"Whether They Hear or Refuse to Hear...
 Jesus left that place and 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.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Preaching in Your "Hometown"
Oh my gosh! I've got to be more careful when I agree to preach at my home parish! I should've looked at the gospel lesson before I agreed. It's been several years since I last filled this pulpit, where I first had the chance to preach the gospel-while in Junior High, I think! Why wouldn't I say "yes" to preaching here this morning? I might've said "no" when if I'd looked at the Gospel lesson for today! Jesus, himself, says, "Prophets are not without honor except in their hometown, and among their own kin..." The Greek, literally translated has it, "A prophet is not dishonored except in his own hometown", which means, plainly put, a prophet is dishonored in his own hometown. And here I am, seeking to proclaim the Word of God, in my own hometown, among my own kin. And Jesus says to me-prepare to be dis-honored! Now, truly, I've never, ever felt dis-honored here at First-not when, as a teenager I began preaching here, not when I was a young, wet-behind-the-ears seminarian and pastor, nor as I'm here before you after 30 years of ordained ministry. As a youth responding to God's call to ministry, as a still to be seasoned new pastor, as, I hope, an older, wiser minister of Word and Sacrament, I've never experienced anything but love, support and encouragement here in my home congregation. But no one would've blamed you if it'd been otherwise! Jesus tells prophets/proclaimers of God's Word to expect it-because no one has spiritual authority, within their own families, among their own kinsmen, in their hometown. And St. Mark tells us why that is so.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt
In our gospel lesson today, St. Mark writes, "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? 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 Jesus could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. You see, the problem is "familiarity breeds contempt", as the old saying goes. Knowing Jesus kept his hometown folk from believing in Him, and accepting His spiritual authority. The same is true for pastors who return to their home congregations and that's why they almost never return to their hometowns and home congregations as pastors...they are too familiar to carry any authority. Many here remember little David Wendel. Some are still here who were my teachers in Sunday School and remember my wrong answers and had to discipline me when I was with the group of boys up in the choir loft here, or in the old church which had so many neat old nooks and crannies in which to hide and play and get into mischief. And if knowing me is not incriminating enough-what's worse, you know my family-a sinner each and every one of us! That was part of Jesus' problem-they knew his father, Joseph the carpenter-probably many had business dealings with Joseph or Jesus-they might've had run-ins with Mary, or James or Joses or Judas or Simon. Maybe some in the synagogue that day had dated Jesus' sisters, if they did that back then. And you know how that reflects on a family-the boy's family as well as the girl's! All in all, a prophet, a pastor, must leave home and family-must leave past behind when called to speak God's Word and minister with Christ's own authority. That's just the way it is. And that's the way it was for Jesus, as well. Because really, this passage isn't about pastors coming to their home congregations. It's not about whether or not you will receive me as a preacher in your pulpit. It's not about my family and my family connections and my history here at First Lutheran. Our Gospel text today is about Jesus. It's about how Jesus was rejected. It's about the nature of Jesus' mission and ministry in the world-not just then, but now.
Rejection of Jesus, Then and Now
In spite of all that we've just said, still, isn't it mind-boggling that Jesus was NOT honored among his own people, and that he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid hands on a few sick people and cured them? Because we're not talking about some local pastor come home on vacation here-we're not talking about some local-yokel home on furlough from the mission field. This is Jesus! He was the master-the teacher of disciples; he was a rabbi with followers who followed Him that they, too, might learn the will of God. And more than that, this Jesus had already been preaching and teaching and healing. Just prior to His return home to Nazareth, Jesus had stilled the storm, cast the legion of demons out of the Gerasene Demoniac, healed the woman with a twelve year hemorrhage, restored life to Jairus' dead daughter. Even without television news and the internet, word of these kinds of thing spread quickly-so much so that Jesus found it hard to enter some towns and villages, because so many had heard of him and were eager to submit themselves to his authority and power. But not in Nazareth. As was His custom, upon coming to his hometown, Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, and was allowed to teach by the elders of the synagogue. But they would not accept Jesus. They rejected Him, and His message, and His power and authority. And isn't it strange that Mark tells us, "he could do no deed of power there"?
The early Church Father, Gregory of Nazianzen, writing in the fourth century, said, "What does ‘could not' mean in God's case?" In other words, what does it mean that Jesus, Son of the Living God-Savior of the world-the Eternal Word-could do no dead of power there? How could Jesus-- not do something-anything He wished? Gregory says, "One meaning is simply the limits of human will. Take, for example, the point that Christ could not fulfill any signs in Nazareth-it was due to disbelief on the part of the Nazarenes-something essential for healing is required on both sides-faith on the part of the patients, power on that of the healer. As this can be seen in medical care, it can also be seen here." Jesus can do no deed of power in Nazareth...because the people in Nazareth freely refused it. With only a few exceptions, the Nazarenes freely chose to reject Jesus and His will and power. And Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. And-where does that now leave us, practically speaking? What is the point, in all of this, for us, as we hear this gospel lesson and seek to apply it to life, to our lives, to our discipleship?
What Does this Mean for Us?
The application comes in the second half of our gospel reading, where we see Jesus calling the twelve and sending them out two by two. For those first twelve, that mission meant going to towns and villages, from place to place, proclaiming the gospel, healing the sick, casting out demons. In other words, their apostolic mission was to spread the good news of the nearness of the kingdom, calling people to repent and believe in the Gospel. Some of us, still, share that apostolic mission, as we are sent to Haiti, New Guinea or far-distant places in the world. And to those of us, Jesus' words are clear-travel light and travel with a sense of urgency-take nothing except a staff, no bread, no bag, no money-wear sandals, but don't bother with a change of clothes. Some of us, God continues to send out in mission to the world. Most of us, however, are sent on missions closer to home. Most of us are missionaries to people and places much nearer-people and places like-our homes, our families, our neighbors. At the recent 2012 Anglican Provincial Assembly in Asheville, NC, one of the speakers reminded us that we are to "go to neighbor and nations!" While Christians are sent to nations and peoples around the world, we are also called and sent to brothers and sisters and sons and daughters, to invite them to repent and believe in the Gospel. We are sent to bring God's healing power to mothers and fathers who are struggling with cancer, or Alzheimer's disease, or end-of-life issues. We are sent to help children and youth be set free from the demons of drug and alcohol abuse, lack of self-confidence and poor self-image, the effects of physical or sexual abuse. We are sent to bring back, the lost, the lonely, the errant-to invite them back, to God, where they can be healed and restored and made whole and made new-in Christ, through Christ's power at work among us. And this mission work is just as valid and just as valuable-but also, just as difficult, as the mission of the twelve apostles, and the work of global missionaries today, because we are trying to work among our own kin, and often, in our own hometown. Gregory of Nazianzen reminds us of the limits of human will-that some will choose, by their own free will, to refuse Christ, and His mission, and the good news of His death and resurrection. Jesus tells the twelve, and us, that if any refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them. The Lord God says to Ezekial in our first lesson, "Whether they hear or refuse to hear-they shall know that there has been a prophet among them-they shall know that God has sent someone to them, to bring them the good news!" That is the mission of Jesus-that is the mission we share with those first twelve disciples, and that has been my mission this morning-that you may know, whether you choose to hear, or refuse to hear-that you shall know, that God has sent someone, to bring you the good news! That God may now, bring that good news, to fruition, in your life!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.