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.
This text is an uncomfortable one. Maybe, like me, it makes you ask a lot of questions like, “Where is Jesus coming from? Why did he leave?” “Why were the people in the synagogue astounded as the scripture says?” “Why does their attitude seem to suddenly shift from amazement to disbelief?” “Why do they point to his family and professions as negative implications?” Why are prophets rejected in their hometowns and by the people who are close to them?” or, “Why couldn’t Jesus do miracles there?” or even more poignantly, “Why does verse 5 say he could do no power there except heal a few sick people?” There are SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. Many pastors and scholars are themselves asking these very questions. When I felt God leading me to preach on this text, I kept asking myself, “What is the point? What am I supposed to say to your people, God?”
There is an online commentary blog that I sometimes read when I am preparing for a sermon and Rev. Mark Hoffman chose to highlight verses 2-3 and focus on the question, “Why does the crowd’s perception of Jesus so suddenly shift?” He asks:
Did they wonder if Jesus was ‘crazy smart,’ and then decide that he was just crazy? Earlier in Mark 3:21, Jesus’ own family had come to get him because they thought Jesus had lost his mind. In verse 2, the people ask, “Where did this man get all this?” Did they decide, like the scribes in Mark’s first chapter, that Jesus had been sent by some evil source? Was this dynamic shift because of socio-econimic systems in place at the time? Jesus did, after all, live in a time and place where who you were at birth determined who you would be until you died. Is the shift connected to the community’s perception of who Jesus’ family was? After all, to be a carpenter was to be a low-status manual laborer. And he is named here as the son a Mary, a reminder that there were questionable circumstances surrounding Mary’s pregnancy.
In the well-loved paraphrase version of the Bible, The Message, the people ask the question, “Who does this man think he is?!” Maybe some of you have faced those kind of questions when you find yourself doing well. When I got accepted to Princeton, I got a lot of those questions. Who did I think I was to go off to a fancy new place with fancy new people and try to be something more?
And in Mark, this question of who Jesus is is super important! There is this thing that biblical scholars talk a lot about called “The Messianic Secret” which is a fancy way of saying that at every turn, the people in this Gospel are question who Jesus is and where he gets his power, and whenever someone starts to get it right, starts to get that Jesus is the Messiah come to turn things upside down and right the world’s wrongs, Jesus says, “Zip it! Not yet!”
But what about the question of Jesus power here? Why couldn’t Jesus perform miracles? Well, I honestly don’t have the answer. But I do think it’s a question that we should be wrestling with. Getting into the nitty-gritty of Scripture is supposed to leave us a little haunted, leave us unable to sleep at night because we’re torn up with not knowing the answers. Belief isn’t easy. It’s hard and it’s messy. But what do I keep telling you about the mess? Jesus reaches down into the dirty, messy, grimy parts of our lives, takes our hands, and helps us to stand again. Right?
So what is the text doing here that is going to enable Jesus to help us stand? Maybe for some of you today, God is just trying to whet your appetite, to make you so hungry for answers that you dig into your Bibles with fervor. Maybe God is asking us to look for the point of it all. Maybe some of you are like 13 year old me, searching for the reason that God keeps waking you up day after day.
Personally, I think God is asking me to wrestle with this question of what a “deed of power” is. What does the text mean by that? Is a deed of power a miracle as so many people think it is? If so, what are the miracles Jesus cannot do? Because the scriptures say that Jesus is able to heal some people. Were those people who were exceptions to the rule? Were there a few within the community who did accept Jesus?
Maybe it’s our understanding of which things that Jesus is doing that qualify as miracles that have to rethink in this story. Maybe the miracle isn’t Jesus’ healing power, although that is certainly a miracle. Maybe what we understand as Jesus’ healing power is what we have to rethink. Maybe it isn’t making the blind man see again that is the real miracle. Maybe it isn’t curing people of leaprosy and possession. Maybe, what the real healing power of Jesus is, is his ability to lift us out of our circumstances, to lift us out of what our communities and our societies and cultures expect of us. Maybe Jesus’s real miracle is his ability to raise us above all of that, and to give us new hope and new visions for the future. Maybe’s Jesus’s real healing power is the way that he brings us out of brokenness and back into relationships with one another and with God.
Jesus says that all of the law of the Old Testament can be boiled down to two things: 1) Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind. And 2) Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Jesus also says that he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it.
Maybe the real miracle that Jesus brings into each of our lives when he performs deeds of power is the way he enables us to rejoin our communities, to reform healthy and vibrant and loving relationships with God and with each other. When Christ healed the demoniac, Christ sent the newly healed man back home, back to the people who rejected him, who tried to tie him down with chains and with shakles, and who banished him to live among the tombs. Christ sent sent the healed man back home and empowered him to love his neighbor as himself as an extension of the loving relationship that Christ built with him.
Maybe that’s the point. Maybe that’s the real deed of power that the people of Jesus’ hometown missed out on. Whether it is because of fear or perception or the way that Jesus sometimes makes us uncomfortable, when we reject Jesus, we miss out on healthy and vibrant and truly loving relationships with God and with each other. Because Jesus is the only person who has ever died for me. Jesus is the only person in all of history that was able to take on the sin of all of history and wash it away.
Friends, the Good News of the Gospel is this: Jesus loves you so much, that he doesn’t care who you think you are, or who your community thinks you are, because Jesus knows that you are a child of God and you were worth getting messy for. You are worthy of healthy and vibrant and loving relationships with God and with each other. So don’t be afraid. Listen for when Jesus knocks at the door to your heart. Be ready for Jesus to pull you up and help you stand, because he can and will and he already is. Amen.
 Paraphrase of Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman’s article, “Commentary on Mark 6:1-13,” from Workingpreacher.org. Found on July 24, 2015.
Today I spent a few hours working with an organization called Gifts in the Moment. Gifts in the Moment is focused on bringing healthy, accessible produce to the Peoria, IL. They work to provide “Healthy Access Initiatives” which seek to further the mission of improving access to fresh produce and enabling the community to better understand how and why to partake.
A few weeks ago, I met with two amazing women from the organization who told me about where and why this project got started. I, in turn, told them my own connection to food justice related projects and the way that God has shown me over the last 8-9 months that food justice is not only important to me, but will play a role in my future ministry. I told them that not only did I want to learn about what they were doing in Peoria and the way they make it all happen, but to also build connections between their organization and the church I am interning at this summer. Plus, I was really looking to get some time in the gardens during my tenure in the community.
They were more than willing to put me to work, and to work with me and the church as much as they were able. They said they got together to wash veggies every Tuesday that will then go out in their Mobile Food Van for the CSA and that I would be welcome to come help out anytime. Today I was finally able to take them up on that offer.
It. Was. Glorious.
I spent three hours washing onions and green beans and potatoes. I didn’t talk much to the other volunteers, because, believe it or not, I am actually fairly shy around new people, but I spent that time praying over those vegetables. Now, maybe that sounds a little funny, praying over vegetables. It felt a little odd at first, I’ll admit, but I felt God asking me to pray, so I did. The prayers I uttered went something like this:
Lord, bless this potato/onion/bean. Bless the belly that it lands in. Bless the life that it will nurture and sustain. Lord, in your mysterious ways, use this potato/onion/bean to further your kingdom. Use it to draw your children into relationships with you and with each other, Lord. Amen.
I could feel God calling me to pray for his children, for the ways that this food would shape their lives and their communities, for this organization’s continued ability to help change the way that the people in Peoria interact with food. I hope that my prayers make an impact, but even if they do not change the world, it felt good to hold the people of Peoria and the food that will help nourish their bodies in prayer, because, in doing so, I held them in my heart.
I encourage you to get involved in a community garden or a food justice initiative in your city. I also encourage you to pray over the food that will impact that people in your area. Not only can it have real effects in the lives of others, but I guarantee that it will impact the way you interact with your neighborhood and community. When you pray for something, you are truly loving it. So go, love your neighbors.
I spent the last week with a group of 36 youth and 12 adult volunteers doing mission work in a little town called Pacific, MO. It was a real blessing to be able to join the group on their trip and to have the opportunity to develop some relationships with the youth and with the adult leaders. Two of my co-workers from the church were on the trip and I think we talked more on the trip than we have in several weeks of working together. I think it was helpful on both sides of the equation to begin to see the other person as just that, a person.
The trip was a huge blessing in several ways. First, it allowed me experience a youth mission trip as an adult leader. Being only 24 and having not been regularly and consistently connected to a church that had a vibrant youth group during my college years, this really was my first opportunity to take on that kind of leadership role for a trip such as this. I think I learned a lot!
Even more than that, though, I was reminded of my first mission trip and the ways that that experience was formative for my spiritual and adolescent development. My first mission trip took place in the summer of 2004, the summer before my 8th grade year, in Bull Hollow, OK. We spent a week doing home repairs in that are through a United Methodist Church affiliated with the Cherokee Nation and working with the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tahlequah, OK. It was an amazing experience, and it is probably the experience that got me hooked on going to youth group. My best friends were all on the trip, the Bestie, the FellowNerd, FellowNerd’s big brother, the Third Musketeer, and the Cool Guy. There might have been others on the trip. In fact, I am almost certain that there were, but I can’t remember who else was there.
And the Fiercest Female Pastor I’ve ever met led the charge. She was amazing! I think that having the opportunity on that trip to bond with her had a lot to do with my ability to hear and respond to The Call to ministry as it un-folded over the next year. That would have been the summer right after the Big Sis moved out, and I think the Fierce Female Pastor knew I needed extra care during that time.
I remember so many seemingly unimportant details about that trip. I remember the Fierce Female Pastor teaching us how to french braid hair (which I am still terrible at), and how to do it so that the bride looked like it was inside out. I remember listening to a LOT of Avril Lavigne and my first introductions to Blink 182 and Weird Al. I remember eating something called Walking Tacos, which were delicious! I remember playing Cranium for the first time and how FellowNerd’s big brother was on my team and how he still guessed correctly when I confused the songs “Lean on Me” and “Stand by Me.” So many of these details seem so unimportant, but when I think of them, they make my heart sing. It’s indescribable the love and fondness connecting me to these people and moments even across so much time.
I hope that last week will resonate in the hearts of at least a few of the youth that went with us. I hope that it continues to resonate with me, continues to shape and mold my heart, the way that the trip to Bull Hollow began shaping my heart 11 years ago. I pray that the experiences that those youth had deeply impacted them and opened their hearts to the possibility of what God has in store for them.
I think it will be a long time before I stop praying for them.
I know that I only just said that this blog would henceforth be dedicated to sermons and liturgically related works, but tonight I find myself in the need to write.
Two months ago, almost exactly, I contacted my soon-to-be Field Ed supervisor to check in on the status of my housing arrangements for my summer in Peoria (where I am interning as part of my seminary education). You see, a critical part of my contract with the church in Peoria is that the church provide rent free or low rent housing for the summer, so that I don’t end up spending more in housing costs than the small stipend I will be receiving at the end of the summer. Much to the delight of me and my supervisor, the best possible candidate stepped forward. An elderly couple, Glenn and Dee, a retired reverend and his wife, offered their guest room and bathroom, as well as access to the rest of their home, for my use this summer.
This was as beneficial for them as it was for me, because they would be leaving for Uruguay just days before I was to arrive in Peoria, so I could act as live-in house sitter–watering plants, collecting mail, etc–while they were away. Glenn and Dee would spend six or so weeks serving as interim pastors to a church in Uruguay that Glenn had been the pastor of years ago. Glenn and Dee have had many such adventures in their lifetime. They have served in appointments all over the world! Unfortunately, I was only able to spend a few hours with Glenn and Dee on my drive home at the end of the spring semester, so I have only heard a few of their many tales so far.
But now tragedy has struck.
Two days ago, I received word that Glenn had had to have emergency surgery. It seems that when Glenn had his appendix removed as a young man the scar tissue left on his small intestine cause the intestine to burst a few years later. They repaired it then and Glenn hadn’t thought much of it for decades, but sometime over the course of the past week, that old wound reopened. Being a much older man, and being in less than optimal circumstances in Uruguay, Glenn’s prognosis was grim.
Still, his spirits held. The church rallied together to hold a prayer vigil and the staff has tried to stay as up-to-date as international phone calls and emails could allow.
But it was not enough. It was, as it turns out, Glenn’s time to go home to the Lord.
I received word about an hour and a half ago that Glenn had passed.
And I sit here with so many emotions reeling around in my head. I don’t know what to do or what to say. I don’t know if I am more upset than I should be or not upset enough. I both feel as though I didn’t know him at all and, because I have been living in their home for five weeks, as though I am intimately connected to him and this family. I wonder whether it is more appropriate for me to stay to comfort and care for Dee when she returns, or to give her privacy to mourn and find somewhere else to stay for my remaining weeks in Peoria. I wonder whether it is inappropriate for me to leave on Sunday for the youth mission trip (probably not entirely, but I also don’t have much of a choice this late in the game). I feel majorly uncomfortable with the fact that I am sitting in their home mourning for this loss and they are not here.
There is so much about this situation that is unique and bizarre. There is so much than in unexpected and even now unpredictable.
These are not circumstances that a seminary education can prepare you for.
I’m not sure that anything could have prepared me for these circumstances.
And yet, ultimately, this is not about me. This is about a woman who has lost her husband, about children who have lost their father and grandfather, about congregations around the world who have lost a dear friend and brother. The world has lost a dear, dear saint of God today. And, I think, that ultimately I sit here with tears rolling down my face likes rivers, because I have lost the opportunity to hear about an amazing life of extraordinary ministry from one of the most wonderful men I will have the chance to encounter in this life.
Glenn, as I join with you family and friends to face the coming days, I am brought hope in this thought: You have touched my life in remarkable ways in such a short time and with limited access to one another and I can only imagine the depth of impact that you have had on the people you have know. When my time comes, I hope to have even a fraction of that impact on the world.
My dear friend, may God bless you and keep you. May God make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you. May God give you final and everlasting peace.