A Homily for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who sends us out as prophets proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Amen.
No prophet ever, upon receiving God’s call, jumped for joy. “Woohoo! I get to speak truth to power and tell the people how their actions have afflicted our Lord! Where’s the King? I wanna go tell him his actions cause God grief. But first, let me go tell the landowners that the Lord plans to cut them down. I wonder, when I flee into exile, if I’ll go longer without food or water. I can’t wait to find out.”
Remember, if you will, back in January, when we read the call of Samuel. After some brief confusion, what’s the first message he’s given? To tell Eli, the man who has raised him, his teacher, mentor, and guardian, that God is “about to punish his house forever.”
And how does this unfortunate teenage prophet respond? How would you respond? With fear. Eli has to coax the word of the Lord out of Samuel. Who wants to deliver a message like that?
Or consider the call of Isaiah. As the prophet-to-be serves in the Temple, he witnesses a sight awful to behold: the entire heavenly throne room erupts into this world. All Isaiah can say is, “I am a person of unclean lips.” When an angel sears his lips with a burning coal, he mutters, “Here I am; send me.” Immediately, he’s told to prophesy doom and destruction.
Ezekiel’s call in today’s text is not so very different. He’s literally knocked over by the divine presence and has to be propped up by some type of spiritual possession. He is commanded to go forth – with something like a 50/50 chance that the people ignore him.
But let’s push a verse further than today’s reading:
And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words…
So far, so good.
…though briers and thorns surround you…
…you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.
And what shall he proclaim to these scorpions? What sayeth the Lord?
Words of lamentation and mourning and woe.
With words of woe, is it any wonder that prophets are without honor in their own towns?
We’ve been flying through Jesus’ preaching ministry in the Gospel according to Saint Mark, and what an adventure it has been. Demons have been cast out. Storms have been calmed. People have been healed. The dead have been restored to life.
The lectionary has seen fit to skip over the first half of chapter five, but let’s look back just a little bit. After the disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee, they end up in a foreign territory: the land of the Gerasenes, a land of ten city-states defined by Roman culture. The worship of various Greco-Roman gods was common in this area, as was the official imperial cult of the emperor. And here, our Lord met a man possessed by the demon “Legion,” chained to a tomb. Legion recognizes Christ and demands to know, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Jesus drives out the demon; even in a foreign land full of pagan idols and demons, our Lord’s ministry cannot be stopped.
Then, last week, we heard about miraculous healings in Jewish lands, when a leader at the local synagogue came to Jesus, asking that his daughter be healed, and how a woman suffering from hemorrhages was healed just by touching Jesus’ cloak. In both Gentile and Jewish lands, our Lord worked wonders.
Which brings us to today. Jesus is in his own town. It’s homecoming!
This is speculation on my part, but I think the disciples were getting excited. The one who calmed the storm, who drove out Legion in the land of the Gerasenes, who raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead – what’s he going to do now that he’s back among his own kin?
…nothing happens. Only a few small healings, no major miracles. Not even any new teachings.
Instead, people scoff.
“Where’s he getting all of this from? Who’s he to make such bold claims?”
And someone else chimes in, “Hey, that’s Mary and Joseph’s boy! He grew up just over there. Yeah, his dad’s the carpenter. I think he’s my third cousin or something. I remember playing with him back when we were kids. He was always kind of weird. Remember that time he disappeared in Jerusalem?”
Everywhere else he’s gone, the crowds have crushed in around him. He has worked miracles in Gentile territory and Jewish towns. The seas and even the demons recognize his authority. But in his own town, among those who should know him the best, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, can work no “deed of power.”
Consider your own family, the relatives who changed your diaper, who watched you run around with a cape tied around your neck pretending to be a superhero. Think about the teacher who watched you struggle to spell “February” correctly or master the multiplication tables. Or your Scout master, coach, or band director – the people who formed you and mentored you. And consider the difficulty of going back home as a prophet, healer, and wonder-worker, calling your mentors to repentance.
How much harder is it for us, who are not the Incarnate Word of God? We who have sinned in thought, word, and deed, through what we have done and left undone? We, who have not driven out demons or restored the blind to sight or raised the dead? How much more difficult is it for us to proclaim Christ’s Kingdom in our own hometowns?
It’s more than just the humorous oddities and struggles of childhood, isn’t it? For many of us, there’s nobody we argue with quite like friends and family – either passive aggressively or in explosive shouting matches. Looking back on my own life, I consider it a minor miracle that my sister would ever hear me preach or come forward to receive Holy Communion from my hands. We have a strong relationship, but even today it is not without its shouting matches. We have both made each other cry from grief and said cutting words that can’t be taken back. As children, we would get into physical fights. If I were a prophet without honor in his own home, I’d understand why. My sister, more than most people, has reason to take offense at me.
It’s these very people who know our favorite vices, our greatest hypocrisies, our struggles with sin.
If Christ’s own kin would reject him, how much more harshly will our neighbors reject us?
How odd, then, that following so closely his rejection in his own hometown, Christ sent out the disciples. After a failed mission among his own family, Jesus calls the other disciples to him and says, “Ok. Now it’s you’re turn. Go out without money, without a change of clothes, not even a snack for the road. Rely on the kindness of others and do exactly what didn’t happen here today.”
No prophet ever, upon receiving the call from God, jumped for joy. And I doubt the apostles were very joyful that day. All the same, out they went, proclaiming repentance and the Kingdom of God.
…successful! This rag-tag group of people with no special qualifications other than the Lord’s calling, who so often misunderstand what Jesus is doing, who fail so frequently, who are full of doubts and fears, manages to cast out demons and heal the sick!
Kindred, this is the transforming power of God’s grace. In Baptism, we have been made new – united into Christ’s life. God’s grace is working within us, transforming us into the people that God has always intended us to be, calling all of us into the prophetic role of proclaiming God’s Kingdom – and to do so with honor – not our own, but to the honor of Christ’s most holy name. Despite our own flaws, despite the sin that has damaged so many of our relationships, we are being sent out to be the Body – the hands of Christ to our own kin, our neighbors, and to the world.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: It’s going to be difficult. We may very well be mocked and scoffed at by the people we love the most, rejected in our own hometowns. Like Ezekiel, we may confront a crowd that refuses to hear us. We may find ourselves without honor in our hometowns. There are times when our message will sound like bad news – that Christ is calling for the powerful to be humble, the wealthy to give their riches away, for the well-fed to go hungry. Forsaking the pleasures of earthly kingdoms for the joy of new life in God’s Kingdom sounds like foolishness – bad news of a bad deal.
Repentance is difficult; true repentance is possible only with God’s grace. Who wants to admit that they’ve sinned in thought, word, and deed? And who wants to hear it from the neighbor they’ve known for thirty years?
But consider the abundance promised to us through the Resurrection! Consider the rich feast of our Lord’s Body and Precious Blood! Consider the grace given to us week after week! Consider the treasures of God’s coming Kingdom – the abundance of faith, hope, and love.
Consider, and know this: we are sent out to proclaim the Gospel – Good News of the Kingdom of God. We are sent out with the message that we are free from fear, free from sin, free from death, free for Truth, free for reconciliation and healing, free for the glorious work of God’s Kingdom. We can leave money belt and food and tunic behind – or better yet, we can take them with us and give them to those who have need – because God has given us all we need – water, bread, and wine: rebirth into Christ’s Body through the Blood of the Lamb.
So, dear ones, go out to the places that welcome you and the places where people refuse to hear. Proclaim to them the coming Kingdom. Be for them the Body of Christ. Drive out the demons of fear, hate, and greed. Proclaim the Good News of Christ’s victory over sin and death. And as you go, do so in the assurance of God’s grace.