6 Pentecost, Proper 9 – July 3, 2021
So, this morning Jesus travels back to his hometown; and we’re presented with the story of how his hometown people had difficulty believing in him. In fact, they took offense. What’s that all about?
Jesus enters the synagogue of his boyhood, and begins to teach in the tradition of the rabbis. At first, things seem to go very well; his townspeople receive his words with astonishment and curiosity, saying: “Where did this man get all this?”, “What is this wisdom that has been given to him?
But then, almost without warning, something happens. Someone in the crowd — perhaps a jealous old neighbor of Mary’s, or a childhood rival of Jesus’s, or the notorious town gossip who loves stirring up dissension — starts asking prickly questions: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?
At this point in the story, the mood shifts in the synagogue. Appreciation turns into accusation, curiosity becomes contempt, and the people “take offense.” They decide that Jesus is presuming too much. That he is too big for his britches, so to speak.
In a social system where a person’s status is fixed at birth, it’s not possible for someone like Jesus — a mere carpenter of questionable parentage — to amount to anything. He has no business rising above his dicey beginnings, no business speaking with authority, no business becoming a leader, much less the Messiah. “We know exactly where you come from, boy! Don’t get too big for your britches! Remember your place!”
As so, I’ve gotta ask….have times really changed that much? Our current social system no longer keeps us completely fixed on our birth status, but we do still have this strange, human need to tear other people down. As if by tearing someone else down, it makes us look better or at least feel better about ourselves. When someone just like us makes it big, for some reason, rather than rejoice, we tend to dismiss. Why? Well, this all comes from a vantage point of scarcity and insecurity.
And this seems to be saying something about the character of our lives. We do have a choice. Do we have a desire to participate in God’s work to bless and care for creation? Or do we resist? Do we not see what’s right in front of us? Think about it. Up until now, a dominant feature of all the stories Mark shares with us is the deep desire of those petitioning Jesus to be healed and restored. Yet in this story, all the bystanders can see is a local kid who’s made it big and who, from the vantage point of scarcity and insecurity, has grown too big for his britches. Trapped in their comparisons and complaints, they are not even remotely interested in receiving his blessing. Even Jesus can’t believe it.
The truly sad and astonishing thing about this story is that the townspeople’s suspicion and resentment diminish Jesus’s ability to work good on their behalf. In some mysterious and disturbing way, the people’s small-mindedness, their lack of trust, and their inability to embrace a new facet of Jesus’s life and mission, keep them in spiritual poverty. It constrains Jesus. It blocks the healing work he longs to do for the people he loves.
Something precious is lost when we fail to recognize the unfamiliar within the familiar. When we turn away from the extraordinary within the ordinary, we miss the presence of God in our midst. According to Mark, it is Jesus’s own community — his very own faith community — that fails to recognize the truth of who he is. How, when, and where do we miss out on the sacred because we insist that Jesus speak in the timeworn ways we think we know best? Because we demand that God act in ways that protect our status quo, so we look good? Because we recoil when God shows up unexpectedly, and dares to do a new thing? What will it take to follow Jesus into new and uncomfortable territory? To see him where we least desire to look?
In Brene Brown’s work The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, in Guidepost #4 she talks about letting go of scarcity. Addressing scarcity doesn’t mean searching for abundance but rather choosing a mind-set of sufficiency. “We each have the choice in any setting to step back and let go of the mind-set of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don’t mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.
Sufficiency resides inside of each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a consciousness, an attention, an intentional choosing of the way we think about our circumstances”.
So, faced with the human need or desire to tear someone else down, stop and think. You are enough. Your light is not diminished because someone else’s light shines.
The call of the Gospel is not a call to stand still. It is a call to choose growth over decay, to choose light over darkness. So, a question is: how might I refuse to let others in my life grow and change? When do I box them into identities (or labels) that are narrow and constricting? Where in my life do I silence the unfamiliar, instead of leaning into newness with curiosity and delight? Do I allow the people I am close to, to become who God desire them to be? Do I allow myself to become? Or do I cut myself and others off with expectations that are severe and stifling, perfectionistic expectations?
Perfectionism is this very addictive belief system, that if we live perfect, look perfect, keep it perfect, everything’s perfect, that we can avoid or minimize shame, blame, judgment, and criticism. Perfectionism is not about being our best selves, it’s a defense mechanism. Brene calls it the 20-ton shield. We carry it around thinking it’ll keep us from getting hurt, feeling judged, feeling shame, feeling criticized, but what it actually does is it keeps us from being seen, and it’s so heavy.
Jesus sends the disciples out two by two; taking nothing for their journey except a staff. He is telling them they are sufficient; they are enough. If they are not welcome somewhere, leave, shake off the dust. Don’t carry that heavy burden with you. Shake it off, let it go.
The lowly carpenter reveals himself as Lord. The guy with the tainted birth story offers us salvation. The hometown prophet tells us truths we’d rather not hear. We might put limits on his deeds of power, but those limits won’t confine Jesus for long. We might amaze him with our unbelief, but he will still call out to us, daring us always to see and experience him anew.
From a place of knowing that we are worthy, that we are sufficient, that we are a child of God, we are then able to see God’s hand at work in the world. We are able to see Jesus standing in our midst and recognize him, rather than saying, “who does he think he is?” From a place of worthiness and sufficiency, we are able to be Jesus’ hands and feet in this world. But this is a process, one that means focusing on being aware each and every day. Practicing the art of gratitude on a regular basis….pushing back on the competitive nature of our world, pushing back on the scarcity narrative of our world. God is present in the very ordinary of our daily lives. Our God is a God of abundance, not scarcity.
Jesus is here and now, in our hometown. We pray for the vulnerability to see that, to know that and to experience that. Life is not a competition, we are all inter-connected. May the light of Jesus in me, see the light of Jesus in you and may the light of Jesus in you see the light of Jesus in me. Amen.