July 6, 2003   Shirley Macemon
  Just a Hometown Boy
Mark 6:1-6


      Our Mark scripture gives us a brief look into Jesus life, returning home to Nazareth after the beginning of his ministry. This glimpse is so brief that it leaves us with more questions than answers. It's tempting to embellish the story, to create a back story about how Jesus grew up in this small, intimate community, helping in the carpenter, (or is it stone-mason?) shop, watching after his younger brothers, (and sisters?), learning what all good Jewish boys learn at the synagogue. Perhaps learning it better or more intensely than others, perhaps making connections in scripture that others didn't. You've all heard those stories. I've told those stories. But what we have is really a brief look into a day in the life…

      Jesus returned to Nazareth. The author of Mark places this event after a day in which Jesus had not only cast out demons, but also healed the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years, and the daughter of Jarius. Perhaps he'd come home for a rest –- or to continue his growing ministry.

      Mark tells us that that he came to his hometown, and his disciples were with him. When it was the sabbath, that is, sometime in the next six days, Jesus taught in the synagogue, and the people were astounded,…. and they took offense at him,….. and he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. Don't you wish Mark could have reported that the people heard him and were amazed that this young man who they had seen grow up, who matured in wisdom and stature before their very eyes, astounded them with his grasp of scripture, that his teaching opened their hearts and eyes in new ways, that, as in other communities, so many people gathered around to hear Jesus teach that there was no room left in the synagogue and people spilled out into the streets?

      But, somehow, the people of Nazareth were astounded and offended. They heard with filters over their ears. Their preconceived notions, or their familiarity kept them from really listening to the message Jesus had to offer. The saying goes that familiarity breeds contempt – but my experience is that familiarity gives us permission to quit listening altogether. How many times have we caught ourselves so tied up in our concerns of the day that we have simply nodded and smiled at the concerns and issues spilling out of our spouse our children at the end of a day? Whether they want advise or just a listening ear, they deserve our time and especially our attention.

      I have experienced a flavor of what Jesus must have felt. Some of you know that my younger daughter, Leah, makes her church home at the Los Altos UMC, which was my church home until a year ago. I talk to folks there about activities Leah is involved in. I've known some of these folks for a long time, some are only a name on paper. Not long ago, I became re-acquainted with a woman I had worked with on several projects over the years. The last time we spoke, I was in seminary and just finishing my internship at Alum Rock UMC. She asked about seminary and if I was working at a church. I replied, (with some pride in my voice) that I was the pastor of the Sunnyhills UMC in Milpitas. Without missing a beat, she asked who the senior pastor is here at Sunnyhills. That is, who am I working for? In her world, perhaps I don't fit the mold of sole pastor. I don't know if that is because I am a woman, or because if it is because this is my first appointment, or because she knew me before I heard the call to ministry, or for some reason I can't fathom. But for whatever reason, I must be working for someone else.

      A young candidate for ministry was discussing the appointment process with his District Superintendent, and the DS asked if there were any communities he had a special bias for or against. There were no guarantees in the process, but these needs should be known. "Don't send me to New Canaan," the candidate replied," it's my hometown. As you know, a prophet is never accepted in his hometown." "Don't worry," replied the DS, "nobody is going to confuse you with a prophet."

      But back to Jesus and his hometown friends. Mark relates "they took offense at him." Did the people of his hometown doubt his credentials, or the veracity of his message? Listen to the things the village people 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!"

      The townspeople didn't criticize Jesus for false wisdom, or untruth. But they expected a carpenter's son – a message in consonance with the image they already had of Jesus. And Jesus no longer fit that image. His new image – and message – made them uncomfortable, and they took offense.

      This is the crux of our life with Jesus today.

      When I was a child, our large church in North Carolina had portraits of Jesus in all the Sunday School classrooms. We children knew what Jesus looked like. Jesus wears white robes, a blue outer robe, has clean, shoulder length light brown hair and blue eyes. The first time many of us saw a portrait of Jesus as a typical 1st century Jew, we were taken aback. It was uncomfortable and we wanted to object. That's not what Jesus looked like.

      "The biggest truth this story tells us is that the community of faith is one of Jesus' toughest audiences, especially when what he says offends us. We have our own channels of power clearly marked and we are suspicious of people who operate outside of them. We believe we know what is right and what is wrong and we do not welcome anyone who challenges our beliefs. And yet God is dedicated to doing just that, because it is the only way to get us to believe in God more than we believe in our own beliefs. Jesus was not the only one God sent to shake us up. God is always sending us people to disturb us--to wake us up, to yank our chains, to set us on fire--because about the worst thing that can happen to us, religiously speaking, is for us to hold perfectly still without changing a thing until we turn into fossils. God is not behind us, holding us back. God is ahead of us, calling us forward. God is all around us, speaking to us through the most unlikely people. Sometimes it is a mysterious stranger, but more often, I suspect, it is people so familiar to us that we simply overlook them--our own children and parents, our own friends and neighbors--all of those hometown prophets who challenge us and love us and tell us who we are. The closer they are to us, the less likely we are to hear them, but what a waste of God's resources, to ignore those who know us best." Barbara Brown Taylor sermon "Sapping God's Strength" from Bread of Angels.

      It is hard for us to hear new things – especially from Jesus, who we are convinced we know so well. Let Jesus challenge you to listen – not with our ears that already know the punch lines to the stories, but with ears waiting to be challenged, to be set on fire, to be awakened to the power of Jesus message. Jesus is our hometown boy. And he has come to afflict the comfortable.

     Has Jesus made you uncomfortable lately?