One thing you need to know about the city of Lynn is that it has understood itself as comprised of the distinct areas of East Lynn and West Lynn almost since its founding in 1629. And though the twain do meet, they also tease each other, each one seeing itself as the better Lynn. For example, in West Lynn they say that the only good thing about East Lynn is the bus to West Lynn!
So I show up, an east Lynner coming to pastor in West Lynn, and in a parish with dozens of relatives from both sides of the family as parishioners! Early on one gentleman said to me with a smile, “We coulda taken anybody from anywhere – but an East Lynner? This is a test!”
Well, it turned out fine, at least from my point of view. I was welcomed and supported, and more importantly we worked and served and prayed together. Although I have to admit that as I read this Sunday’s Gospel and prepared to preach it occurred to me that perhaps it all worked out peacefully because there was nothing prophetic in my words or deeds while I was there! For Jesus, coming home to Nazareth, it’s a different story right away, He receives a clear message of rejection, one that moves him to quote a saying to the effect that dishonor to prophets comes only at home.
At this point in his ministry Jesus’ words and deeds were getting massive attention all around. Word had reached Nazareth. Mark earlier had noted that Jesus’ family had decided that he had lost his mind and they wanted, in effect, to take him into protective custody.
So these people had heard his teaching, or at least had heard tell of it. They’d witnessed his deeds of power, or at least heard descriptions from some of those in other towns who had been overcome by amazement at what Jesus had done. Remember, he has just come from raising the daughter of Jairus and healing the woman who had been so sick for twelve years.
This is the context in which he arrives at his native place. And they say (if I might translate this into East Lynn-ese): “Wait a minute, not so fast. You’re not some fantastic rabbi. Where do you get off pretending to be a teacher of wisdom? How can you do amazing deeds of power? You’re an ordinary guy. We know your family. They’re right here. We’ve seen you grow up. You’re a carpenter. You’re nothing special. How dare you pretend to be!”
There’s even a sharp, if veiled, reference to questions of Jesus’ legitimacy. People were known then as “son/daughter of fill in name of father.” But Jesus is described as “son of Mary.” Even if Joseph had died by this time, here there is a barely hidden taunt.
One thing we have to know is that this was a society with no upward mobility. Not only was it not expected, it was thought to be wrong. If you are born a carpenter, that’s you. There will be no putting on airs and taking off to be something or somebody else. And so, as Mark says, the people of Nazareth “took offense” at him. Or as the Greek text has it, they were scandalized by him.
But if what his fellow citizens of Nazareth thought of Jesus is interesting, Jesus’ response to them is fascinating. That response comes in three parts, or perhaps four.
First (and please excuse me if I note that I enjoy this), Jesus insults them. Talk about the humanity of Jesus! The proverb he quotes basically says to the Nazarenes, “Hey, it’s not my fault or the rest of the world’s if everybody else can see me and hear me and relate with me better than you can manage here in good ol’ Nazareth!”
Secondly, Jesus is unable to do deeds of power there, as he had done elsewhere. Wow! This is worth looking into. As Mark writes, “He could do no deed of power there.”
Thirdly, he was “amazed” at their unbelief, at their lack of faith.
The last two of these responses of Jesus to what happens on his homecoming to Nazareth say reams about what faith is. In a nutshell, faith puts you in relationship. If I have faith in you, I trust you. And that opens possibilities between us that otherwise would not be there. If we have faith in Jesus, we enter into a living relationship with him. This opens massive possibilities between us. It establishes a channel, deep and true, for the power of God to enter and work in our lives.
But there is yet one more response Jesus makes to the experience at Nazareth. On the heels of this disappointment, Jesus sends out the twelve apostles on their first mission, providing instruction on what they are meant to do and how to do it.
Sending the Twelve out to preach and heal at this moment of his own failure in his hometown, Jesus is saying something powerful. The message to the folks at Nazareth and by extension to anyone who sees nothing extraordinary in Jesus, seems to be this: the Kingdom of God is opening up, right here, right now. You, like everyone, are invited. But if you say no, if you decide against, the Kingdom is still coming. The mustard seed still is going to grow. There’s no stopping it. The only difference will be that you are depriving yourself of the healing, the wholeness, and the joy of citizenship in that Kingdom, depriving yourself of living where the love of God is in charge.
Now, you’ll take away from the sixth chapter of Mark today what the Spirit of God gives you to take. It might not have much to do with anything that I’ve said! But let me put a few possible suggestions forward.
Think about this. Is there somebody in your life right now through whom God may be doing new things, and great things? Perhaps a person from whom you’ve learned not too expect too much in the past? Perhaps a family member? A friend? A co-worker? Someone who comes to church with you? Maybe it is you, yourself? If so, I would encourage you to be a non-Nazarene on this occasion: open up to the possibility that something new, unexpected, and good may be happening right now.
Then think about this community of faith, this congregation, this Grace Church. How is God’s Kingdom growing here and now? Where is new life being manifest? Where is enthusiasm? Where is charity hugging away? Where is healing happening? Where is joy breathing fresh, even in the muggy air of summer? Are we tuned in and open to God’s work going on among us? Or is it happening beyond our awareness?
Finally, is Jesus sending us on mission today? He always sent them out two by two. Who is your partner on this mission? Jesus Gave detailed instructions on how to dress, how to travel, what to say and do: what are you hearing in your heart? The mission of the Twelve was to issue a call to repentance, to a change to a better way, to a fuller life. They freed people who had been held by evil. They healed the sick. And in all this, empowered by God, they were successful. In our time, on mission in God’s sight among our own people, do we expect success? Do we expect to be heard? Do we expect new freedom and new vitality to be our traveling companions?
Five years after my arrival I left that parish church in Lynn. It was and is still my hometown, but it had also become something more: a place of mission, a place where God’s Kingdom is taking root. There have been major changes, shifts, decisions and renewals in life for me since then, as happens for all of us.
Through it all our invitation and responsibility is to welcome the coming of Jesus and to respond to his call to believe, to be healed, and to go on mission in his name.