In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus goes back to his hometown after he has established himself as a prophet, teacher, and healer in other areas of Galilee. Of course everyone remembered him as a young boy or a young man, so when he goes into the synagogue and starts to teach, the elders who taught him didn’t want to hear what he had to say. Why should the pupil surpass the teachers?
Then Jesus gives his famous line: Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.
I’ve actually use that line a number of times to explain why the Methodist Church will not assign me to my home church in Croton. I get it. The people in Croton are all lovely; I love my hometown; but I would constantly be up against: I remember when you sang in the high school chorus. I remember when you were in third grade and in Girl Scouts. I remember when your parents first moved to town, you were about six, right? That doesn’t give you very much room to be a prophet.
You see that’s one of the job descriptions of a minister. Yes, we need to be continual scholars and teachers so that we can help you weigh through this book, which can be pretty dense and confusing at times. We need to be loving, and sometimes tough-loving, counselors so that when people come to us and need someone to talk to, we can just listen or help them untangle things in their lives that are not going well for them. We need to be historians with a continual curiosity, and a perspective of change, so that we understand the background of the people we deal with. We need to be mystics who are continually willing to develop our own spiritual lives. Because if I’m not working on developing my spiritual life, why the heck should you work on developing yours?
But the stickiest job that a minister takes on is to be a prophet. Now think for a minute about the prophets in the Bible. Prophets were not priests. Prophets stood outside of the establishment and preached the radical change that was needed in the present to avoid calamity and get to a better connection with God in the future. Sometimes the message of change was political, sometimes it was spiritual, but mostly the message was unwelcome, because the prophet would always say: You guys have to change.
Jesus of course was a prophet. But we make a very clear distinction that Jesus is preaching the Good News not the bad news, and is preaching good change, not bad change. Unfortunately change is change, and is often something that a lot of people don’t like to deal with. We like to keep things the same because then, for the most part, we know what to do and that makes us feel like we’re in control.
How many of you have had to change the operating system on your computer? I hate changing the operating system on my computer because I don’t feel like I’m in control for a couple of weeks until I figure it out. And I have been known to be very grumpy during that time, which is really stupid of me if you think about it, because I know I am going to eventually learn the operating system, and everything will be fine. I will regain control. But I don’t like those few days of not being in control. I resist changing the operating system even when I need to because I will not be in control.
Jesus walked in and asked the people of his hometown to change. Jesus said: Just because you’re following all these rituals and laws, doesn’t mean you are right with God. God doesn’t want you to stab your neighbor in the back, then go to the temple, make the atoning sacrifice, and think that that’s all you have to do, and then turn around and do the same thing the next week. God wants you to change your heart by getting to know and love your neighbors as you would love yourself, so you don’t have to make that atoning sacrifice to begin with. And by the way, you should love yourself, because God loves you.
But if you think about it, changing yourself into God’s Love is a really scary thing to do. Where are the rules I’m supposed to follow? What are the rituals that I am supposed to engage in? Where is the checklist so that I know I’m doing it right? I have nothing against boundaries; boundaries are good and they keep us from hurting each other. I have nothing against goals; goals are something that’ll allow us to chart a path forward and get walking on the path. But too often we substitute the rules, the rituals, the checklists, the boundaries, and the goals for actual one-on-one relating to God, to ourselves, and to each other.
That’s what Jesus was trying to cut through. Get back into relationships and love people. Love God, love yourself, love your neighbor. That comes first. The rules, the rituals, the checklists, the boundaries, the goals, are there to serve the relationships of love – not the other way around.
It is interesting that right after Jesus is rejected in his hometown he sends his disciples out on the road. I think he needed them to see that it was okay to be rejected, even by the people that you love before he let them go out on their own. That kind of un-success is not going to destroy you; and you can keep going when it happens.
Now are there a few interesting things about his sending out of the disciples. First of all he tells them to take the bare minimum of what they need. Many people when challenged to evangelize – and I don’t mean standing on the street corners and yelling at people that we don’t know – I mean simply talking about what God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit mean to us. Anyway, many people believe that you need some sort of special degree or training to evangelized properly. But Jesus didn’t say that his disciples needed fancy equipment. All the disciples took was a walking staff, a good pair of sandals, and a willingness to talk to people, learn about what they needed, where they were hurting, and heal their hurts with God’s message of love.
The second thing was that he sent them out in pairs. That’s interesting when you think about it. How many of us would like to get involved with a mission, or maybe go talk to someone, but we don’t feel brave enough to do it alone? But you don’t have to do it alone. Jesus sent people out as a team because he knew that his disciples would need support. Doing their mission work with each other would keep them from getting discouraged when things didn’t work out well, and would give them someone to celebrate their victories with when things worked out right. If you think about it, that’s really why a church, as a body of fellowship, gets created: because it’s an effective way to support each other in our learning about God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and to support each other in our efforts to do God’s work in the world.
After all, Jesus didn’t divide the disciples into pairs, send them to towns, and tell them to put up the building, set up an altar, and throw down a bunch of rituals that everybody would follow. That developed later as a way to express the fellowship and love in Christ.
Jesus told them simply to go out there, establish relationships with people, find out the hurting places in their lives, and heal them with the love of God. And to take care of, and love your fellow Christians while you’re doing it.
Oh, and the last thing he told them was: If you run into a situation, like I did in my hometown, and no one seems to want to hear what you’re talking about, or care about what you’re doing, don’t worry about it. Just shake the dust from your feet and move on. Jesus knew that his message wouldn’t be welcomed by everyone. Some people would be scared of it, some people wouldn’t believe it, and some people just wouldn’t to be ready to hear it. It’s not our job to reach everyone. It is our job to be there for those who are ready to be reached; for those who are looking for help and are willing to accept it. You don’t have to worry about saving the world; Christ all ready did that, and God ultimately has matters within his control, all you have to do is to do your bit and trust that He is going to complete the rest.
Remember that Paul said he was content with his weakness because he knew that with Christ, he was always strong. So get out there and start relating with Christ and his love, and you might find that the whole world is your hometown.