Psalm 48, Mark 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.  On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded.  They said, “Where did this man get all this?  What is this wisdom that has been given to him?  What deeds of power are being done by his hands!  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”  And they took offense at him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching.  He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.  He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.  He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.  If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”  So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.  They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

The Word of God for the People of God.

            Thanks be to God.

We all have to figure out in our own ways where HOME is, and what that means for us.    How are you the same little kid that grew up wherever and however you grew up?  And how are you, as we grow older, maybe move, maybe make some decisions, how are we quite different?  An important part of our identity is sorting out the relationship between all these things, bound in love and loss.  I was at the Outer Banks week before last with my wife’s family, and we made friends with locals who were trying to preserve some of the history of the original stretch of homes on Nags Head.  They spoke of their concern that the new people coming in building fancy homes wouldn’t care for the place like they cared for it.  We tend to be unsure of people not our own kin, not our own kind, who aren’t from the same place, which means often something resembling trusting they care about the same things you care about.  My wife often makes fun of how my southern accent dips a little more when we go back to Black Mountain.  Perhaps I don’t want to seem to have forgotten where I came from, where HOME truly is.

Jesus went home and wasn’t met with a welcome party.  Everyone in the small town of Nazareth, my friend Meg writes, knows this carpenter, who wouldn’t have been a builder of houses, but someone who made doorframes or farm tools. Jesus was a kind of local craftsman, stationed lower than the educated class.[1]  He doesn’t slide into the back pew in the synagogue but begins to teach – who does he think he is?  Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary…look, his brothers, his sisters – we know his people.  They took offense at him, Mark says, were scandalized, found him a stumbling block, suspicious.  Jesus knew this, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their own hometown…”  He could do no deeds of power there, though he healed a few who were sick.  His power was somehow muted by the people’s unbelief.

Regardless of what Jesus was met with back home, the work continued.  He called the twelve and sent them out with a partner, a buddy, gave His own authority over unclean spirits.  Travel light, Jesus says, take nothing with you, and don’t worry about hanging around if folks don’t listen.  Jesus drops in language, Lamar Williamson reminds us, that would have been familiar to them, the ‘shaking the dust off their feet’ part, a gesture observed by pious Jews when they came back from Gentile lands to symbolize separation from any clinging remnant of ritual defilement.  As Jesus acknowledged with disappointed wonder his rejection by his own people and moved on to other villages (in 6:6), so his emissaries – this is still Williamson – on this mission are enjoined not to tarry, seeking to persuade those who refuse the message, but to move on.[2]

I was struck anew in this text by how suspicious everyone is of each other.  Jesus goes home, people dismiss him.  The disciples go out, people aren’t sure they buy it.  It seems Jesus sends them out to expect the resistance to come.  Receive welcome when it’s offered, because you never know when it will come around again.  It makes me wonder if there’s something here for us because we are at a time that, unlike any time in my lifetime at least, in which we are so suspicious of each other.  We lead with it.  We are a people, a society, who are cynical and sarcastic and self-righteous.  We turn on the television, and the moment we know what channel it is we know what we think.  It seems as though almost every response we have to a news story depends on who is saying or doing what.  Every week there’s something one party is denouncing that they did the moment before when they were in power, or vice versa.  We slide into our boxes – it’s not just about political parties and the news – boxes about what we believe about who God is.  Our relationship with other Christians, other faiths.  We pick our team, pick our ideas, pick our opinions about how other people should do things, about what should happen around the church, or in the neighborhood.  We are both suspicious of others and supremely confident of our own ideas.  Because OUR are the right ones, aren’t they?

“On weeks (months, years),” Jill Duffield of The Presbyterian Outlook writes, “when every news report details violence, exclusion, a trampling of the weak, exploitation of the vulnerable, suffering upon suffering, shaking the dust off our feet seems almost impossible. Preaching, teaching, healing, anointing, confronting evil, casting out demons, what’s the use? Does our ministry make a difference?  Does our witness matter? … We’re hitting wall after wall, real or proposed. Our sandals are worn, our tunics stained, our feet and bodies and minds and spirits, weary. Maybe it would be best to give it up and go back home.  Feign illness so that the camp nurse calls our parents to come and fetch us.  Bury ourselves in the distractions of cell phones, laptops, like-minded Twitter rants and feel-good cat videos on Facebook.”[3]

This distraction piece is a big deal.  Former WPC member and retired NBC News correspondent John Dancy handed me a book some years back, Neil Postman’s 1985 book called, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” about the media’s effect on society.  It’s amazingly prescient.  In the foreword he contrasts George Orwell’s dark vision in the novel 1984 – that he was responding to in the following year – with that of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  “Orwell warns,” Postman writes, “that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression.  But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history.  As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books.  What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.  Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information.  Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.  Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us.  Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance….  As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.””[4]

Maybe we’re right to be suspicious, but not about the kinds of things we tend of be suspicious of.  Wouldn’t it be great if we were less suspicious of each other, people like us and less like us – on the surface, at least – and more suspicious of the apathy and complacency, the ‘endless appetite for distraction’ in our own hearts?  What if we could do a little better job listening to the ideas of others – because none of us, none of us, own truth?  Humility and compassion are so desperately needed in today’s world.  So desperately needed.  What if we could leave behind our baggage and bickering, old family fights that we get caught up in when we see them on summer vacation, grudges from long ago?  What if we could set all that stuff down in a pile at Jesus’ feet, then pair up, two by two, three by three, maybe a small committee, we’re Presbyterian, after all, and get our hands dirty loving our neighbors?

Today’s text doesn’t clean things up for us, or give us a solution.  In fact, the coming texts get worse before they get better.  The warning, though, is real.  Pay attention.  Engage.  Don’t disregard everyone but don’t let them get you down, either.  The work continues.  And God is ALWAYS in it.  In seasons of hurt in our world, in seasons of a heckuva lot of change around here.  God is always in it.  After this warning, Mark tells of their success.  “So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent,” he writes.  They cast out demons, visited people who were sick, bringing comfort and anointing them with oil.  They knew that their work, their love demonstrated for others, THAT was the true measure.  Through those actions, through the policies they made, through the ways they reached out and listened, or didn’t.  Through the ways they cared for the least of these, we’d know.  They’d know.  “They are the ones that follow that Jesus, aren’t they?”  They’ll say.  And we’ll be proud to be counted among their number, because we’ll meet others, as Christ meets us, not with suspicion, but grace.

May it be so.  May it be so.  All praise be to God.  Amen.

[1] The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), p 592.  I’m grateful to the Rev. Meg Peery McLaughlin for pointing me to this note in her paper on this text at The Well, Chicago, 2015.

[2] Lamar Williamson, Interpretation: Mark, (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983), p 120.

[3] From the Rev. Jill Duffield’s “Looking into the Lectionary – Jesus’ packing list,” received via email from The Presbyterian Outlook on July 2, 2018.

[4] Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 20th anniversary edition” (New York: Penguin, 1995), xix-xx.