Pentecost 7 Year B Proper 8 July 2018
A sermon from the Rev. Linda Mackie Griggs
I’ve been thinking lately about fifty years ago. The events of the spring and summer of 1968 were like a kick in the gut for many in this country: Cold war with the Soviet Union; An unpopular hot war in Vietnam; Unrest and revolt in many cities, including at the Democratic Presidential Convention in Chicago; And the assassination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy—two figures who had embodied hope to those who cried for justice for the poor and marginalized. Imagine: Two “I remember where I was when….” events in the course of just three months. It was a scary time—no one knew what was coming next.
It’s not dissimilar to when the Evangelist wrote the Gospel of Mark—late in the first century. It was around the time of the Jewish Revolt of 66-69. Persecutions of Jewish Christians by the Romans. And the martyrdom of Apostles Paul and Peter—two figures who had embodied hope to those who cried for justice for the poor and marginalized. A kick in the gut. No one knew what was coming next.
Mark was writing to scared people. People who feared for the future. His message, meant to be read aloud in Christian communities, was urgent and powerful. Perhaps comforting would be to take it too far since the call to follow Jesus wasn’t a call to be comfortable, but it was hopeful. It told the Good News of Jesus the Messiah—come to change a broken world and bring hope to the downtrodden. It was a call to everyone to repent—to wake up—to renew their lives.
Good News for scared people in scary times. Today the Evangelist tells us a disturbing story: Jesus goes to his hometown and receives a dubious welcome. He begins to teach…he hasn’t gotten two words out before the neighbors interrupt: “Wait a minute! This can’t be little Jesus, from next door? I remember when he was just so high, helping Mary’s husband in the workshop—by the way, did you hear Joseph’s not his real dad?…”
And they took offense at him.
THEIR Messiah wouldn’t be just the kid from Podunk, Galilee. THEIR Messiah would be someone of more…what? Sophistication? Erudition? Not born out of wedlock? (Word gets around…) Whatever it was, Jesus didn’t meet their expectations of what THEIR Messiah should be like.
Expectations. Anne Lamott says that expectations are resentments under construction. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
The thing is, Jesus can’t be parochialized. He can’t be made into something proprietary, someone who’s been narrowed down, domesticated into what we expect—whatever that is. The people of the time expected a king with a capital K—to overthrow the Romans and restore Israel to her former glory. Many of the people of our time expect Jesus to be a personal guarantor of a ticket into the afterlife—Jesus as a personal savior of my soul. Both of these are narrow expectations.
Jesus is bigger than that. This is not to dismiss the intimacy of Jesus’ healing presence, as we saw in last week ’s powerful stories about the healing of Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging Woman. Jesus’ care and tenderness are seen throughout the Gospels and are a sustaining force in the lives of countless people. But as today’s story shows, that is just part of the picture, and if we seek to tether Jesus to our expectations of what we want him to be, there will be disappointment all around.
But Jesus shows us how to deal with disappointment. He moves on, and he sends his disciples out. Keep moving, he says. Travel light. Remember you’re not alone.
He sends them out on short journeys—this is why they didn’t take a second tunic—the second one was used to double as a blanket if they spent the night on the road. Not taking an extra tunic, money or bread meant that they would be in fairly well-populated areas where they could rely on the hospitality of others. And if they were not welcome, move on and leave the rest to God.
This commissioning, according to scholar Ben Witherington III, is notable for a couple of things. First, note the fact that this is one of the few instances in this Gospel in which Jesus isn’t berating the disciples for not getting what he’s talking about. Perhaps this is because he has them doing something. There’s something comforting in thinking that maybe sometimes it’s okay to be better at doing the ministry than understanding it. Second, it is telling the hearers and readers of Mark’s Gospel that their survival as a community depends on evangelism and hospitality: Preach the Good News, using words if necessary, and get to know the people. The disciples were empowered by Jesus to exorcise and heal, and to call/challenge/invite everyone to turn their lives around—to live lives of compassion, justice, and care for the marginalized; to become part of the inbreaking of the Kingdom.
Jesus wasn’t about meeting anyone’s personal expectations. He was about transcending and confounding them. He was about realizing the Dream of God, and that meant letting go of what wasn’t working and getting back on the road. That’s what praying with your feet looks like.
The Evangelist wrote his Gospel for scared people, fighting despair and trying to make sense of their world. He wanted to offer a message of hope in trying times. He was calling them to follow Jesus on a challenging and deeply enriching journey of hard work, fellowship, and healing.
Jesus is still on the move. 68 AD, 1968, 2018–Jesus is still telling us to pray with our feet—but traveling light–carrying only enough righteous anger to give us courage to speak truth in love and to listen well.
I heard a song the other night at a 4th of July concerti, and the encore was powerful—as it began everyone recognized James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light”, which was a tribute to Dr. King; you could feel in the hush that fell that the audience was especially thirsty for a song of hope in a scary time:
…there are ties between us, all men and women living on the Earth. Ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood, that we are bound together in our desire to see the world become a place in which our children can grow free and strong.
We are bound together by the task that stands before us and the road that lies ahead. We are bound and we are bound.
There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest.