First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
July 8, 2018
Scripture: Mark 6:1-13
Sermon: “Shake it Off!”
The story continues this morning from our reading in Mark. Jesus has journeyed on and his travels bring him to his home town. Everyone knows him here, he is that kid of Joseph and Mary. But evidently there is something different about him now, as he shows up in the synagogue and begins teaching. Teaching! A carpenter’s kid. One wonders if at first there was a bit of pride or even being impressed… Wow! Where did he get this? “Why, I remember when he was just a snot nosed kid!” “Me too, picking up scraps of lumber in his father’s workshop, this is pretty impressive!”
But in the story, something turns south, so to speak. They go from being impressed to being rather indignant… or at least that is the feel you get. Jesus gets a little pointed with them, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” It was more than just disbelieving of how he had grown, or learned, or what he had become… there was evidently something deeper, a resentment… why… who is this “kid” to be telling us these kinds of things, we knew him when!
Really, though I do think there is something about the notion of a prophet going home to preach, it is a common reaction among those who hear whether one is home or not. The reaction from those who do not want to hear the tough message from a prophet voice, “Why, who is this guy… who is this woman to be telling us these things? Who are they to be so presumptuous to utter the words, ‘Thus says the Lord!?’”
Mark is setting up the second portion of his story as Jesus prepares to send the disciples out on their own. It would seem to me Mark is saying something to the effect of, “If Jesus own folks will turn him away, imagine what might happen to you as you journey into the towns and villages to proclaim the good news?” The message of Jesus, of the Gospel is a difficult message.
I hear in the voices of Jesus’ home town listeners an offense, if you will, at the suggestion of Jesus they need to change somehow, after all that is what the prophet task in the Judeao-Christian tradition asks of us. The prophetic tradition in our faith is not about predicting or foretelling some far off futuristic event, but rather is a forth telling of what of what is occurring in the here and now and what the consequences of those occurrences will be. In other words, “Here is what is happening, and if you don’t change what you are doing it is going to get bad.” That is a paraphrase.
It is a message that the prophet Jesus has obviously shared in the midst of his hometown community to which they have reacted and it is a message Jesus has given his disciples to proclaim that will lead some, he suggests, to reject them. Walter Brueggemann in his book, Reality, Grief, and Hope, Three Urgent Prophet Tasks, lays the prophetic task out like this, “The prophetic tasks of the church are to tell the truth in a society that lives in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.”1 To be honest about these elements in society and culture, will not always be received with great appreciation. That is, to tell a people, a culture and society, a church they are living in illusion, practicing denial, and living in despair is a difficult message. And some will hear the message and change and work for the common good in church and society and other will disbelieve and reject the notion that anything different needs to happen. In Mark’s story, Jesus simply points out such response is common to those who return to their home town challenging the status quo and he and his message, we are told in the story, are basically rendered powerless. In the second part of this story we are told Jesus sends out the disciples and they are told to take this message out to the towns and villages and if they are rejected to shake to dust from their feet as testimony against them, which was a common practice and symbolic gesture for their time.
But, I have a question… before I get too self-righteous about taking the prophet message to the church and society and culture… before I preach a message of living in an illusion, in denial, and despair… I want to walk in the sandals of Jesus hometown folks for a while… I want to live in the skin of those in the villages who send Jesus disciples packing at the outskirts of town.
What has them so stirred up? What is it that Jesus has offered them… what is it that the disciples have offered them… they need to shake off? What is it about the message of Jesus and his followers that is so challenging? Or maybe we need to ask that of ourselves today, and I suggest especially in the progressive church?
I remember my dad telling me of a conversation he had with one of his seminary professors, this would have been in the mid to late 1960’s, dad said his professor looked at him and said, “You think you have a pretty liberal theology, don’t you? Well…” he told dad, “you’ll come back, they always come back.” I’ve seen it again and again in my own journey and in my own ministry… individuals, churches, who want desperately to be what we would deem a Progressive Christian Community of Faith… and then when push comes to shove, so to speak, they wander back to that moderate or even conservative understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. A wandering back to substitutionary atonement, or a theistic understanding of God, or the use of exclusively male language in reference to God, the list can go on…
And so I wonder as I read this story what is the dust I need to shake from my feet so I might move on, move deeper into an understanding of God, of the faith, that more robustly nourishes my soul and nourishes the world around me?
How do we better move from an understanding of justice that involves punishment to an understanding of justice that exemplifies compassion and love?
How do we better move from an image of God that is always on our side to a God that loves everyone?
Several years ago, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at Wichita State University. The panel included a Buddhist Monk, Muslim Imam, Jewish Rabbi, and Atheist, and myself. At one point in the discussion a student stood and directed a question to me. The question was, “What could make you change your mind about the existence or not, of God?” My response was, “Nothing.” I wish I could go back and answer that question again, because it was the wrong answer. As I walked out of the building that evening I knew what the answer should have been, “Evidence.” Because “Evidence” indicates a an openness to change, new understandings, learning, etc.… a more progressive stance toward religion and the way things have often been.
How do we more intentionally engage persons of other faith and religious traditions and the non-religious and recognize truth is truth no matter where we find it?
How do we better engage our own scripture tradition and recognize it for the library and wisdom it is and not relegate it to an unwillingness or inability to question what we find in it?
How do we better move from an understanding of Jesus who saves us from our sin to an understanding of Jesus who saves us to do something in and about the struggles of the world?
How do we better teach our children about a faith and practice that is not about entertainment but about building relationships and community?
Are these things we truly have released and let go? Have we been able to shake them off and deepen our own journey? How do we shake off those bonds that keep pulling us back to the way things have always been to a faith that is new and fresh and relevant for today?
How do we, as the Sufi Poet Rumi suggests, “Be like a tree, and let the dead leaves drop?” Shake them off? Have we released the things that hold us back? Are we open to new and fresh ideas that have never been tried before to see where they might lead us? To let the dead leaves drop so new buds of energy and faith might blossom?
Can we gather in community to listen, sing, pray, share the prophetic tradition acknowledging we have often lived in that illusion, or maybe still are? Can we gather in community to listen, sing, pray, share the prophetic tradition, and grieve at our denial? Can we gather in community to listen, sing, pray, share the prophetic tradition and have hope, bring hope to the world, the church who lives in despair?
I believe we can! I believe that because, though I still do not know how long it will be, but I believe with Dr. King that the arc of the moral universe is long… but it is bending toward justice and the beloved community!
I believe we can because I still believe we are in the midst of a theological and religious revolution grounded and guided by love!
I believe we can because the pendulum of compassion, equality, justice, kindness, humility, The WAY of Jesus is still the way… and it will swing back… and the progressive church needs to lead the way!
I believe we can… I pray you believe as well.
Shake off the old dead weight… and BE the Beloved Community of Love and Peace!
May it be so. May it be now!
1 Brueggemann, Walter; Reality, Grief, Hope, Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks. 2014. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.