Sunday, July 5, 2015

On Rejection and Hospitality

Mark 6:1-13
Let’s be really honest.  This is a weird story.  Set against the remainder of the Gospel of Mark, it’s almost a non-story…and the word “immediately” doesn’t appear even once in this passage.  Strange indeed.  It doesn’t have the narrative flow we are used to and it isn’t clear at first pass just what the heck we’re supposed to do with this today.  So, I had to go back and read it a half dozen times…and then ask Terry to read it aloud.  (He does character voices if you ask him real nice.)

And finally, I heard it…it’s TWO stories. 

Here’s the first:  Jesus left the home of the little girl whom he had restored to life and returned to his hometown of Nazareth.  The disciples came along.  On the Sabbath day, he taught in the synagogue.  He was a total hit!  Everyone was impressed.  “Wow!” they said.  “We had no idea he was this good!”  and “How did he get to be so smart, so wise…have so much to say?  So much ability?” 

But then they turned on a dime and started talking bad about him.  “He’s just a carpenter—Mary’s bastard kid.  We’ve known him forever.  Who does he think he is?”

Jesus told them, that now famous saying:  Prophets have little honor in their hometown.  He wasn’t able to do much there.  He healed a few people, but that’s it.  He couldn’t get over their stubbornness…he was amazed at their unbelief.

Now why was this amazing?  Because for his entire life, Jesus has had folks teach him the Scriptures.  And he’s been a fabulous student.  And what has Jesus learned from these folks in his neighborhood?  He’s learned that all throughout the history of their people, God has chosen the least, the outcast, the weird; God has chosen the unlikely to do amazing, important, incredible things! 

Jesus has heard the stories of Sarah the barren woman, of Moses the stutterer, of Joseph the youngest, of Jacob the thief…and these stories have begun to ignite his desire and imagination for the liberation and the freedom of his own people from Roman occupation.  If God has done it before, God can do it again!

But the folks in the old neighborhood don’t seem to get it, and so Jesus left.  He could cure illness, but he couldn’t cure stubborn hearts.

Here’s the second story:  Once he realized there was not a lot he could do for the folks of Nazareth, Jesus called his disciples and told them to go out to teach and heal.  Jesus gave them authority and power to deal with the unclean spirits...or evil opposition or the empire.  And he gave them some pretty clear instructions: 

         “You don’t need any special equipment for this,” he said.  “Keep it simple.  You are the equipment.  No fancy hotels.  Find a modest place and hang out there until you leave a town.  Be content in the simplicity.

         “Now, if you aren’t welcomed, if no one will listen, just go.  Don’t make a big scene.  Shrug it off and walk away.”
         Then they were off!  They began to preach and to proclaim that God wants something different for humanity.  They send evil away, they anoint the sick and heal their spirits.

So, you see, the disciples’ ministry begins to mirror the ministry of Jesus.  They aren’t called to do something new, but they are called to continue the ministry he’s already started. 

         What does this mean for the church today?  What does discipleship and ministry look like in Marysville?  How do we continue the ministry of Jesus?  How do we anoint the sick, help the blind to see, heal spirits, and oppose empire?

         Maybe it looks a lot like hospitality.  Maybe it means we fling wide our doors and invite folks into our church, into our company, into our lives.  Maybe we offer space in our world for “the other”.

Or does it?  Remember the first story in the gospel lesson?  Jesus’s life and words are cause for offense and ridicule by the very people with whom he has grown up.  Jesus does not receive hospitality, but he sends the disciples out to be dependent on it.  He also prepares them for rejection.
         You see, Jesus never imagined that his followers would have a place of privilege.  And here we are, over two thousand years later, in this country at least, in positions of privilege and power.  Jesus never imagined that his followers would have widespread cultural acceptance, and yet, in this time and in this place, Christians, especially white ones, are the cultural norm…or that’s what we’ve come to believe and to proclaim and to claim for ourselves.  The people who have come before us beginning with the drafters of the Declaration of Independence lived in privilege, called it God-given right at the expense of others and passed that legacy of power, of privilege, of empire right on down to us…and we have been grateful to receive it.

         But as we re-read the Gospel with scale-free eyes (oh, we hope), we see we’ve gotten it terribly wrong!  We are the guests.  And we’ve been behaving as though it is our place to welcome the “other”.  We have welcomed folks into our churches.  We have made a space for folks in our company.  We have invited folks into our lives…welcomed them to our tables. 

         And in doing that, we’ve perpetuated our position of power.
         Welcoming others is easy.  We remain in control of cultural norms, liturgical musts, even the menu.

Maybe instead, we need to take on the vulnerability that’s implied in being a guest.  And we need to accept invitations into other homes, other neighborhoods, other places of worship.  We need to become intimately acquainted with vulnerability.  With asking rather than assuming.  With receiving rather than taking.
Maybe that way, we can more authentically be disciples of Jesus.  It won’t strip us of our privilege, but maybe it will help us to see the world a little differently.  Maybe we will be able to see all of the places that we benefit because of legacy.  Maybe it will give us the courage to speak truth to power in those places.  Maybe it will give us strength to use our privilege for the benefit of those without it.

But, my friends, I don’t know yet how we do that exactly.  And so I am asking for your help today.  Go home and pray and meditate on what resuming the role of guest might look like here at St. Philip’s, in Marysville, in your neighborhoods, in your work places.

Whatever being a guest looks like, I can assure you that others who sit in places of power and privilege will most assuredly not like it when you shake up the status quo.  When you question how certain sets of people are set up in this country to succeed without even thinking about it…just by virtue of their birth.  It makes folks uncomfortable.  It will probably cause some of them to withhold their hospitality.  And guess what?  I bet that means you’re doing it right.

         Hear the good news:  Jesus expected us to be rejected.  And he gave us some clear instructions on how to deal with that:  Shake the dust off your feet and keep going.  Shrug your shoulders and walk away.  But don’t allow yourself to be silenced. And remember, Jesus will be with us…always.


*thanks to Working Preacher, Lectionary Lab, Eugene Peterson, and Terry Kyllo for all the assistance

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