Sermon by The Rev. Pat Wingo
Sunday, July 8, 2018
Thank you for listening to this week’s sermon on Ascensioncast. The sermon is published weekly along with other periodic programming from Church of the Ascension. Below you can find the Gospel and Sermon texts from this past Sunday. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gospel Text: Mark 6:1-13
Jesus 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.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
Sermon Text: Jesus Went Home by The Rev. Pat Wingo
Jesus went home, St. Mark tells us in today’s Gospel. Home—that place where, as Robert Frost once put it, when you go there, they have to take you in. Obviously the people of Nazareth hadn’t been reading Frost, and they weren’t at all inclined to take Jesus in.
I wonder what the people in Nazareth saw when they looked at Jesus? He had been gone for a while, but they clearly knew him very well—at least they thought they did. “Isn’t this Mary’s son?” they said to one another. They looked at him and saw the kid they had known when he was growing up. They saw the boy who had played with their kids in the streets in Nazareth; they saw the young man who had learned how to be a carpenter in his father’s shop; they saw the oldest of five brothers and several sisters.
But they also saw something they did not recognize. St Mark tells us that the people in Nazareth saw Jesus doing deeds of power. They saw that he was full of wisdom—wisdom that he could not have picked up in an out-of-the-way place like Nazareth. They were, St. Mark tells us, astounded, and somehow, because of their unbelief, Jesus couldn’t really reach them with the reality of God’s Kingdom breaking into their lives.
I want you to imagine Church of the Ascension as Jesus’ hometown. You are residents who have known Jesus over the years—after all, you hear about him here in your hometown every week, you know all the stories about him. Imagine Jesus, here with us. What do you see when you look at him? Is he someone you believe you know pretty well? Do you know him so well that there is no possibility that he can bring something new into your life? If Jesus were to do a “deed of power” as the gospel lesson describes it right here in your hometown, how would that make you feel? Would you be astonished, or uneasy, or is it something you find yourself hoping for? Is Jesus someone you have all figured out, put into his proper place like everyone else here in his hometown?
Here’s the real question—when you hear his words, do you believe him? Are you ready, as Frost said, to take him in?
Here is what Jesus is saying to us, here in his hometown of Church of the Ascension: He is saying that God loves us, and that he can show us that love. He is saying that we all have scars, we all have open wounds, both internal and external, and that he can heal those wounds. He saying that we all have our enemies, maybe people who consistently ignore us at coffee hour, or perhaps someone who has cheated us in business, or even people who have caused us unspeakable harm. And he is saying that in God’s Kingdom, all of that pain, and grief, and anger, and enmity is wiped away. He is saying that life in God is, at it’s core, sacrificial—we find that as we give, we receive, and as we sacrifice our lives we find new life. He is saying that this new life is for you, right here in our hometown, and in the surrounding country we live in everyday. Have you heard him say that, fellow citizens of Jesus’ hometown? Are you astounded that someone you thought you knew so well would say that to you? And here’s that question again: do you believe him?
We live in a culture where those kinds of things are hard to believe. We are bombarded with materialism, with messages that call us to lives of self-absorption. We are called in our culture to be our own gods.
Someone once told me about a movie called “The Ruling Class” in which a patient in a psychiatric hospital claims to be God. A psychiatrist asked him when he first found out he was God, and the man answered, “I was praying and praying for years, and then one day I woke up and discovered I was only talking to myself!” It’s a funny scene, but unfortunately it’s all too real for a lot of people.
We live in a culture where often the general perception of religion is simply adhering to a moral code, rather than living a transformative life of loving God and loving neighbor. We live in a period of history where institutions like the church are not trusted, and therefore we have a harder time getting our message heard. And we don’t help ourselves sometimes in the church because of our infighting, scandal and apathy. No wonder it’s sometimes hard for folks to believe the things Jesus is trying to tell us.
The irony is that when we are self-absorbed, when we are apathetic, when we fight with each other, when we turn away from Jesus, we are turning away from that which, at our deepest places, we want the most.
Listen to a couple of verses from a song called “Push” by Sarah McLaughlin. It’s not a particularly Christian song, but it could be. As you listen to the words, think of them as a prayer:
Every time I look at you the world just melts away
All my troubles, all my fears dissolve in your affections
You’ve seen me at my weakest but you take me as I am
And when I fall you offer me a softer place to land
You stay the course you hold the line you keep it all together
You’re the one true thing I know I can believe in
You’re all the things that I desire you save me you complete me
You’re the one true thing I know I can believe
This is what Jesus offers us, the one true thing we know we can believe, and then he calls us to offer it to others. This call is inherent in us because we are baptized people, marked as Christ’s own forever. We are branded, in a sense, and even though that brand is invisible, others may come to know it by how we live in the world. We are marked because we belong to Christ, who desires to keep us together and complete us.
Thomas Merton once wrote, “If I allow Christ to use my heart in order to love my brothers and sisters with it, I will soon find that Christ, loving in me and through me, has brought to light Christ in my brothers and sisters. And I will find that the love of Christ in my brothers and sisters, loving me in return, has drawn forth the image and reality of Christ in my own soul.”
If we come to church looking for Christ to only meet our own needs, it may be that Christ indeed has difficulty doing those “deeds of power” in us. And yet, as we imagine Church of the Ascension, all of us, as Jesus’ hometown, we must also believe that Jesus is constantly returning to us, asking us to take him in, not because we have to, but because we want to. As a gathered community of brothers and sisters, we have the potential to draw forth the image and reality of Christ in each other. Because he is the one true thing we know we can believe.