He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On 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! 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. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He 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. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. – Mark 6:1-13
I’ve always loved homecomings. When I was in high school, I looked forward to homecoming games – where I would reunite with my classmates who had already graduated and had moved away. When I – myself – moved away for college, homecomings were exciting times when I got to return to my hometown and would be welcomed by my family, former teachers, and friends as if nothing had ever changed. I especially loved homecomings while I was in seminary, when I would go back to my home church to preach and would receive so much encouragement and love from my church family.
Homecomings have always been positive and loving experiences for me.
This is not – however – the case for Jesus in our Gospel text for today.
Here in Mark, Jesus has returned to his hometown – along with his disciples – and has begun teaching in his home synagogue. And yet, while this synagogue is filled with people who knew Jesus’ family, had played games with Jesus when he was a boy, or had watched him grow up, they did not exactly respond to his homecoming with welcoming arms.
When the Nazarenes hear him teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, many soon become astounded… And if there was any good sense of this word, it doesn’t last very long… as the Nazarenes soon take offense at him. “Where did this man get all of this?” They soon cry out.
“Isn’t this the poor carpenter we’ve known all these years? Isn’t he the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Aren’t these his sisters sitting right here? Isn’t he the son of Mary?” they sneer as they remind each other of Jesus’ shameful origin: that he had been conceived by an unwed teenager. “How could this guy – this poor, carpenter with ordinary siblings and a mother with a disgraceful past teach us with authority? How could his teachings and his actions have any sort of power at all?”
Now our text does not say what it was about Jesus and his teachings that offended this crowd in his hometown synagogue so much that they discredited and insulted him. However, if we look back at the preceding chapters in Mark, we could probably take a wild guess.
In the first several chapters of Mark’s gospel, we see that even from the very beginning, Jesus’ ministry is not what would have been seen as ordinary.
He’s cast out demons and stilled a storm. He’s performed miracles… on the Sabbath day. He’s touched and healed the “untouchables”: the sick, a leper, a haemorraging woman. He’s called twelve disciples to follow him – most of whom are just common fishermen and one who is a tax collector. He proclaims that the kingdom of God has come near and tells those who follow him not to keep anything hidden, but to bring all their dark secrets into the light. He eats with the sinners and the tax collectors and then tells the religious – the righteous ones – to confess and repent of their sins.
He was already seen as such an offensive radical rule-breaker that by the time we get to Mark chapter 3, many of his followers say he is “out of his mind,” some of the religious leaders accuse him of being in line with Satan, himself, and even his very own family questions his abilities and rush to where he is teaching and try to restrain him.
And now here we are a few chapters and several radical teachings, actions, and miracles later. Jesus has definitely shaken things up a bit, and it’s only the sixth chapter in Mark.
And here in our text for today, after all the backlash he’s already gotten, Jesus has the nerve to come back to his hometown and to his home synagogue. And here – in the midst of the ones who’ve watched him grow up, he comes preaching this same kind of message. This same message that treats the outcasts and the untouchables as if they are equals and calls the religious and righteous to bring their dark secrets to light and confess and repent of their sins. This same message that Jesus proclaims at the beginning of his ministry in the Gospel of Luke: “I have come to bring good news to the poor, to bring release to the captives, to give sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free.”
And then he says he is a prophet!? One who speaks for God… And some say he even claims he is the Son of God? Who does this ordinary carpenter with a shameful family past think he is?
But the insults don’t stop Jesus. “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, among their kin, and in their own house,” he boldly proclaims. Then he lays his hands on a few more of the untouchables and cures them.
And then – as he and his disciples leave Nazareth and go out into the villages, he gives his disciples authority and commissions them to go out into the world vulnerably – two by two – with nothing but a staff, the clothes on their backs, and the sandals on their feet. They must rely on the people they meet to feed them and to provide them with a place to sleep. And yet Jesus tells them they must go out boldly, proclaiming that all should repent, and they must cast out demons, anoint the untouchables with oil, and heal the sick.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were one of the disciples – who had just watched Jesus get opposed, insulted, and publicly shamed in his hometown synagogue, I would have probably thought quite hard about picking up all of my belongings and running in the opposite direction.
Because I’m sure it would have been very difficult for these disciples to give up their food and clothing and social status – the things they were privileged to have and could rely on for their safety, comfort, and well being. And it would have been very difficult for them to go out vulnerability and proclaim Jesus’ radical good news, with no confirmation that they could find people who would accept them and provide for them.
And I’m sure these disciples knew this event in Jesus’ hometown was not the only time this ministry of proclaiming the good news Jesus proclaimed would lead to rejection and opposition.
Because the good news Jesus brings – that God’s love, healing, and justice is for ALL, especially the most vulnerable and the outcasts – is not always good news to everyone.
Sometimes I wonder how these disciples had the courage to follow Jesus and to go out risking so much, when it would have been much easier for them to just turn away when Jesus calls out to them, ignore the cries of those around them, and just go on living their normal every day lives, without having to face the suffering and injustice around them.
I think I wonder this about the disciples because sometimes I wonder this about myself. To be quite honest, there have been many times – particularly as I have recently become more aware of how much systemic racism still prevails throughout our country today – when I just want to pick up all of my belongings and hold tight to my own privilege. There have been many times lately when I have wanted to turn away when I hear Jesus calling me to boldly proclaim his good news and the repentance of the evil sins of racism and just pretend that it doesn’t exist.
Because this is the easier way. Because this way allows me to live in my comfortable bubble that I have the privilege of living in, it allows me to avoid any kind of shaming and opposition that those who speak out often face, it allows me to deny my own participation in and benefits from the racialized systems in our country that still privilege those who look like me while deeming those who don’t as “less than.”
Because as a white, educated, middleclass woman, I have the privilege of being able to just shut everything around me out and to live my life without fear… I can just go to my safe home – without ever being pulled over in my car and without ever being stopped and frisked on my walk home because of the color of my skin. I can come to church without fear because there isn’t a 400 year old history of people terrorizing others with my color of skin in places of worship. I have the privilege of just getting to turn off the news and going about living my own comfortable life without having to think about those around this country who have to live in fear every day.
And yet, this is not a privilege I get to have when I follow Jesus. Because this is not Jesus’ way.
Because just as Jesus called out to the twelve disciples and commissioned them to denounce their privilege and go out into the world boldly, he commissions ALL of his disciples to do so, as well. He commissions each one of us to proclaim repentance of the evil sins of systemic racism and to confess and repent of our own participation in and benefits from it. He commissions each one of us to cast out the demons of these unjust systems that privilege some while marginalizing others and to provide care for and offer healing to those who are victims of these racist systems by standing with them in solidarity.
Because those nine people who lost their lives in the middle of a prayer service at Mother Emanuel AME church on June 17th are not just any nine people who live on the other side of the country. They are nine beloved children of God, and they are nine of OUR brothers and sisters. And those members of at least 4 historic black churches that were burnt down and have been deemed victims of arson since the shooting two weeks ago, are not just those “other” church members who live across the country. They are part of the same body of Christ we are a part of. They are members of OUR church family, and we are members of THEIRS. And those black and brown children and youth in Baltimore, Cleveland, McKinney, Texas, right here in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago who get stopped and frisked and incarcerated at higher rates, who get shot and killed in a park while playing with a toy gun or violently pushed to the ground and sat on by a police officer during a pool party are not just those “other” kids and teens. They are beloved children of God and they are OUR children and youth.
Many of you have probably already read or heard the statement from the ELCA’s presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton in response to the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church. However, no matter how many times we may have read or heard it, I think all of us need to hear this message over and over again. And so – while it is a long letter, I want to read it in it’s entirety. Bishop Easton says:
“It has been a long season of disquiet in our country. From Ferguson to Baltimore, simmering racial tensions have boiled over into violence. But this … the fatal shooting of nine African Americans in a church is a stark, raw manifestation of the sin that is racism. The church was desecrated. The people of that congregation were desecrated. The aspiration voiced in the Pledge of Allegiance that we are “one nation under God” was desecrated.
Mother Emanuel AME’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was a graduate of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, as was the Rev. Daniel Simmons, associate pastor at Mother Emanuel. The suspected shooter is a member of an ELCA congregation. All of a sudden and for all of us, this is an intensely personal tragedy. One of our own is alleged to have shot and killed two who adopted us as their own.
We might say that this was an isolated act by a deeply disturbed man. But we know that is not the whole truth. It is not an isolated event. And even if the shooter was unstable, the framework upon which he built his vision of race is not. Racism is a fact in American culture.
Denial and avoidance of this fact are deadly. The Rev. Mr. Pinckney leaves a wife and children. The other eight victims leave grieving families. The family of the suspected killer and two congregations are broken. When will this end?
The nine dead in Charleston are not the first innocent victims killed by violence. Our only hope rests in the innocent One, who was violently executed on Good Friday. Emmanuel, God with us, carried our grief and sorrow – the grief and sorrow of Mother Emanuel AME church – and he was wounded for our transgressions – the deadly sin of racism.
I urge all of us to spend a day in repentance and mourning. And then we need to get to work. Each of us and all of us need to examine ourselves, our church and our communities. We need to be honest about the reality of racism within us and around us. We need to talk and we need to listen, but we also need to act. No stereotype or racial slur is justified. Speak out against inequity. Look with newly opened eyes at the many subtle and overt ways that we and our communities see people of color as being of less worth. Above all pray – for insight, for forgiveness, for courage. Kyrie Eleison.”
As followers of Jesus, we are all commissioned to go out spreading Jesus’ good news boldly, denouncing the evil around us and within us, and proclaiming the repentance of systemic sins until our country does in fact provide liberty and justice for ALL of our brothers, sisters, and children: Whether rich or poor. Whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or atheist. Whether white, black, or brown.
And we are all commissioned to do this even though in doing so, we will face opposition.
While following Jesus in this liberative and prophetic work is not easy, the good news is that even when we face opposition, Jesus will not leave us alone.
This season of Pentecost reminds us that we have been gifted with the Holy Spirit, who is with us always, comforting us and guiding us along the way. And that no matter what, when others – even those who are closest to us – take offense at Jesus’ good news and shame and hurl even the harshest of insults at us, we are not left without a family. We have a family right here in the body of Christ. One who will hold us, who will listen to us, who will encourage us, and who will walk alongside us as we discern how Jesus is calling us to go out boldly into the world.
So, may we have the courage to be the body of Christ. May we follow Jesus together, proclaiming his good news for ALL of our brothers, sisters, children and youth.