an entire chapter listing all the humiliating and painful things that have happened to him in his ministry. He also manages to work in this wild vision we heard this morning about being snatched up to the third heaven — which can be distracting to Paul’s main message — so let’s focus on this:

God is saying, “My grace is enough for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

You see, the power that God is building isn’t about being the right kind of person from the right kind of place. It’s not about being a perfect leader, or about impressing the people back home.

Instead, the power of this movement begins in my places of deepest pain and weakness, the places that reach out to connect with your places of hurt and struggle. In that mutual vulnerability, trust is built, and that trust becomes solidarity, and that solidarity means that we will be able to do so much more together than we could have ever done alone.

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Photo taken in Nancy, France by Rémi Walle on Unsplash.

Jesus sends the disciples out two by two, carrying nothing but the message of the gospel and the clothes on their backs. As they walk along, village to village, it becomes clear just how weak their situation is, and yet how powerful. Self-doubt and the skeptical voices of others lose their power as the disciples realize: We are vulnerable, and we will need to depend on others, and that is okay. Actually, that is a good thing. It is in our weakness that God will act. Without any fancy equipment or self-sufficiency, we are enough because God’s grace makes us enough.

This is the holiest scandal: That when God becomes incarnate, it’s not in some other place, with some other people. It’s here. It’s now. And when God pours out wisdom, and gives healing power, and starts a cosmos-wide movement that casts out evil – that’s not to someone else, either.

God is singing to us: It’s here. It’s now. It’s you.

Stop waiting, and stop doubting. Instead, just hit the road. Take your dear trusted ones with you, and build new relationships to take care of the rest. Show each other your wounds as you go, to remember the power of weakness. God has already given you enough. What you need is here.

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