The Rev. Peter M. Carey
5 July 2009
Emmanuel Church, Greenwood
Sermon – Pentecost
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The wonders of modern technology mean that, if you are willing (and even sometimes if you are not!), every day can be an opportunity to engage in “high school reunion moments’ (or elementary school or nursery school moments). Whether through Facebook or email, or just with cheap long-distance phone charges, we are probably staying in touch more than ever before. This might be a glorious thing, when we find or “friend” our old roommate or best friend from summer camp. On the other hand, it may be quite disconcerting when we find out that seemingly quite ordinary folks are now professors, doctors, business executives, or (heaven forbid!) priests!
In the first part of today’s gospel, Jesus has a kind of reunion back in his hometown.
Jesus has just completed some really successful days of healing and preaching: the amazing story of Jesus raising a young girl back to life; a woman with great faith was healed from ailments that she had for many years. Jesus is on a serious win streak. His disciples and followers are gaining in confidence and people are honoring him more and more.
So, what happens next is quite a surprise. Jesus enters his “hometown” region of Capernaum (or Nazareth). When Jesus preaches, those who hear him are “amazed” or “astounded”…Mark does not elaborate (he rarely does), on what this amazement is about – is it amazement that Jesus is like some kind of superhero, a super preacher, incredible speaker –and people are moved. It may be that they are amazed that this “everyday joe” is now putting on airs and claims to be some kind of wise man – some kind of prophet – who does he think he is? They question him, they wonder how the carpenter, how Mary’s son, could be getting all this. Jesus speaks and tells them that a prophet is not held with honor in his hometown – and then Mark recounts that Jesus could not do any deed of power in that place, except to lay hands on a few people for healing.
We are left a bit shaken, perhaps, by this rather humane (and humiliating?) episode of Jesus’ ministry. This passage illustrates the sense in which Jesus was “really” a human being. I can imagine the disciples being more than a bit shaken by this – wondering how Jesus’ power might have been stymied by a few of his childhood pals and relations!?
The second episode in this reading – verses 7-13 – is a practical and yet quite meaning-filled episode – as Jesus sends out the disciples to preach the gospel and to heal people. Jesus gives them very specific advice, the kind of advice – in terms of what to bring, what to wear, and such. Since Mark’s gospel is so sparse generally, when we read details of this sort in his text we would be right to assume that it is important.
People respond to Jesus in various ways, and these two snippets show us a clear contrast between those who weren’t buying it and the disciples who made it their own.
On one hand, we see a picture of doubt, of questioning, of people who, though they thought they knew Jesus, they were unwilling to really hear what he was saying. They were questioning with their minds, and were unwilling to follow.
On the other hand, we see a picture of Faith, of people who, though they sometimes were very confused about who Jesus was, they were willing to hear what he was saying. They were willing to not only follow, but to preach his message.
At this point, it could be easy to paint the picture further as an either/or kind of story. On one hand, there are people who are Faithful and good and righteous and giving and hospitable and loving and kind and all that. Perhaps we could put ourselves into this category; we’re here at church on a rainy 4th of July weekend, after all! On the other hand people who are doubters, sinners, unrighteous, selfish, exclusive, mean-spirited and all the rest. Perhaps those are the folks who are sleeping in today. And so, we might be tempted to wonder: where are we – righteous or not? Either we congratulate ourselves or we jump into a pit of self-pity and feelings of unworthiness.
Could we consider the message not as either/or, but as “both/and”? In the gospels, people responded to Jesus in various ways. Isn’t this true of us as well? Don’t’ we embody both of these characteristics? At times, we doubt, question, we seek answers to questions about Jesus humanity as it is tied with his divinity. We go through difficult times and we wonder, perhaps, about God’s goodness and faithfulness and loving-kindness. This happens to each of us, in some ways, at some point or other, doesn’t it?
At other times, we sense the grand adventure of the Christian Faith, the great journey of being a follower of our Lord Jesus Christ. We set out on the road, with only our sandles and our staff, no bread except the Bread of Christ, no extra tunic, no GPS but God, no iPod but our prayers, and no briefcase but our hope and passion for the Gospel. We have met Jesus. We have heard his message and are charged with the urgency to share this good news. Likely, this also happens for us in our journey of Faith.
Part of the good news for us is that we have something that the people in Jesus’ hometown did not have (and do remember that his neighbors and family largely DID become leaders in the church after his death and Resurrection!) We have something that even Jesus’ disciples did not have. In this season of Pentecost it is good to remember that Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit and the Church to help sustain our lives. The Church is charged with a great responsibility, and helps us to live into our faithfulness.
Abraham Lincoln asked that the country seek the good by appealing to the “better angels of our natures,” and at its best this is also what the church does. The church is there to do many things, which include providing support, fellowship, hospitality, and to creating space where we remember God in our midst, where we celebrate and give thanks for all that we are and all that we have. Ultimately, the church, of which Emmanuel is a part, is an outgrowth of the love and action of God, and we are an important part of it.
About church, the post-modern troubadour prophet, Garrison Keillor recently said, “the whole meaning of Pentecost is that the church is an extension of the Divine. It’s not just a club of people who all follow certain rules and who all believe the same things. This is actually God’s muscle on earth. We’re here to do God’s work, which is a sobering thought.” (June 6, 2009 Prairie Home Companion) A sobering thought indeed!
There is good work to be done, and it is for us to do, but we need not fear, for God is with us, and constantly gives us strength. So then, if we imagine that the only way to be a missionary is to give up all our possessions, even our extra tunics, but we should remember that we are all charged to live out our Faith in our own places and hometowns (even)! As the sign says when we leave this place, “the mission fields starts here.” Or, as a clergy spouse (with 4 kids) said, “the mission field begins at home.” And it does, of course. And if we have trouble, from time to time, living out this life of blessedness and loving-kindness and hospitality in our homes and work and hometowns, we would do well to remember that even Jesus encountered static in his hometown.
But the gift we learn in the Scriptures is that it is more about God than about us.
It is more about the Faithfulness of Christ, than our sometimes shaky faithfulness in Christ.
There is good work to be done, and it is for us to do.
But, we need not fear, for God is faithful to the end.
God is with us: Emmanuel.