7/8/2012 Sermon: “Coming Home”

Painting over the altar in the “Synagogue Church” in Nazareth, the traditional site of the synagogue where Jesus taught – and caused an uproar! This very small building has been visited by Christian pilgrims since the 12th century.

Mark 6:1 He left that place and came to his home town, 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 offence* at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, 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.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If 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.’ 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Coming Home.  Some of us live in the place where we grew up.  Not many, but a few.  You might be aware that things have changed over the years, but it’s possible that it happened so slowly you didn’t notice.  Many of us notice changes to our home towns after living “away” for several years.  Personally, I can say that coming back to places where I’ve lived can be shocking sometimes, things have changed so much.  Since I left my hometown (Medina, Ohio) many years ago, it has quadrupled in size and so many things are different now.  The places where I used to get ice cream with my friends are all gone.  Other people live in all of our family’s houses.  The church where I grew up has new pews.  It bothers me if I think about it too much!  It gives meaning to the old saying by Thomas Wolfe, “You can never go home again.”

That can be a hard thing for some folks to hear, that you can’t go home again.  It only means that things change, and that can be hard to accept. It’s so much easier to live in the past because you know where you’ve been.  It’s harder to face the future because the changes that happen can be beyond our control, and that’s scary.

I remember talking to a woman who said she stopped going to her church because the minister said something that offended her.  When I asked what that was, she said that her daughter had come back from college after 4 years and was surprised at how different the church seemed. After a worship service, she told this to the minister and he said, “You can’t go home again,” in a half-kidding way, and she had taken offense that someone would actually come right out and say that things change, even in the church.

Jesus had trouble going home too, and that’s what our Gospel lesson is about this morning.  This passage picks up on the ministry tour Jesus took through Galilee, which is like a county to us, just after he raised a young girl from the dead.  The people who knew about it were amazed.  The passage doesn’t say what town it was where this happened, and the people there apparently didn’t know Jesus very well.  But they must have been happy he stopped by.  He had an impact and left an impression.  There were at least a few people in that place who were able to grasp who he was: the Son of God.

But the people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth didn’t accept him, even in the synagogue.  The moment Jesus stood up to read and speak, things got noisy.  “Where’d he get all this? If that’s who I think it is, why, he’s the one who helped build our house.  I think he made some of our furniture.  O yeah, he’s the one who fixed my plow.  I know his family.  His brothers and sisters are all members of the synagogue.  He used to sit right in that pew over there.  Who does he think he is?”

Was Jesus disappointed?  Probably. Maybe even a little angry. And all he did was stand up in the synagogue and teach.  He may have been saying some things that the hometown folks didn’t want to hear.  Or was it just jealousy?

Now, healing some sick people seems like a pretty good thing to do, but Mark, the writer of this gospel, makes it sound like it was no big deal. “Jesus couldn’t do much of anything in Nazareth except heal a few sick people,” he says.  Well, if that wasn’t such a great thing, then what did Jesus want to do that would have been better?  He wanted them to bring them to faith. In him.

The issue for these people was their faith.  Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of “Man” (human one) came to town and tried to demonstrate who he was.  He wanted people to believe in him and follow him.

But in Nazareth, his own people turned their backs on him, and they’re not alone. This situation has happened millions of times over the centuries.  I’ve heard it said that if the gospel is explained clearly and nobody rejects it, maybe it wasn’t explained right or people weren’t hearing it right.  Jesus does not come asking if you’ll be a nice person and join a civic group.  The gospel – the good news –  is that he is our savior and gives us life through our faith in him.  It means we worship him and make him our God.  We make the choice to follow.  Through the Spirit, he changes us from the inside out.  That’s the net effect of what God does through the church (through us): bring change to peoples’ lives through the gospel, the good news of the living Christ.  It’s not necessarily meant to make us comfortable or help us get points with people. Following Jesus is challenging!

In the book of Acts, Jesus ascends and the Holy Spirit comes.  Then the Spirit sends Christians out to do what Jesus did: offer a way to God through faith and love.  The Spirit may simply need someone like you and me to say, “I’m a Christian and can’t imagine life any other way.”  There may be moments when the Spirit calls on us to offer forgiveness to someone in the name of Jesus.  The Spirit may call on us to take a stand against racism or some other form of oppression.  And every Christian should be secure enough to hear the words, “I don’t believe in Jesus” without stepping back from their faith or finding ways to dilute the things they believe.  It’s not easy, but God gives an inner security to people who practice faith.

Standing by in the synagogue in Nazareth watching all this happen are the followers of Jesus, who are all from other places, other towns.  I wonder how they were feeling when Jesus was getting rejected.  What were they thinking and feeling?  Maybe they were sneaking toward the back of the room, sort of gradually.  Maybe pretending they were reading their bulletins or staring at the ceiling.

I wonder what the conversation was like when they left.  I can hear Jesus as he walks alongside Peter and says under his breath, “I think that went well, don’t you?”  It was an object lesson, as if to show his followers that “this is what can happen to you, too.”  Immediately following this visit home, Jesus sent his disciples off to preach and teach.  He gave them authority over “unclean spirits.”  The followers of Christ are always doing battle with unclean spirits, and they have authority straight from God to do that.  But it’s not for the faint of heart.  And even Jesus couldn’t deal with a negative attitude.

This passage always comes around on the schedule when graduations are happening and young people all everywhere are trying to figure out what they are going to do with the rest of their lives. For the next few years every time we see them we’ll be asking what they’re doing and how they’re doing.

And when Jesus comes back, he’ll ask “Church, how are you doing?  Are you growing in your faith?  Are you winning the war against the unclean spirits? And there may be some who take offense at that.

But we are here because somebody somewhere, at some time in our lives, had the courage to share the gospel with us.  And it will always be our turn to share the faith with somebody else.

 Prayer

 O God, we thank you for Christians with courage. We thank you for those who set examples for us by stepping out to follow you.  We ask only that in some small way, we can walk that path of faith too.

Lord, give us also the vision to see the work that needs to be done.  Help us know who needs to hear the good news.  Give us the wisdom to know needs when we see them, and to step outside of our safe places to do something about them.

We ask your forgiveness for sin, and today we lift up to you that sin which might be unintentional; the good things we do that somehow go wrong.  All we can do is call out to you for help, and know that in the end, all things, all victories and failures, all joy and all pain, are yours.  At risk or in safety, we are yours, for the sake of Jesus.  Amen.