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"Walking the Talk" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer


February 10, 2024

Mark 6:1-6


Think about a friend or family member you haven’t seen in a while, perhaps someone you’re Facebook friends with, but haven’t spoken to in years. Maybe a cousin you were close to as a kid, but who now lives on the other side of the country. Or a college buddy you haven’t seen since graduation.


             I’d like for you to call that person to mind and also call to mind who you were the last time you saw them. How were you different? Were you younger? Still single? Not yet a parent? Maybe you didn’t live in Monroe yet or perhaps you met at a time before you became a working professional.


             Hold yourself and that long-ago friend in your mind and consider what their reaction would be to suddenly running into you again. On top of their surprise at your reappearance, think about how they might react to your taking this reunion time to preach to them. To share your vast knowledge of scripture. How would they respond if you asked them to take a few minutes to talk about the kin-dom of God? Do you think they would take reports of your new ability to heal sick people simply by touching them seriously? And what would the look on your friend’s face be if you introduced them to the dozen men who follow you everywhere and calling you “Master?”


             You know as well as I do that your old friend would think you were crazy! And with good reason.


             We’ve learned to be wary of people who claim to be able to heal others by touching them. We’ve seen the dangers of following charismatic leaders who claim to have special powers due to places like Jonestown and outside of Waco. The itinerate lifestyle is now reserved most often for migrant workers with whom we certainly don’t want to trade lives. A man who claims to be the son of God is easily identified as needing mental health services, and we’re cautious about folks who claim God speaks to them, which for the most part is a good thing. Too often the church has done people harm by jumping in with both feet without looking to see who we’re going to land on. Too often, well-intentioned church folk have done mission work to save people who neither want nor need to be saved.


             So some caution about people claiming to be prophets or healers is a good thing. Discernment about the ordination of an individual who claims to know the heart of God is reasonable. But where we misstep is when we put limitations on who can do the work of God. If we become so demanding and exclusive that no one can meet our standards, or if we dismiss sincere calling because it comes from an unexpected source, that’s a problem.

 

             And that’s exactly what’s happening in Jesus’ less-than-warm reception in today’s Mark story. We’re told that Jesus comes to his hometown and teaches in the synagogue on the Sabbath. There’s no mention of how long Jesus has been away from home, but we can surmise it’s been a decent amount of time because the people who hear him teach are “astounded.”


             It’s important to note from the outset that there’s very little about the people’s response to Jesus that’s positive. Although their questions about the source of Jesus’ wisdom and the power of his hands sound straightforward, in reality, these hometown folks are wondering if Jesus is possessed. The belief at this time was that this level of wisdom and the kind of power Jesus is displaying are so great that they must be an element of demon possession.


             And the welcome for the hometown boy doesn’t get any warmer, as the people of Nazareth move from wariness to outright contempt. Their labeling of Jesus as “the carpenter,” or in the Greek, tekton, is intended to point out that such a status “does not normally prepare one to be such a wise man and healer.”[1] This is just “’little Jesus’ who grew up around the corner, or ‘Jesus the carpenter’ who had fashioned their tables and benches” [2] For all his fancy words these people know this boy. It’s insulting to be talked down to by someone they knew as a child, which is likely why the villagers bring up Jesus’ family.


             Though Judaism has been traced through the maternal line since the first century, at this point it’s uncommon to trace genealogy through someone’s mother. So, the villagers are either commenting on Joseph’s death in passing or, more likely, given the tone of this exchange, they’re insinuating that Jesus doesn’t have a father.


             These people, these Nazareth natives who’ve likely never been further than Jerusalem, known Jesus in his full humanity. To them he’s not the Son of God or the Messiah, he’s Mary and Joseph’s oldest boy. They knew him as a sweet-faced baby and as a gawky teenager, before his voice changed, not as one come to do the work of God. So, are we so surprised that they’re struggling with Jesus’ new lordly identity? Is their contempt and offense at what they saw as Jesus' condescension really so hard to understand? How would we feel in their position? How would we react?


             For his part, Jesus is no more patient with the villagers than they are with him. Frustrated and perhaps even embarrassed – this was his big homecoming after all – Jesus snaps off a response, “A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child.” And after healing a few people, because he can do little more, we’re told Jesus leaves Nazareth. But let’s not gloss over this unsuccessful homecoming as a mistake on Jesus' part because this story does one of my favorite things in scripture, it exposes Jesus' humanity. His fully human side is fully on display in this story from the moment the villagers respond to his teaching, all the way through his snarky response to their crass comments about his family.

 

             If Jesus didn’t care or share any of our emotions, he wouldn’t have responded with the line about prophets having no honor in their hometowns. But his feelings are hurt. This wasn’t how Jesus anticipated this visit going, and it wouldn’t be out of line to call this whole trip a flop. But this story acts as a perfect foil for the one that follows it in which Jesus sends his disciples out into the world to help him spread the good news. Rather than allowing this messy visit to Nazareth to hold him back, Jesus models for the disciples exactly what they should do when their missional work doesn’t go to plan when the people, they encounter make judgments about who can do the work of God. They’re to keep going. To keep walking, to shake the dust from their feet– a symbolic practice as Jewish law held that soil from other countries was unclean – and move on as Jesus did from Nazareth. There will be times the disciples share in the embarrassment Jesus experiences here in Nazareth, but they travel lightly, accept the hospitality offered them, heal people, and preach the good news of Christ because that’s the example they’re given, it’s the model they have to follow, it’s the talk Jesus walks for them.


             So, what’s the good news for us this morning? How can we apply this story to our lives? How can we walk the talk? Well, first I don’t suggest putting on your best pair of sandals and walking out to Sunbury or Mifflinburg to share the gospel – not because I think that’s necessarily a bad idea, but Jesus had no concept of modern roads when he gave the disciples their instructions. If you want to preach to the people take your car, Jesus will understand. I also wouldn’t recommend counting on strangers to take you in if you show up at their front door – again, not because I think people are unkind or unwelcoming, but because hospitality has changed a bit since Jesus’ time. We’re more wary of strangers these days, so make a hotel reservation for your preaching journey, Jesus will understand.


             Of course, I’m speaking tongue-in-cheek because the reality is the world looks quite a bit different than it did when Jesus gave his disciples their travel guidelines. Still, the good news continues to be that God appreciates and understands every one of our attempts – whether they’re successful or not – to share the story of Jesus. Perfection, even success is not required, just as they were not for Jesus in Nazareth because God created our humanity. Our imperfections, our emotions, our missteps, and our need for grace – all of these things are what God loves about us. And hear me here: God doesn’t love us despite our imperfections, God loves us imperfections and all. With that kind of love behind us the rest of the good news is that what we’re called to as Christ-followers isn’t perfection, it’s to continue to work.


             It’s not the saving of as many souls as possible, is perseverance when the rest of the world wonders why bother with this church thing anymore. It’s not telling people we’re right and they’re wrong, it’s fully accepting people because they’re children of God. It’s not lamenting what we don’t have or can’t do as a congregation, but celebrating our strengths, our history, and our ability to be nimble in the face of a changing world.


             So, my sisters and brothers, let’s keep doing the work of Christ. Let’s continue to look for ways to serve our community. Let’s redefine for people who don’t understand what it means to be Baptist. Let’s welcome anyone who comes through our doors because we recognize the face of Christ in them. Let’s listen better for unexpected voices speaking the truth of God, and let’s resist the temptation to put up walls between ourselves and those who look and speak differently than us. Let’s be humble. Let’s be sincere. Let’s walk the talk of Jesus.

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