Sermon for Mark 6: 1-13, Pentecost 5 B, "Home Town Unwelcome"

“Home Town Unwelcome” is a sermon interpretation of Mark 6: 1-13.   Any preacher,  pastor or prophet would love to be welcomed to their hometown with a sign like the following photo, with his or her name of course.         

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Its Friday night and Jesus was coming into his home town and home sanctuary.  Let me tell you, the service that night was jammed. There wasn’t room to park all the donkeys outside.  The donkeys circled the parkiing lot looking for a stall but there were no parking stalls to be found. The parking lot was full. There were so many people in church that they ran out of bulletins.  They put benches up in the center of the aisles.  It was crowded, because the “local rabbi made good” was coming back to town. 

Jesus came into the crowded service that night, and the worship service had an order much we like have on Sunday. They began with singing of songs, like we do, from their songbook, the book of Psalms.  Then they had a prayer, like we do.  Then they read from an Old Testament lesson, like we do, from the Law, the first five books of the Bible.  And then the guest of honor was to choose from any passage in the Old Testament prophets. The passage he chose revealed his core values.  So when Jesus chose to read from Isaiah 61, this passage symbolized his whole ministry.  He chose the following passage out of Isaiah which would then became the basis of his sermon that night.  Jesus read:  “The Lord God has appointed me to preach good news to poor people, to heal the blind and sick, to set free those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This passage from Isaiah 61 clearly outlined the important values in Jesus’ ministry.  That is why he selected Isaiah 61.   Jesus then closed the book. There was a looooong silence, and he said:  “These words are fulfilled in your hearing.”  Then he preached a sermon on that text, and afterwards, the Gospel of Luke says that “everyone spoke well of him and wondered at his gracious words.”  Others exclaimed, “Where did he get all of this!”  And still another said, “Where did he get so wise?” 

But yet there were others who murmured and grumbled, “Isn’t this the son of  Joseph who is sitting over there?  Isn’t this simply the carpenter’s kid? And aren’t those his brothers standing there, Judas, Joses, and Simon?  And aren’t those his sisters?  He is just the common kid from Nazareth.  You know, the kid who grazed our donkeys; who watered our oxen, who drew water from the well for us to drink. He is nothing but the carpenter’s kid. There is nothing too special about him.” 

And pretty soon, according to the passage, “they took offense at him.”  That is the key word of the text:  offense.  In Greek, it is “skandalon” from which we get the word, “scandal.”  Scandal also means “stumbling block.”   This is a key word, scandalon  or stumbling block, and we will talk about it later in the sermon.

Boiling waters began to brew. Some people in the synagogue were thinking: “He could do all those miracles there in Capernaum but he can’t do any miracles here in Nazareth.” And Jesus said, “A prophet is not accepted in his own home.  A prophet is not accepted in his own home congregation.  A prophet is not accepted in his own hometown.  The reason that I don’t do miracles here in Nazareth is because of your lack of faith.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus went onto to say, “The same happened to the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha. Elijah and Elisha could do no miracle in Israel because the people didn’t believe in in the power of God.  Elijah and Elisha had to go elsewhere, outside the bounaries of Israel, outside the borders of Israel, to find true faith.  Elijah went to Sidon to help a widow and Elisha went to Syria to heal the leper. These two prophets couldn’t find true faith in the Israelites; they had to go across the border to find true faith.”

And Jesus was amazed at their unbelief.

Jesus could have said, ” I don’t see any truth faith in this synagogue. You are more interested in “in doing religion” than doing justice.  You are more interested in my popularity and publicity than in the poor, maimed, blind and lame. You are more interested in a religious show than showing compassion for the poor. Yes, you do not exhibit the power of faith in  your lives.  

And the people were mighty mad at Jesus. They were honked off. They took deep offense at Jesus. They were mad at him. They were so offended by Jesus that according to the Gospel stories for today, they ran him out of the church.  They ran him right up to the edge of a high cliff and and push him over the edge and kill him. 

The congregational members had come in with such high expectations.  Jesus was on a huge religious roll; the church was jammed;  the parking lot was full; they ran out of bulletins, but by the end of the night, they were ready to kill the dude. 

Jesus must have said something that really got on their nerves.  What was it that Jesus said that offended them so deeply that in the Gospel of Luke, they took him up to a hilltop and tried to kill him?  What did Jesus say that was so offensive?  That is what I would like to try to get at in today’s sermon.  The key word is “offended.”  They were offended by Jesus!  What was it that he said that was an offense, a stumbling block for them?

When Jesus quoted Isaiah 61:1, that passage was about the Messiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor people.” The “me” in that sentence was the Messiah. Jesus was saying that he was none other than the long expected Messiah and that REALLY offended them.

The hometown folk couldn’t believe that one of their own children could actually be a prophet.  Jesus was suggesting that he was even more than a prophet.  He was claiming that he was the long awaited Messiah, and the people weren’t ready to accept him.   “Come on.  He watered our donkeys.  He cleaned our yards.  He grazed our donkeys.  No way he could be a prophet.  How can this Jesus-guy come back and be even more than a prophet, the Messiah?  Not little Jesus of Nazareth.  Not the little Jesus boy that we used to go fishing with and swimming with and hiking with.  Not the little neighborhood boy who delivered our papers. How could God come in such a common and ordinary way as to come through Jesus of Nazareth?  Jesus certainly doesn’t measure up to our expectations of what it means to be a messiah.”

The people there that day were offended by the Incarnation, that God actually became a human being.  That was the scandal, the stumbling block.

O yes, we believe in the divine moral law of the universe that people of all cultures must obey. All cultures of the world have an implicit moral law.  We believe that.

O yes, we believe that there is spirituality found in all cultures. All cultures of the world throughout history have had temples of worship. In all cultures of history, people pray to The Divine. The human species if inherently spiritual.

O yes, we believe in the creator of the universe, the creator of the sun, moon and stars.

A God of morality, spirituality and creativity is more plausible for our minds.   But to believe that God could come to us through a human being is pushing it.  And that is what so deeply offended the people.  The Incarnation:  that God would come in the flesh of a man they knew, a man by the name of Jesus from the town of Nazareth

But I would like to take it a step further.  I have been thinking, and I would like to give you a series of examples where we continue to be offended that God comes to us in such a common and ordinary way.  For example, this happened recently, as recently as a week ago, a month ago, a year ago, or yesterday.  It has happened to many times.  A man and I went out for lunch, to talk privately. .  He told me he was having an affair with another woman. His wife didn’t know about it. He and his wife hadn’t gotten along :”forever.” He was looking for direction.   It was clear to me what was going on. He asked:  “What do you think that God wants me to do?”  And so I told him.  “It seems to me that this is God wants you to do: cut off the affair and make up your marriage with your wife.”  And she replied, “I just wish God would tell me what to do.”  …He and i get together a second time. He explains the problem a second time, and says, “I wish that God would tell me what to do.”  I tell him what he needs to do.  He doesn’t hear.  A third time the scene is repeated.  “I am having problems with an affair and I wish God would tell me what to do.”  I tell him what it seems that he should do, and he says, “I wish God would speak directly to my life and tell me what to do.”  And I finally said:  “Hey, friend, God has been talking directly to you, but you aren’t listening.”  And he said, “No, I want God really to talk to me.”  I say, “Friend, God has really been talking to you.”  He said, “No, I want to hear God’s voice.”  I said, “You just did.”  But somehow, it offended him that God could come in such a common and ordinary way as a parish pastor. 

Let me give you a second example where God comes to us so commonly that we don’t hear God.  This one really bothers me.  God comes through a person or persons as near to us as …our family members.  I only wish God would chose someone else….I only wish that God would chose someone other than my wife, my husband.  Perhaps God could pick somebody else to talk to me. Not her again.  Why couldn’t God talk to me through some pastor like O’Neal or Markquart.  Not merely my spouse.  How come my wife knows me so well that she knows the will of God for my life?  She doesn’t sound like God.  She doesn’t look like God.  She doesn’t act like God.  But consistently, God speaks to my life through my wife, through your spouse.

And the only thing worse than having God speak to you through your spouse is to have God speak to you through your teenage daughter.  Yes, I said teenage daughter.  In years past, my daughter Anne would say to me after I lost my temper:  “Dad, you are getting just like Grandpa Markquart.”  Now, that was not a compliment.  And I wish that God would find some other way to talk with me about my temper.  Give me a sermon, God.  You don’t have to talk to me through my teenage daughter. 

And so what I am trying to suggest to you is that God consistently comes to us and talks to us in common and ordinary ways, so much so, that we often don’t even hear the voice of God.  Instead, we are looking for the divine symmetry of the universe or the moral laws behind various cultures or something spiritual which is found in all human beings. 

But let’s take a look at the Gospel of Luke and Jesus’ comments that true faith was to be found in Sidon and Syria, outside the boundaries of Israel. Elijah could not find true faith among the widows of Israel but found true faith outside the borders, outside the boundaries of Israel. Similarly with the prophet Elisha, he could not find true faith among the lepers in Israel but found true faith in Namaan, the Syrian. The people were deeply offended that true faith was found outside the borders of “true blue” Judaism. .

What does this mean for us today?

I would like to suggest to you that true faith can be found outside the walls of this congregation, outside the boundaries of Lutheranism, outside the borders of Christianity. The true faith can be found in Muslims, Buddhists and Hindues. Outside the Christian borders. I can hear some of you gasp right now at such a thought, that true faith can be found outside of our Christian borders. That is what this part of the story is all about.

We find that thought elsewhere in the story of Jesus. Jesus found true faith in a Roman centurian who was not a Jew nor a follower of the Jewish religion. Jesus found true love in a the good Samaritan who was not a “true blue Jew” but was of the wrong religion and wrong faith. Samaritan were not considered “believers in the true God.” Jesus also found true faith in Syrophoencian woman. Persistently Jesus found true faith not outside the boundaries of Judaism and certain narrow minded Jews wanted to lynch Jesus for saying such a thing. Talk about offensive. That guy ought to be eliminated!

Rev. Edward Markquart’ s sermon was edited by MD