from Mark 6:1-13, "And he could do no deed of power there . . ."
So here we are this morning, just a few days past Independence Day. The fireworks have all been lit. They shot into the air and exploded with a loud bang and a bright light. And maybe some of you participated in that tradition and you “oooohed” and “aaaahed” at the sight of them. By this point we've waved our flags and celebrated the 4th of July, or as it is really known: Independence Day. I have to say though that it is strange how you more often hear people ask, “So what are you doing for “the Fourth”, than you hear people inquire about your activities on “Independence Day”.
Our scripture this morning includes some fireworks too! It also includes one pretty significant misfire as well. I mean Jesus has been out and about, teaching and preaching, healing and working miracles . . . and then . . . he goes home. And maybe it was for a holiday or some family get-together; we don't actually know why Jesus went to Nazareth. We only know that Jesus attempted to go home again . . . with his disciples in tow. And Jesus gets there, and he teaches in the synagogue, and what happens?!? Not very much. “Did you hear that? Well, where in the world did he get all of this?” they ask. “Isn't this the carpenter? Mary's son?” which is really just a way of saying we know that he's Mary's son, but where not so sure about the father . . .
It is as if Jesus had walked up to this nice Roman candle, struck the match across the box, put the flame to the fuse, watched it begin to sparkle and burn . . . and then . . . fizzle and poof. Nothing. I mean just about nothing happened. “And he could do no deed of power there . . .” our text reads.
It just doesn't make sense though. I thought Jesus could handle anything, right?! This is the Son of the Almighty God! So even though the people were slandering him and trying to “put him in his place,” I guess I would think surely Jesus could rise above that. Because make no mistake, the people of Jesus's own community were trying to “take him down a notch or two”. You see they said to each other, “Isn’t this the carpenter?” It is not that being a carpenter was a bad thing in and of itself, but carpentry and the folks who practiced it belonged to one social class. And teachers belonged to another. So it was not that being a carpenter was a bad thing, but changing your social and economic class was. Becoming a teacher when you had once been a carpenter, this was just NOT acceptable. Not that Jesus always ran around doing things that were acceptable.
So as we read, they call him a carpenter, not a teacher. And then there's this business about calling Jesus Mary’s son. Don't think for a minute that people in Jesus' day did not talk about others just as we might. It may have been a rumor for a long time, about who Jesus's father really was. After all, the months didn't quite add up. “Well, we know that he is Mary’s son but . . . we aren’t too sure about the father!” And this is what the people of his very own hometown, were saying to Jesus, about Jesus, in front of his disciples, and to each other.
Jesus had come to help them, perhaps even to go home to share God with them; and they chose to slander him; Jesus came to bring good news, and they instead of hearing that good news, they turned away. And all of this when Jesus is a child of their hometown.
And this is where we get fizzle and poof. Because somewhere in there, we all want our parents, our families, our churches at times to love us so wholly and completely. Even that surly teenager who acts as if you are just about the most backwards and stupid and un-cool person they can imagine, even that one cares what you think . . . and wants your love and acceptance. And at this point in Mark's telling of the good news, if you read back just a chapter you'll find that Jesus has just raised Jarius’s daughter up from death! She had died and Jesus told her to “arise” and she did!
But that was back there. And now he was home. And all of the “good” homefolks were circling around him. The pressure was on. And Jesus could do next to nothing.
But I cannot imagine that this whole thing was easy for Jesus either. Sometimes we want to make Jesus float about a foot above the earth as we read the gospels. But he was human . . . and he knew our pain. We cannot forget that or somehow wish it away, just as we can't wish our pain away either, our own pain of wanting to be loved and cared for by someone who for whatever reason may not be able to.
Well last Sunday, my wife and I did not go home. We didn't go anywhere we had been before actually. We found ourselves at a church that we had not been to before . . . and with our a three year old girl who wants to talk all of the time, and a two year old boy who seems to have really come into his boyness in just the last few months. It was the Sunday before Independence Day. I guess that is why this church was having some sort of heritage Sunday. I don't know if y'all do that sort of thing here. I remember the church in which I grew up celebrating a heritage Sunday years ago. All the women wore bonnets and frilly dresses. I was young enough that I forced to put on something called knickers. If women wear them today you call them capris! Well, at this church, thankfully, no one was dressed in colonial garb, but the liturgy that they used for communion was the old liturgy; and some of you may be familiar with this liturgy for it was still used in some churches until just a few years ago; it is still in your hymnals on page 26. You see we had the chance in the taking of the Lord's Supper to “acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we have from time to time most grievously committed.”
But last Sunday, as this minister reflected on the history of that particular church, and also on the history of our country, he made a comment that I just hadn't really thought about before: that the independence of this country did not come on one day. The one day that we celebrated this past week was not the end of the story. The separation from England was difficult and hard-fought. That independence came with pain, at least at first. And even as a child or an adolescent pushes again their parents, sometimes in painful ways, they must push; they must be separate in order to grow, in order to be whole people, to be independent. It can be a painful and scary process for everyone involved.
And then that night, I had all of these thoughts in my mind as I rocked my daughter back to sleep. It was a time where in contrast she needed dependence, to know love and care and nurture. She was having a hard time going to sleep because of the noise of the fireworks. It provided an interesting symmetry in that nearly two years before I had held her for one of the first times, while listening to the pop-pop-pop of fireworks from outside the window, not at night, but first thing in the morning. You see, we adopted Libby from China just about two years ago now. And one of my most vivid memories of that trip, of two weeks in China getting to know this beautiful little girl that would go home with us at the end of those two weeks, one of my most vivid memories is waking up every morning on the fourth or fifth floor of a hotel in Nanchang to the sound of firecrackers. And no it wasn't a celebration of some sort. I knew enough of Chinese culture at that point to look out my window, see the construction that was happening across from the hotel where we were staying and to assume that the firecrackers were being used to ward off evil spirits as the construction workers began their day. So the pop-pop-pop would start, I'd get out of bed and pick Libby up and hold her and comfort her.
And I cannot say whether or not the sound of the firecrackers frightened away the evil spirits; I can only say that a 14 month old little girl and her jetlagged father were awakened. And even though sometimes the noise and light and fury created by our striving for independence can be frightening and painful, sometimes, as in the case of these firecrackers we're creating a lot of noise to make ourselves safe.
But then at other times, as Jesus points out to us, there does come a time to stop making so much noise . . . and to just leave.
The other portion of our scripture this morning does talk about this leaving. And it is interesting that the Gospel of Mark places Jesus's homecoming back to back with the first sending out of the disciples. Pay attention to how Mark places certain events alongside others. And in this particular pairing, it is almost as if the experience that Jesus had of not being welcomed, of becoming an outsider where he should have been an insider, it seems as if this experience flows into his instructions to the disciples. Jesus says to them, “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 . . . .” In a way this is not the kind of independence that comes with a long war, with fighting and fireworks. This is not a bang, but a whimper. This is an independence that comes out of an awareness that there are some who will not, who cannot, who refuse to hear the good news of God's love and grace for them. And Jesus tells the disciples, and tells us, that we should not allow that to mean that their refusal of us . . . this doesn't mean God's refusal of us. God is so often found, just as Jesus was so often found among people that the pious ones of that day, the religious leaders, Jesus was found among those that they thought that Jesus should never be around, with the least, with the lonely, and with the lost.
So even though we may be uncomfortable with a Jesus who encounters a situation where he is able to do no deed of power, maybe this is not a story that needs a why. Maybe we don't need to know why Jesus there was only fizzle and poof that day. Maybe this is just a story about how sometimes going home is hard; seeking again and again the love and affection of someone who may not give it, who may even be mean instead, it gives us pain. You see, we are told that Jesus knew that too. But Jesus tells us not to forget that we are children of God. And while it may cause us pain to feel that rejection, it may be painful to have our own independence day from that hurt and sorrow, sometimes God's word to us is to shake the dust off of our feet too. Not to react with malice or hate, but to simply shake our feet, and walk down to whatever God has for us in the next town . . . leaving any tiny bit of that painful experience behind, back where it came from.
This is the word of the Lord for us today.
Thanks be to God for his abundant love and grace for each and every one of us.
Preached at Centerville First UMC 7/9/06