Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: Mark 6:1-13
Leah Hoffman is a 60-year-old wealth management guru from Arizona. She recently decided to retire, so she sold the firm that she founded ten years ago and says now she wants to start her life over. She purchased a $1.7 million home in Paradise Valley with the usual luxuries. There are restaurants and shopping around the corner, coveted views of both Camelback and Mummy mountains, custom furnishings, pool and landscaped garden, and one more thing. The defining feature of her new home, according to Ms Hoffmann, is this: “It has no bad memories.”
She says that is why all the furniture is custom. She didn’t want to bring any of her old furniture, or old memories, from her old home, with her. Home can be like that; it can be a place (at times) we would rather forget. Just ask Ms Hoffman of Paradise Valley, AZ, or Jesus of Nazareth.
Today in our gospel from Saint Mark, reporting from Nazareth, we find a homecoming that Jesus himself would rather forget. He comes home preaching and healing and casting out demons. But his hometown, even his home congregation, are offended by him. And it isn’t particularly what he says or what he does that offends them. It’s who he is—that he’s one of them, that he grew up just down the street, that they know his mother and his sisters and his brothers.
They are offended that he whom they know so well would dare to preach to them—that he would dare to heal their sick and raise their dead—just who does he think he is? Does he think he’s better than us or something? Has he forgotten where he comes from?
This might seem strange at first—showing such contempt for such words and deeds of grace, as performed by one of their own. We might understand xenophobia—fear and disdain for the foreigner—but what is this contempt for their own flesh and blood?
Well, if you have a sister or a brother, as I do, you probably have noticed this irony once or twice. It is so often those we should be proudest of and happiest for whom we often resent the most. We often reserve our deepest contempt for those closest to home. And just like in Nazareth, it isn’t the things they do, per se. It is that they are too close for comfort; they rub off on us; we know them, and they know us.
It seems as though it would have been easier on the hometown crowd in Nazareth if Jesus had simply come to them directly out of heaven, if he had come down with thunder and radiating light. Then they would have received him. Then they would have listened, and accepted his healing touch. They would have allowed him to forgive them and cast out all their demons.
But as it is, because he was born in a manger and brought up just down the street in the carpenter’s shop; because he had eaten with them, played and laughed with them growing up, they were offended at him. They were, if you will, offended by Christmas, by that part in the Creed when we bow our heads; they were offended, finally, not by God, but that God became flesh (and made his home with them).
This is not a small thing, of course: they are offended at the very gospel itself, that God in Jesus of Nazareth had drawn near to them that he might save them, that he might make his home with them and endure their sin and their petty, frustrating humanity, and even their contempt.
But in response to this contempt, Jesus continues his work. And he continues it in the same way. He goes out to the other villages and spreads his kingdom, not by sending angels from heaven, but by sending twelve men, with brothers and sisters and mothers of their own. He sends human beings—full of failings, of questionable credentials, and simply not as good at it as he himself would be.
He sends them out as mere men, with nothing to set them apart, nothing with which to defend themselves or even provide for themselves—knowing all along that they will inspire as much contempt as he had. The people will be offended by them, too. They will say, “These men are no better or smarter than us! We come from the same places as they. What gives them the right to say such things?” Or, much more likely, they will simply ignore them and move on to the next ‘big’ thing.
And this feeling is familiar to us as well. Even for us, the baptized, there can be contempt for the things of God. We shouldn’t be surprised at this, because as we have said, the things of God, the things of the gospel, are by nature easy to disdain: that God becomes flesh in Jesus, that he becomes a lowly man of sorrows, that he goes meekly to his cross and is run through with spear and nails.
And even now, on the other side of his glorious resurrection, having taken death captive and made an open display of his indestructible life, even now, he comes to us much as he did to Nazareth, and much as he did to towns and villages surrounding it. He comes by way of common men and common things, into a common church—a church which, nonetheless, he has made his home.
You know everything in the church has a name. Mostly this is just because these things are older than the English language. But liturgical roles also have names. Pr Barz today is our ‘celebrant’. He is the one who will ‘celebrate’ holy communion.
So even though the gospel of Jesus, is common, is easy to ignore and even disdain. Even though Jesus’s Divine Service is common, happening every single Sunday through the ages (again and again and again), don’t forget what it truly is: a celebration—a celebration of God made flesh, of God made human, made ordinary, touchable, approachable for us.
He is God of God and Light of Light, Very God of Very God, and he has made himself a part of your normal, average, ordinary Sunday routine. Boast in this: that our God has made himself ordinary to us, made his home with us. It is because of this that he is worthy of all glory, from angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.