Grace Presbyterian Church
July 5, 2015, Ordinary 14B
You Can’t Go Home Again, But You Can Still Get to Work
In the movie Love and Mercy, now in theaters, there’s a scene in which Brian Wilson, the former Beach Boys musician and subject of the film, persuades Melinda, once girlfriend and future wife, to drive him home. As she drives by his directions she is surprised to see a neighborhood of rather small houses, not what she had been accustomed to from him. He corrects her; “I’m not asking you to take me where I live; I want you to take me home.” Sounds wonderful, like the perfect ending to your typical Hollywood movie.
It doesn’t quite turn out that way, though, as when the two arrive at the street where they’re supposed to turn left, there’s nothing there; the road ends, and there’s nothing there but metal guardrails and a standard diamond-shaped yellow sign that says END; it is a literal dead end.
Maybe it’s not a perfect metaphor for what happens to Jesus in this scripture from Mark 6, but it’s not bad. We should probably acknowledge, though, that to some degree Jesus might have brought it on himself.
Remember a few chapters ago, at the end of chapter three, Jesus’s family comes looking for him, to take him home because (as they say) he was out of his mind and possibly embarrassing them. Jesus’s answer at the time was to gesture around the crowd and to say that the ones who did the will of his Father were his brothers and sisters and mother. You have to figure that word got around back in Nazareth, and the home folks may well have been predisposed to be a bit suspicious of Jesus or maybe even hostile towards this uppity kid (even if he was at least thirty by this time) who disrespected the family.
Their reaction actually brings to mind another popular culture reference, in this case a song once recorded by the bluegrass duo of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs (and later by Ricky Skaggs), the title of which is so characteristic of a particular attitude that it later became the title of a book about country music: “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’.” Really when Lester Flatt sings:
Now looky here gal don’t you high head me
For I ain’t forgot how you used to be
When you didn’t have nothin’ / That’s plain to see
Don’t get above your raisin’, stay down to earth with me
…is it all that different from the way the locals react to Jesus, as Mark describes it in verses two and three?
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!
“Is 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 then the awful capper: “And they took offense at him.”
Don’t get above your raisin’, stay down here with us.
You can practically hear “who do you think you are?” in every word. Because these folk knew him, they took offense at his teaching and healing. Because they knew his mother and his brother and sisters, they presumed that they knew him, and all this highfalutin’ preaching and casting out demons and healing was apparently too presumptuous for the local folk to abide. How dare you? comes the unspoken retort. How dare you think you have anything to tell us? How dare you think you’re better than us?
And they took offense at him, and in a way even beyond those scribes and teachers from the Temple in Jerusalem. And it’s the kind of offense that people – even good Christians – can take at us, when we really get serious about following Christ.
You might remember from last week that we were roughly reminded, for example, of the degree to which racism is still a plague on American society and politics and culture, in the wake of the murders at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and a number of suspicious burnings of African-American churches across the South. In our own denomination, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is in touch with those churches in their localities to see what kind of aid we Presbyterians might be able to offer to those churches in their time of recovery and grief. (You might remember that we heard from our local PDA coordinator in a minute for mission a few weeks ago.) Even now, some of those fires continue to be investigated as arson.
But a new development has followed in the wake of those murders and burnings. About twenty different female pastors in the African Methodist Episcopal church in South Carolina had, in recent weeks, been receiving threatening letters from an unidentified source, overlapping the time of the events in Charleston. Apparently a man, identifying himself as an “Apostle Prophet,” took it upon himself to decide that God’s call on those ministers was obviously not real, because they were women, and to use intimidation and fear to drive them out of the pulpit. Sexism is at least as perennial as racism, and equally as evil.
Yet there are those, in our country and our culture, and even in God’s own church, who would tell us to keep silent on these evils. Some politicians would have us keep silent because they need the votes of those people. Some pastors would rather us not rock the boat, let’s just keep everything peaceful and quiet and not get anybody all disturbed. Some would tell us to quit making our country look bad, particularly around the Independence Day holiday that just passed yesterday.
If we are ever tempted to listen to these voices, what happens after the rejection in Jesus’s hometown should jolt us out of our quiet.
You will notice that Mark does not care about our delicate theological sensibilities; he flat-out says that Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” Let’s face it, healing a few sick people doesn’t seem like it should count for so little to us, but Mark doesn’t mess around with worrying about the reaction of the locals or how Jesus was “amazed” at their unbelief.
Rather, Mark tells us Jesus went right back to work. He went right back out into ther other towns in the area and went right back to teaching. He didn’t let the disciples mope either; he sent them out in pairs and put them to work, giving them “authority over the unclean spirits” and putting them on the road with little more than the cloaks on their backs and the staff in their hands. If the people of the town refused to hear them, their instructions were to move on to the next place; if their word was heard, they were to stay and continue to preach and heal.
Folks, we have a lot to learn from this. Here we are, not a huge church by any means, and maybe not in the trendiest or most elegant part of town. We’re part of a denomination in which some of our largest and richest churches have taken offense at us and run away as fast as they can. We’re kind of traditional and many of us are kind of old in a culture that idolizes the young and contemporary and “hip”. We still come to this table, every now and then, and engage in a ritual that some of the younger and more contemporary and “hip” churches in our land, maybe even in this town, have forgotten or tossed aside. We are, intentionally or not, on the “wrong” side of a lot of the divides that crisscross our nation, our culture, and our church.
And yet Christ’s call to us is not to indulge in a pity party. It isn’t to worry about how we in the church in general or this church in particular can be popular again, to be as big and important as we were in the 1950s or 1960s or whatever idealized era you may remember. It isn’t to try to be “influential” or “trendy” or whatever buzzword is getting tossed around these days.
Our job is to follow Christ out into the world and teach and preach and heal. Our job is to go out and proclaim that message that Jesus proclaimed, as Mark told us, at the very beginning of his ministry: “the time is at hand, and the kingdom of God is come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Good news. Not news that drives people away because of their race or orientation or anything about them. Not news that divides us or sets us at one another’s throats, or news that tells us to keep silent in the face of hatred or injustice.
It isn’t about being in good standing in society, or “having pull” with the right people in town, or even being good patriotic Americans (even if Independence Day was yesterday). If our call is about anything, ANYTHING other than knowing Christ and making him known, bringing healing to those who need healing, and proclaiming the news of the kingdom of God come near, then we’re doing it wrong.
It’s time to get on board and get on with Christ’s work in God’s world. It’s time to get out there and bring the good news, no matter how small we feel. It’s time to be witnesses.
For a call to go out and bring healing in the world, Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymns (PH ’90): “God of the Ages” (262); “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” (562); “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (563)
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