Mark 6:1-13 – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 8, 2012
How frustrating it is not to be taken seriously. I love telling the story of the 7-yr-old boy in the Sunday School class which was in the middle of their annual debate about which organizations to give their collected offering. There were several thoughtful ideas on the table: the local hospital’s pediatric emergency room, the interfaith food pantry, the Heifer Project… As each idea was offered, this little boy, whom I’ll call Johnny, known for his occasional lapses of attention and seemingly random outbursts [typical of someone his age forced to stay in a little chair in a small room on a Sunday morning instead of in his bed or outside playing], kept shouting “VINS! VINS!” The first few times, this seminarian Sunday School teacher paid no attention and instead patiently reminded the class as a whole that we were looking for organizations that reflected Christ’s mission to heal, to feed, to empower, and I continued to prompt them to think about God’s suffering people and God’s hurting planet and its creatures.
“VINS! VINS!” Again, I thought the enthusiasm coming from this little person’s mouth probably had little to do with what we were discussing and I wondered for a few seconds if perhaps he had a friend named Vinnie (maybe who even needed a little money). “VINS!” Finally, I stopped and said, “John, who is VIN?”
“Not VIN! VINS!”
“VINS’ what?” I asked in exasperation.
“VINS! Vermont Institute of Natural Science! They heal birds with broken wings and animals that are injured! VINS! We can give the money to VINS!”
Turned out this little prophet frequented VINS whenever he visited his grandparents’ cabin in Vermont. Because of my preconceived notions about little Sunday School boys shouting out nonsense in the middle of class, I had paid no attention to him. The class voted to give a third of their offering to VINS.
We’ve all been there. Either we have not been taken seriously because of our age or gender or birth order or station in life, or we have discounted or completely ignored important messages because of our biases against the messenger.
Jesus goes back to his hometown in our scripture this morning and we just heard what happened. The Jesus they knew growing up in Nazareth, the son of Mary, the Jesus who may have done some carpentry work for them when he got older, the Jesus with the slew of brothers and sisters still in town, opens up the scroll in the synagogue and begins to teach and they’re astounded. Where did he get all this? And we read that “they took offense at him.” [In Luke’s version of this story, the people are filled with rage at what he says, run him out of the synagoge and try to drive him over a cliff.]
And because of their lack of belief in him and his message, he could do no deed of power. Author Barbara Brown Taylor likens Jesus’ situation to a match and a bunch of wet kindling. Jesus has the power, has the light, is able to ignite, but not when the people close themselves off to him.
So he heads out to the villages and he sends out his twelve disciples to teach and preach and heal. His instructions to them are to bring nothing but a staff and sandals– no bread, no bag, no money in their belts and just one tunic. Could it be that Jesus, in his infinite wisdom, is not just advising his disciples to travel light physically, but also knows what can happen when our mental and emotional and historical baggage gets in the way.
How often have we heard of folks declining to attend their high school reunions or even family reunions or to visit their hometowns at all with the reason: “Oh no, there’s too much baggage there.” Having moved on, grown up, changed their lives, become fully engaged adults, they are aware that the folks “who knew them when” have a different idea of who they are: the kid who always got into trouble, or the one who could never get a date, or the one whose physical appearance dictated their social strata. And that’s the lens they still look through.
Maybe when Jesus sent out his disciples, he knew that they were better off carrying or wearing nothing that would give folks a clue as to what they did for a living or where they were from, because it would get in the way – excess baggage that would distract their listeners from the essence of Jesus’ message. “Who are these guys to tell us to repent? Why should we listen to fishermen, from Galilee no less?”
Folks, we’re all guilty of it. We look at what people drive, what they have, what they drink, what they wear, what they read, and we think we have them all figured out. We look at political party affiliation, we look at religious affiliation and, rather than settle in and listen and learn something, we take offense. We hear an accent different from our own – foreign or domestic (!) – and then have to work through our incorrect assumptions about intelligence and capability.
And whether it’s us carrying the baggage of bias or we are at the receiving end of being pre-judged and misunderstood, there can be no deeds of power. There can be no deeds of power if the matches are dry and the kindling is wet or if the kindling is dry and the matches are wet.
This morning we are invited to examine ourselves from both perspectives. What judgments trail through our brains when we see hooded sweatshirts, or birkha head coverings, or baseball caps worn backwards? What opinions have we already formed when the SUV drives by or the BMW or the Harley? Are we still stuck in our juvenile assessments of our siblings? Do we still rely on our early parental assessments of our children who are now grown with kids of their own?
And from the other side, do our possessions and habits reflect who we truly are? Do our endeavors mirror the image of God in which we are created? Are we trying our best to live out who we truly are? Or are we covering up our identities as children of God with so much baggage? Baggage from the past, baggage heavy with the temptations of this culture, baggage loaded up with all the things we need to put forth a persona that really isn’t us?
Friends, Jesus tells us to drop it. Leave it at home. Carry with you just enough to let people know that you are a child of God, a follower of Jesus, a seeker of his Way, and be courageous enough to invite them to do the same. That’s right, my sisters and brothers, we are called by Jesus away from all our baggage of every kind to proclaim the gospel in deed AND in word. To share with others in our own individual way that the time has come for all of us to be true to the image of God in which we are created and to cast out the demons of falsehood and fear, to bravely speak up for our neighbors in need everywhere – children, the poor, the oppressed in other nations, the exploited in every realm.
One of the identifying features of the Gospel of Mark is the continuous thread throughout of the question: Who is this Jesus? Who is this carpenter, this son of Mary? Who is this that even the seas obey him? Who is this laughable character who tells us that the child is not dead but only sleeping? Friends, through his death and resurrection and 2000 years of testimony, we know who Jesus is. But do we know who we are? And do we know when God is standing right in front of us – through the children we ignore, the seniors we discount, the political positions we write off, the immigrants we mistrust…? Can we clear away the baggage we carry to widen our view so that we are not unknowingly driving Jesus over a cliff?
Thank God the Holy Spirit moves among us. Thank God the Holy Spirit never ceases working within us. Thank God it is never too late to renew our faith, to renew our resolve to take our blinders off and take a good look at Jesus again, to remember who he is and who he calls us to be and that through him we can shout and be heard and with his help we can listen for and recognize his truth coming from the most unlikely people. May we travel light for both reasons. Amen.