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The Welcome of Jesus

Pastor Kati's sermon from worship on July 7, 2024

Mark 6: 1-13 (CEB)

Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him. On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.

Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. He was appalled by their disbelief. Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching.

He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts. 10 He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. 11 If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. 13 They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.

This is the Word of the Lord, thanks be to God.

This week my sister and 17 other adults and youth will travel to Polička, CZ for the 20th anniversary of our first English Camp done in partnership between my previous Oklahoma presbytery and the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren in Polička. Most of those 20 years there has been a summer camp and they continue to have enrollment of over 100 kids and around 30-40 Czech volunteers who help translate and lead the children to their classes and lunch. All of the Americans stay in homes as visitors. This means the Czech volunteers have to find 10 or so families who are willing and have space to host one or two Americans for 10 days. Then after that, different families host the Americans  throughout the week for dinner. That requires a lot of hospitality for people who speak a different heart language than you, have different cultural traditions and food preferences than you do, and are sometimes completely foreign to you. While I was there, I encountered a lot of people who had enjoyed a lot of travel, so they had a fair amount of openness and curiosity. I was shocked to learn that most of them had always lived in the same town. In fact, I quickly noticed that many people live with their parents or grandparents, simply because that is the culture. Your family house could be built with two or three stories so that family members could live or stay when they needed. Perhaps you have seen that in your travels or encounters with other countries, because you’ve discovered that many cultures have families which are interconnected and rely on each other much more than the normative white culture in our country. We have a sort of independence wrapped up in our educational system and socioeconomic systems, such that many of us have been raised to follow our career and that sometimes takes us away from our hometown.

You don’t have to be a prophet to be rejected in your hometown when you have been gone for a significant period. The town changes and we change. We may not seem to fit anymore if we resist the changes made in the town or vice versa. In this way, we might all be able to relate or at least form an understanding of what Jesus went through when he was rejected in his hometown…but this familiarity with rejection softens the sharpness of this experience.

This was not a normal experience for a Palestinian Jew of his time. Villages and religious communities were closely interconnected and especially families. These were people who raised him. They were as much his biological family as his blood relatives. These were not neighbors and casual acquaintances that were rejecting him. These were his mentors, his teachers, his baby sitters, his classmates, and maybe even childhood friends. These were the people who were supposed to love him no matter what. They could not bear to hear a message of change from him, because they were all wrapped up in their own emotions.

Matthew Skinner, New Testament Scholar, teaching at Luther Seminary, suggests:

“When the crowd refers to him without referring to his father, they may be emphasizing that this grown son has left a widowed mother and siblings to fend for themselves while he travels around Galilee leading a movement.“

Jesus is unwelcome in his hometown of Nazareth.

They reject him, because he had rejected his family members when he left home, and when they reached out to him later, as captured earlier in the gospel of Mark.

Hospitality and welcome is central to the gospel of Jesus as he relies on the openness of people to welcome him and his followers into their homes and around their tables.

and this passage reminds us that not everyone welcomed Jesus.

Jesus welcomes all people, but for those people to rest, serve, and be served, they must be open to certain criteria.

They must believe in the goodness of God over the requirements of the law. They must believe in the power of God to save, over the power of God to punish. They must believe in God's power to renew life and forgive sins, over the power of God to end life and distribute retribution.

When the people we love refuse to see us in the freedom and love we have found in Christ, or when they reject our experience of Jesus because it does not match their experience of Jesus, it hurts. It weighs on us, and it can stick to us like dust and dirt caked to the feet of a person walking from town to town without finding a welcome place to wash up.

Rev. Jonah P. Overton speaks about the power of this passage for those who have been rejected from their communities because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. They speak about this experience in their commentary on Mark 6 as part of the Queering the Bible series produced by Unbound. Our FPC Pride Group has been walking through this study which features ministers who identify in the LGBTQIA family. Rev. Overton (they/them) is a community organizer, creator of the podcasts “Jonah & the Peacock” and “Christian Queeries,”, and the lead pastor of Zao MKE Church in Milwaukee, WI. As a young queer and trans clergy person, Jonah has been called into ministry to build the church as queer space and organize communities and churches towards justice and liberation. 

They describe the experience of Jesus as very similar to the welcome received by queer folk who return home with a fuller understanding of themselves and encounter a rejection from people they respected and considered as mentors. Overton says, "Too many of us know this story in the pit of our stomachs, the catch in our throats. Despite the structures that demand our performance of straightness, of cis-ness, of the binary, we somehow found an out. We discovered closeness, connection, identity, and language for who we truly are. We find our true kin and we choose one another. And then we go home. We try to explain the miracles we’ve experienced. Some are amazed. Some merely surprised. Some scandalized. Some repulsed. They built those closets for us, and they won’t let us so easily leave the wreckage. Who are we anyway, to tell them what it means to be free? To be whole? That might require them to examine their surroundings, to see their role in our captivity – or worse, in their own.

Then Rev. Overton encourages us to “find validation and rest in what Jesus says next: “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.”"

When you are rejected by your family or by a group of friends or by a whole village or city, Jesus is not calling you to find a way to be accepted. Jesus calls you to speak the gospel, share about the transformative power of God that you have experienced and then move on to a place where this same message can bring life, nourishment, transformation, and belonging to another household, another community. Don’t feel the pressure to endure your feet caked with dust because no one will wash your feet and welcome you into their home, shake off the dust and go where God can use you.

God has a place for you, God has a people for you.

So if you are one who strongly identifies with this experience of rejection, may you also hear the encouragement of Jesus saying, “I have a different household and a loving community for you. Keep walking and shake it off.”

If you have never felt that pang of severe rejection, or if you have found the freedom to remain in your hometown throughout your life, consider what it might take to offend you and compel you to reject someone you once treasured. Would it free your heart to be moved and transformed by God to allow that person to move on and continue their life how God leads?

Or could it bring you more freedom, to open your heart and your home to this person, to listen to their story, to listen for God’s movement in their story, and be open to seeing God in a new way through them…what would it take?

Let us pray for those who have been rejected, for those who have recently rejected loved ones, for those who have found the strength to say goodbye in love, and for those who have found the courage to say, "In the name of Jesus, welcome, let me wash your feet."

Let us pray.

Welcoming and sending God, you call to us on the road and you call to us in our homes. You call us into a faith that joins with other people. Help us to be open. Help us to dust off the old dirt from our hearts and minds. Help us to welcome the stranger into our hearts. Help us to follow in your ways and expect hospitality in the world, if not from others, from our own hearts, in the name of Jesus, Amen.

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