Monday, July 6, 2015

Without Honor

(A sermon based on Mark 6:1-13 & 2 Corinthians 12:1-10; preached on July 5, 2015)

I've recently moved back to my home territory after forty years away. I have during those forty years functioned as a prophet, if by “prophet” you mean “preacher.” In the places where I have lived and served during those four decades I have been known as the pastor, as the preacher, or as the professor. I have been called “Rev. Ruffin” or “Dr. Ruffin” or “Pastor” or “Preacher.”

Now, though, when I am with my family or with my old friends, I am just “Mike.” I’m the cousin or the nephew or the schoolmate. Some of those folks are aware of who I have been and of what I’ve been doing, but some aren’t. Some of them think they know what it means for me to be a pastor and preacher, but their assumptions are wrong. Some of them know that I’ve changed over the years, that I’m not the same Mike who left all those years ago. Some of them will be disappointed when they find out who I have become.

I try to imagine becoming pastor to the people with whom I grew up and to the people who helped to raise me. It’s not hard to picture them, were I really to challenge their ways of thinking and living, saying to themselves and to each other, “Who does he think he is, anyway? How dare he think that he can talk to us that way!” Oh, they might be a little impressed at first that the hometown boy made good, but it wouldn’t take long for their supposed familiarity to breed contempt, probably because they would think that my familiarity with them was breeding contempt for them.

Jesus had returned to Nazareth, the town in which he had been raised. His public ministry had gotten off to a pretty good start and now he was bringing the good news that he embodied to his hometown. He went to the local synagogue—to the equivalent of his home church—and there he preached. At first people were impressed at his wise words and mighty deeds, but then they got to thinking about it. “Now wait a minute—isn’t this little Jesus who used to run around the neighborhood? Isn’t he Mary’s boy? Why, his brothers and sisters still live around here and they’re as average as you and I are. Wasn’t he a carpenter? Who does he think he is, anyway?”

So Jesus said, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Sadly, because the people in Nazareth didn’t believe in him, he wasn’t able to have much positive effect on their lives.

The problem was that they had known Jesus in the ordinary things of life and so they could not believe that anything extraordinary could come to them through him. Really, though, their thinking was all wrong; their entire premise was off base. While Jesus was truly extraordinary, and it was a shame that they couldn’t see that, they were wrong in thinking that the extraordinary could not come to them through the ordinary, that the holy could not come to them through the regular, and that the divine could not come to them in the human.

It’s interesting that the very next thing reported by Mark is Jesus sending his disciples out to carry out his ministry in his name; they were to reach out to people with their words and with their actions, just like Jesus was doing. He told them to go without more than basic provisions, to stay with whoever would have them, and, if they were rejected, just to move on. They were not to try to look more successful than they were or to appear stronger than they were. They were to be ordinary people sharing an extraordinary message and bearing an extraordinary grace.

I often hear people in small churches say, “We’re just a small church.” You may be a small group. You have ordinary buildings and your congregation is certainly made up of ordinary people. But I you are a small church, don’t think for a minute that the Lord is not using you; don’t think for a minute that your words and your actions don’t matter. Don’t think for a minute that your very presence is not an important witness to your community.

It’s true that we live in a culture that values the large, the grand, the powerful, the rich, the showy, and the successful. It’s true that a lot of people won’t see that God is speaking and working through the familiar and ordinary witness of this church and of thousands of other churches like it. And that’s a shame.

Some of us may regret our ordinariness and may bemoan our weaknesses. Remember, though, that the Lord Jesus sends us out to live our lives and to carry out our mission of sharing his love and grace. Remember that God’s strength was never more present in Jesus than when he died on the cross. Remember that God’s power is seen in our weakness. Remember that God honors what the world doesn’t.

The hardest thing for a church to do is to be faithful in its witness right where it is. The hardest thing for a Christian to do is to be faithful in her witness right where she is. That’s because we have to trust that God’s extraordinary grace and love are being lived out in our ordinary day to day lives.

Such simple, loving, consistent, sacrificial living will leave us without honor here.

But our Father who sees in secret will reward in secret . . .