Sunday, July 5, 2015

Hometown Heroes without Honor

Mark 6:1-6 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is 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. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Have you ever wondered what happened between verse 2, where the people are astounded, remarking about Jesus’ wisdom and his power; and verse 3, where they start to tear him down?

I have a theory. I imagine the conversation to go something like this: (except without the American names…)

Hey Joe, have you heard this guy preach? He’s amazing. He just gets it. In all the years I’ve been coming to this synagogue, I’ve never heard anyone tell the story quite like that! And a healer too? Fred hasn’t been up out of that wheelchair in 8 years, and this Jesus tells him to get up and walk and up he goes. I really think he could change some things around here. A few more weeks of this and we might just be different people altogether! Why, I think he may be a hero!

Now wait a minute, Charlie. It’s fine to have some smooth talker come up here every once in a while and make us wonder if there isn’t something better out there. That Rabbi from over at Capernaum has done that a time or two, but you’re getting a little too worked up. And what do you mean change some things? Why would we want to change anything? We’re just fine doing things the way we’ve always done it.

And so it begins. Joe convinces Charlie that it wasn’t conviction he just felt in his heart, and that nothing needs to change. Rather than focus on what God may have been trying to speak into their community, they invested their time trying to tear down the messenger.
Not this local kid, we know too much about him. Not a woman again. He’s too old, she’s too young, he’s got a tattoo, she’s a little too loud. Too much Jesus, not enough Jesus, the music’s too loud, to slow, too fast, I can’t even hear it. Don’t bring that projector in here and put the songs on the wall. These hymnals are old and outdated, and they smell bad. Wafers, bread, wine, grape juice? She’s so far to the right, could he be any more of a liberal? So many possibilities for offense!

What if we thwart the power of God to transform our lives because we pick apart the messenger or the prophet that God has sent to us?

Note that in Marks version of this story, the text says that Jesus “COULD do no deed of power there”. The writer of Matthew’s gospel softens it to say that Jesus “DID not do many deeds of power there”.

Either way, whether Jesus couldn’t do it, or didn’t do it, the fact remains that God had work to do in Nazareth and the intended instruments of that work were Jesus and the disciples. People’s lives were supposed to be transformed, but instead, they scoffed at him, and they set out on a fault finding mission.

Surely this man can’t be worthy to have such power. He’s just one of us. Surely this illegitimate child, born out of wedlock, has no wisdom or moral code that is greater than our own. And with each spoken doubt or accusation, the accuser takes one more step away from the truth that God was trying to show him (or her) about themselves.

Oh, what a fabulous technique it is to ignore our own issues and make some up about someone else instead! It’s the age old diversion tactic known as fault-finding!

Fred Van Amburgh says of fault-finding, “It requires no thought, no consideration, no character, no talent to be a fault-finder...It is much easier to find fault than to find ways to help. How easy to be critical and how hard to be correct. How easy to find fault with others and how hard to mend our own ways.”  (

We, the people, need to spend a whole lot less time being offended, and a whole lot more time being astounded at the power of God at work right in front of us!

Oh, but we live in a world now where offense is lurking around every corner. The public discourse is so polarized and social media gives otherwise reasonable people a platform to spout off things they would never say to a person face to face. And if all else fails, there’s always the option to unfriend.

All of us have been in situations in our lives where the people around us didn’t appreciate us the way they should have. Whether it was a family member, an old teacher, or the kid whose girlfriend you stole in 8th grade. It’s easy for us to relate to Jesus in this narrative. We’ve been there. What does it take to get a little respect, right?

What if we consider the times that we’ve been more like the scoffers in the synagogue than we are like Jesus? I’ll give you a minute to think about it… If you’re like me, you won’t need long. It was just yesterday, and last Wednesday, and a month ago.

You see, God is forever trying to do something in my life that I’m not ready for, or don’t recall signing up for. And I would always rather point out to God, and anyone else that will listen, that there is someone in much greater need of redemption, and God and I should both focus our energies there.

And God laughs.

And what if the scope of this message is even bigger than the church, which it surely is?

Who are the other hometown heroes without honor?

Local police officers (probably not where you live, of course) but in other places, who are the butt of all manner of donut shop jokes and called all sorts of derogatory names.

The football player who had a bad game the day your team lost, and whose name is used in conjunction with all sorts of curse words and insults, as if somehow the armchair quarterback doing the criticizing might have played better.

Any elected official, who immediately upon taking office, is seen as worthless and incompetent, and inevitably fails in the eyes of even the ones who voted him or her into the office.

We have a tendency to use people up and throw them away, both in the church, and in our society.

Consider for a moment 300,000 homeless veterans.

300,000 homeless veterans.

How does a bright, outgoing 17 year old go from the high school cafeteria to homeless vet before he’s 25? Let me tell you how, because I’ve seen it happen so many times, it makes my stomach turn to think about it.

Military recruiters, often perceived as cool by high school students are granted access to our public high schools and often spend time in the cafeteria wooing possible recruits. Potential recruits are promised a cash bonus of more money than many of their parents make in a year as soon as they complete their training. It’s a great opportunity to get out of the place where they may feel stuck and they take it. (please note that this is not a statement against military service, but a concern over the moral implications of sending kids who are barely driving and have never even lived on their own to make the very adult decision to take a human life, and then to fail to offer the psychological care required to deal with the aftermath of such a decision)

In an environment of sustained, simultaneous wars, they are sure to be sent “over there”. Some of them come home in a box. Others come home bearing scars, physical and emotional, that will never heal. Sometimes they have their enlistments or their deployments involuntarily extended. And when they come home, they are different. They’ve seen things that no human being should ever have to see. They don’t know how to relate to their people, and their people don’t know how to relate to them.

Unresolved PTSD or moral injury lurks inside them, and life as they knew it is no more. And far too often, the kid in the cafeteria with the bright future becomes the twenty-something homeless vet, searching the streets for a place to fit in and a group of people with whom she or he can connect.

And we ask, what did he do to end up here? He should have had plenty of money when he came home, he didn’t have any way to spend it over there. He must have made some really bad decisions. Must be drugs or alcohol, or maybe gambling. Whatever it was, he made his bed and now he has to lay in it.

Except that he has no bed.

And why is the question always what he did to get himself in this situation and never: why am I not in this same situation? Because I’ve made some really bad decisions, and I’ll bet you have, too. And maybe, just maybe, that shift in our thinking would drum up some compassion.

Less offense. More compassion. Less judging. More loving.

Luke’s version of this story gives us a little more detail about just what it was that Jesus said that incited such anger: He dared to put himself in the long line of Hebrew prophets calling for God’s justice in the land. Reading from Isaiah, he claimed the words as his own mission: “The spirit of the lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Mic drop.

It all sounds good until the folks in the room start to wonder what happens to their own status when all of these “others” get lifted to honorable status. The answer of course, is nothing, others don’t need to be dishonored for our honor to mean something. In God’s economy, there is enough honor to envelope every single child of God. But the perceived threat is great.

And so it begins. Dislike the message, discredit the messenger.

Again..."It requires no thought, no consideration, no character, no talent to be a fault-finder...It is much easier to find fault than to find ways to help. How easy to be critical and how hard to be correct. How easy to find fault with others and how hard to mend our own ways." 

Thanks be to God that our redemption draweth nigh. May we open our hearts and minds to the transformation that God is offering. Amen.

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