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Psalm 123 (The Inclusive Psalms translation)
Mark 6:1-13 (Common English Bible translation)
It seems hardly necessary to remind us this morning, here in a church, that we are followers of Jesus. It seems unnecessary, but bearing witness to the recent actions of many who claim to also be followers of Jesus, the detention of asylum-seekers, the separation of children from their parents, the many examples of mistreatment of the weak by the strong, one might think that we need to reconsider what we thought unnecessary. After all, it seems like we don’t even know who this Jesus is to whom we sing praises and pledge our lives.
We’re not alone, of course. Even when Jesus returns to his own hometown, people don’t understand him…in his own hometown! I mean they are astounded by his teachings, amazed at his miracles, and flabbergasted that this is little Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s son. And then the telltale line. In our translation this morning, the Common English, it reads – “They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.” In the New Revised Standard, it is even more direct – “And they took offense at him.” The word in Greek is eskandalo, which, as you might have heard, lends itself to our english word “scandal.” Jesus was a scandal. Or, better said, Jesus scandalized them.
Maybe that’s why we often keep him at arms’ length, this Jesus of Nazareth. Some of his greatest hits? Love your enemies…God or money, you have to choose…don’t worry about anything, just seek God…rejoice when you are persecuted for my sake…deny the weak and you deny him…and my personal favorite super-hard Jesus quote…you must deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. These are not exactly warm-and-fuzzy, simple instructions…more like ingredients for a revolution, and they still are. 2000 years later we have so effectively NOT implemented the Jesus plan that his words still scandalize us. It’s why I think that people look for every loophole to place a monument to the Ten Commandments on the statehouse lawn, but no one ever emblazons a public office building with The Beatitudes – blessed are the meek? The merciful? The peacemakers?
Yet this is what I think we need more of from Jesus. A little scandal in our lives is a good thing, a chance to wake us up from the numbing flow of our consumption culture, which makes meaning only from money, stuff and celebrity. If we’re not careful we can slip into a place where the cry of need from the psalmist sounds like a foreign language, unfamiliar and needy. After all, we’ve set things up so we can choose God, a concept Jesus found not only strange, but unholy.
Might it be that if Jesus were here today he would also find our faith like that of his neighbors from Nazareth – would he be amazed at our unbelief? Believe me I am sincere when I say that this sermon is not aimed at you, it is aimed at me. Here’s why.
I question all the time what we can possibly do about poverty or violence, about an education system that fails so many or an immigration system that has turned not only unjust but cruel. I wonder if it matters that we collect some food in a wagon every once in a while, or feed a couple hundred once a month or shelter a single refugee or find a home or a ride for someone attending their asylum hearing? I sometimes wonder if my faith isn’t just a waste of time, a trivial dog and pony show, writing letters and carrying signs and holding meetings that simply reinforce a silly notion that God actually cares about us and change can happen.
What gets me off that unhealthy and unhelpful track? Jesus. I think of him holding that tension in both hands in the garden of Gethsemane, where he asks God to take the cup from him, to change the path that he sees in front of him because it can’t end well…can it? How can it happen? How can it end well? And I think of him making that simple statement…the statement we say every Sunday in the Lord’s Prayer – but your will, not mine. Your will, O God.
See I need that kind of discipline. I need the road ahead to not be dictated by my own feelings and proclivities. Because left to me, I’m just as vindictive as the next guy and there’ll come a time very soon when I won’t turn the other cheek. I need that discipline that says – this is not what we do. Not our will, but God’s will. Let that be done. That’s why we come together as followers of Jesus, not for the companionship or because we like each other, though those are good things. No, it’s for the discipleship. We need it, and when we have it…when we work together…that’s when God acts, our faith a kind of fuel for the effort. When Jesus is back home in Nazareth, our story tells us, he couldn’t do much of anything. “…he could do no deed of power there,” the story goes, presumably because they didn’t think much of him. He was just the carpenter’s son, his sisters still wandering through the town. He was nothing special. There was no fuel.
Over the past two weeks a group of activists and concerned citizens have been having impromptu discussions on a path going forward. If you don’t know this already, our city has a direct connection to the tragic chaos going on at our southern border as a direct result of this administration’s unjust “zero tolerance” immigration policies. See, our county jail downtown has an IGSA – an “inter-governmental service agreement” – with ICE, meaning it can be a holding cell for those asylum seekers caught up in this cruel net the government has cast. Currently we have close to 100 men from many different countries, seeking asylum and getting incarceration. And the questions this raises for those of us morally outraged and seeking to do something go like this:
- Should we seek to support these men inside, or does that mean cooperation with the unjust system?
- If we help, what is the legal liability for those who aid an asylum-seeker? Can we get arrested? Should we get arrested?
- What kind of protest do we have? Are we still trying to be peace, or do our words and our tactics give way to the amount of anger we have on our hearts?
I’m not going to suggest this morning that there are right answers to any of these questions. There are, however, answers. And quite distinct from any discussion I might have on the divinity of Jesus, or his relationship to God and the Holy Spirit, whether or not he is of “one substance with the Father, begotten not made”, I have Jesus as model, his teachings, his life, his death and his resurrection standing beside me, leaning on my shoulder like a holy conscience, whispering the subversive wisdom of the beatitudes, teaching me in parables, suggesting that I walk with him, and telling me in no uncertain terms that love is the answer…a love that will cost me something. It’s pretty annoying, and fairly scandalizing…Jesus as provocateur.
Let us not leave the sermon this morning without noticing, however, the next chapter of the story. Jesus goes to the disciples, he tells them to preach and teach. He instructs them to welcome and include. He asks that they show mercy and forgive, that they clothe and feed, touch, and heal. He commands them to speak out against evil and fight injustice. The carpenter’s son, the Son of Man, the Son of God, however you frame it – he teaches them to love…and they love, and then, they love some more. In fact, the later writings of Paul and the disciples say it over and over again – first love. Love wastefully and faithfully and know that if you do it well, it will cost you…and change you.
We are sent out in his name, to do the same.
Strength for the journey, friends…strength for the journey. Amen.