July 08, 2018
In our Gospel this morning, we have two very different state of affairs. The first results in NO life-giving power. The second results in EXTRAORDINARY life-giving power. Both situations are important to our understanding of the Gospel. So, we are going to think through them both--by starting in the middle.
Jesus sends the twelve disciples out on a journey to share his message with folks in other communities. He sends them out in pairs but tells them to take nothing except a staff and a pair of sandals.
Two things came to mind as I read Jesus’ instructions:
About a month ago, I caught a glimpse of a news clip on ABC: some popular televangelist said he needed a $54 million jet, so he could spread the gospel.
Secondly, I remembered a cartoon that a friend gave to me eight years ago. I still have it. It depicts Moses standing midway on Mt. Sinai with his staff in hand, speaking to the smoking mountaintop. Moses says, “I’m just saying if you had told me we’d be wandering in the desert for 40 years, I would have brought my comfortable shoes.”
A Falcon Jet and comfortable shoes ------------------------ a staff and sandals
But, we have something the first disciples didn’t have: we have experienced the faithfulness of God through Christ crucified and Christ risen. So, with this experience in mind, it should give us pause to be more understanding of the folks in Jesus’ hometown. I can easily put myself into their shoes. Actually, I have been in their shoes. Perhaps you have, too. Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus is saying in the synagogue—only that folks who heard it were “astounded” by what they heard. “Astounded”—they were shocked, surprised, filled with wonder, stunned, shaken—perhaps shaken to their core.
The Gospel tells us these hometown folks first recognized the wisdom and power in Jesus’ words, but then something happened to suck ALL the power right out of the moment. They chose to turn away, to deny the wisdom they had heard—perhaps out of fear of change, perhaps out of stubbornness to hang onto their own expectations, perhaps out of self-doubts, perhaps not having the courage to step into a path they didn’t fully understand. Perhaps it was the power of standing in this new kind of presence that was just too overwhelming at that moment—felt too new, too strong, too soon.
What is clear though, is the faithfulness of Jesus reaching out to the hometown folks, and they do NOT reach back.
There is a paradox about Divine Love. It comes totally free and unearned, yet it requires a “yes” response from us. In Richard Rohr’s words: “Love waits to be invited and desired, and only then rushes in.” [i] We don’t see Jesus in his hometown or anywhere else manipulating, shaming, or forcing his Good News on anyone. But, we do see perseverance, we do see faithful movement down rough roads, we do see shared responsibility, we do see how hospitality creates loving communities.
In our Gospel’s second situation, Jesus prepares the disciples for their first journey without his physical presence. He prepares them for rejection, and he prepares them for acceptance. He doesn’t give them much equipment to take with them. But he gives them authority, he gives them one another, and he sends them out with their own real-life experiences of walking with Jesus. They have their own life stories to share with others—what they have heard Jesus say, what they have seen Jesus do, what he hasn’t been able to do and why. They have their own stories about not recognizing who Jesus is. They have their own stories of misunderstandings and fear and doubt. They have their own stories about how Jesus has radically and lovingly changed their life.
They also have the lesson learned from Jesus about hospitality—about how critical hospitality is for creating loving communities—reminding us that hospitality must be given and received, otherwise it isn’t hospitality. It is as if Jesus is saying that positive change toward a new direction must be relationship centered. Change doesn’t happen based on the content of the message alone. The disciples step fully into their calling – reaching out in faith to others and allowing others to reach out in faith to them--and the result is EXTRAORDINARY life-giving power.
Jesus’ hometown folks first got a glimpse of Divine Love, seemed to recognize its challenges, then turned away, ultimately seeing only a carpenter, only a man—just like the original disciples did at first. But at some point, the disciples went beyond seeing with human eyes to seeing Jesus with the eyes of faith (Mark 8). I wonder about our human eyes—how difficult it is to see the One sent by God to share in our human nature. I wonder about that transition from human eyes to the eyes of faith.
For Jesus’ hometown, then, and for us now, it is one thing to hear our Lord speaking directly to us. It is one thing to feel, in our depths, the yearning for more. It is another thing altogether to step out onto the path to which we are called—the path where relationships are essential, where sharing experiences of suffering and victory remain Good News.
It is Good News that isn’t always easy to share, but it is this Good News that we are called to pass on, one-on-one and generation to generation. We are called to be present for each other in times of sorrow and joy, doubt and faith, distress and courage, rejection and acceptance —in times of being shaken to our core and times of standing in awe.
Jesus told us stories to help us grapple with truth, with life--today, two seemingly opposing stories in the same lesson. Perhaps the teachable moment, the hard part, is knowing when and how to transition from one story to the other. How can we make those transitions unless we are relationship-centered? My grandmother, a master gardener to be sure, knew when to plant and when to reap, precisely because she kept in touch with the good earth in her yard and with the cycle of the seasons. Navigating our own transitions requires this same kind of relationship with those around us, paying attention to hopes and worries, sharing joys and burdens.
I wonder about your experience. How did you navigate through the transitions in your own life? Some of us need you to lead the way for us. We need to know about times you were stuck and times you kept on walking. We need to know about your failures that morphed into fulfillment. We need to know about times you rejected Divine Love and times you welcomed it. We need to know how you sustained grace and courage to arrive where you are at this moment.
Frederick Buechner would say to us, “Listen to Your Life.” [ii] Parker Palmer would say to us, “Let Your Life Speak.” [iii] Both Buechner and Palmer would agree that our own stories share a common thread that makes all our individual stories, ONE story about being human. “We have it in us,” Buechner says, “to be Christs to each other . . . We have it in us to work miracles of love and healing as well as to have them worked upon us.” [iv]
In the biblical narratives, or on our own walks with Divine Love: we won’t find anything that resembles a luxury jet. Nor will we find comfortable shoes. But we do have God’s blessing. And when we intentionally live and share the Good News in the company of others, truly wanting to see with eyes of faith, we will find EXTRAORDINARY life-giving power.