Hometown Rejection and Rough Roads

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
July 4, 2021
Mark 6:1-13

The video of the sermon was recorded on Friday at Mayberry Church. Because it was recorded on Friday, it is a bit different that the text below (that had two days more to jell).

Thoughts at the beginning of worship:

It’s a rough road to glory. You could also make such a case for the American Revolution, but we see such in the life of Jesus. Last week, Jesus was riding high. He’d healed a sick woman and raised a young girl back to life. Things looked up for Jesus. His stock rose in the eyes of the people. 

Today we’re going to see what happens when he visits his hometown. There is nothing like going home to be humbled. At home, people know you too well. I have had several opportunities to preach in my home church and it’s humbling to be up front with your six grade Sunday School teacher eyeing you from the front pew. She probably went to her grave thinking I was still up to something. I’m not sure Jesus had the same troubles, but maybe. After all, it didn’t matter if I was guilty or not, she just assumed I was up to something.  

Our text reminds us that things are not always easy and that’s okay. Flannery O’Conner, a southern writer who spent her early years in Savannah, thought it should be normal for Christians to be suffering in some fashion. And if we’re not suffering, she suggested we check and see if we we’re following Christ as closely as we think we are.[1]

Today, our passage has two parts. First, we hear about Jesus returning to his hometown with less than warm welcome he received. He caught grief. Then we get a glimpse of how Jesus’ revolution works. The disciples are sent out, two by two. They travel light. This is no pleasurable stroll in the country. 

Read Mark 6:1-13

After reading the Scripture

Thursday morning, while pondering how to begin today’s sermon, I killed some time thumbing through my Twitter feed and came across this from Eric Clapp:

If your pastor doesn’t quote President Thomas J Whitemore’s words to the Air Force regiment as they prepare to save earth from an alien invasion and herald a global Independence Day, it’s time to find a new church.[2]

If any of you want Clapp’s contact information in your search for a new church, just ask. For I don’t plan to base today’s message on a dystopian action movie. But his tweet allows me to make this point. Different people have different expectations and you’re never going to please everyone. We see that in today’s Scripture.

Preaching on Independence Day

       That said, there are certain days that preaching is harder than others. The fourth of July is one of those hard days. After all, a sermon should be based on Scripture and there is nothing about America, hot dogs or apple pie in the Bible. Nor is there anything about fireworks, except perhaps for those at Sodom and Gomorrah, and we certainly don’t want to go there today.

       I didn’t realize just how difficult preaching today is until I saw the analysis of polls on American Christian identity. I hope it’s wrong, for only a small minority said that their faith was most important to their identity. An overwhelming majority said it was their faith and being American were equally important. And in another small minority, their American identity was most important.[3] Those who think being American is equal or more important than their faith should memorize Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me.” 

While we should be proud to be an American, we must always remember that our allegiance first and foremost belongs to God as revealed in Jesus Christ. And we should also understand that in Scripture, independence and freedom has to do with God breaking the chains of sin, not a human political rebellion. 

       This doesn’t mean that celebrating our national independence is wrong. I hope to enjoy fireworks this evening and maybe even eat a hot dog or a slice of watermelon. However, we are called to keep our priorities straight as we saw in the 89th Psalm, a portion of which we used for our Call to Worship. 

This Psalm celebrates God’s covenant with David. The point is made. God always comes first. While our nation revolted against a king, there is a king we better not revolt against, and that’s Jesus Christ.[4]When we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, our allegiance shifts to him and his kingdom. Of course, we know not everyone buys into Jesus in this manner. It’s always been that way, as we see in today’s Scripture reading. Even in the first century, there were those embarrassed by Jesus. 

Part 1: Hometown jealously

       Let’s look in detail at today’s text. We’re told that after the healings we read about last week, Jesus headed home. Here, Mark doesn’t identify the town as Nazareth, but Mark had already identified Jesus’ hometown as such,[5] so we can safely assume he’s talking about Nazareth. But this isn’t a story about Jesus coming home from his travels, with a bag of dirty laundry as if he’s returning from college. He’s not just returning to hang out with the guys. Jesus returns with disciples. He’s returning with status, for a rabbi who had disciples was considered important. And Jesus has a dozen of them. Furthermore, Jesus’ reputation precedes him. Folks at home have heard about his teachings and healings. 

       Of course, to the hometown folk, this raises questions. What’s up with Jesus? How did he become so popular? Who gave him such wisdom? After all, think about this from their point of view. The last time they saw him, Jesus had calloused hands from sawing wood. Now those same hands are healing the sick. We can see jealous brewing, can’t we? This is a local boy who’s done good.

Instead of celebrating Jesus’ homecoming, the people of the town make fun of him. We see this when they refer to Jesus as the son of Mary… without a mention of Joseph. Is this because word got around that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ real father? Or, is this a way to put down Jesus? Leaving out his father and only mentioning his mom and siblings was a put down. They want to make Jesus look bad. Normally a man is referred to as “son of,” but not here. The hometown crowd tries to discredit Jesus.[6]

       Jesus, catches wind of their thinking and responds, saying prophets aren’t honored in their hometown. Surprisingly, we’re told Jesus could do no great deeds there, but that he did heal a few sick people. But there was no big miracle. Some of the folks may have expect a grand miracle but did not believe. From what is said here, it appears that without belief, there will be no miracle.  We’re told their disbelief surprises even Jesus. 

Part 2: Sending out the 12

       So, Jesus leaves his hometown and continues teaching. But now, he expands his ministry by sending out the disciples two by two. 

       The Gospel of Mark begins on a high note. Jesus comes on the scene proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news.”[7] With such a beginning, we expect great things to follow. But when Jesus reveals his strategy for bringing about his message, for creating his church, he looks to twelve ordinary men. These disciples are as flawed as any of us. We observe their failures repeatedly in the gospels, yet they’re the ones God chose to lay the foundation for his kingdom. 

       Perhaps a parallel could be drawn from the founding of Jesus’ movement with the founding of our country.[8] We have not always lived up to the ideals of Declaration of Independence, and the idea that all people are created equal remains as a goal to which we’re still striving to reach. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a noble goal. In 1776, it meant the farmer and the miller were just as endowed as the professor and preacher.[9] In the first century, Jesus’ embrace of ordinary folks meant that fisherman and tax collectors were equal and both capable of being at the forefront of a movement that claimed his name.   

       This unassuming group was sent out almost bare handed. They took a walking stick and wore sandals. They also wore the clothes on their back, but nothing more. No clean clothes to wear after a dusty day on the trail. No wrap to sleep in at night. Nor did they have a hidden stash of money in their belts. And they took no food. These guys aren’t equipped for a campaign. Yet, that’s their assignment. They pick up the teaching and the work of Jesus and to multiple it, six-fold. They learned how to depend on the generosity of those they met on the road and to trust God. 

Summary

    So, what should we learn from out text for today? There are at least two things we should take away from this text. First, we shouldn’t be jealous of the accomplishments of others, especially when God is the source of their power. Unlike the folks of Nazareth, we should rejoice when we see God’s work being done. 

Secondly, we need to realize we’re the heirs of the disciples. We’re the next generation, and like all generations before us, we have a responsibility to take Jesus’ message to the world. And to do that, we don’t need anything fancy. We depend on God, and we tell people what we know is true. And if we can do that, with the blessing of the Holy Spirit, the church will continue. For ultimately, it doesn’t depend on us, but on God. 

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.[10] Amen. 


[1] From a tweet by Jessica Hooter Wilson (@Hooter) on Thursday

[2] @eric-clapp.  See https://twitter.com/eric_clapp/status/1410213618721951744

[3] For summary see: https://twitter.com/joshswu/status/1411110436498509829/photo/1  Poll done by Joshua Wu, PhD. He used this data for his summary: https://www.voterstudygroup.org/publication/nationscape-data-set. Wu is a Christian and says this: “I’m thankful for the liberties/privileges of being an American, but unquestionably value my faith more than my nationality.”

[4] Of course, we always revolt against Jesus our King—it’s called sin. 

[5] See Mark 1:9.

[6] Morna D. Hooker, The Gospel According to Saint Mark (London: A. C. Black, 1990), 154. 

[7] Mark 1:14-15. 

[8] For this idea, I am drawing on a sermon on this text by William H. Willimon, “The Founding of the Church.”  See https://asermonforeverysunday.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Will-Willimon-6th-Sunday-after-Pentecost-7-4-2021.pdf  

[9] Of course, it left out African slaves and Native Americans. 

[10] 1 Timothy 1:17

13 thoughts on “Hometown Rejection and Rough Roads”

  1. Jealousy never serves any of us well, and yet it’s always there, waiting to pounce. And that pride thing…it’s right alongside its cousin jealousy, nudging us stand out. Thanks again for an excellent, thought-provoking sermon.

  2. A lovely sermon, Jeff, especially for the fourth. Well done. I so enjoy reading your sermons as you put the bible into parallels that I relate to in my own daily life.

    • Thanks, Lisa. Preaching on the 4th has all kinds of pitfalls. I’m reading the new biography of Karl Barth, which reminded me of the dangers of church and state.

    • Thanks for watching. The sermon did change a bit between Friday (when I recorded it) and Sunday morning, the changes can be seen in the text.

  3. Thanks as usual for sharing, Jeff. I still need to work on not being jealous of the accomplishments of others. It has been hard to see some of friends do so well and I am not quite where I want to be professionally.

  4. So much to love about this sermon, Jeff. Preaching in your hometown–your teacher “probably went to her grave thinking I was still up to something”. Advice from a dystopian movie. The balance of religion and love of country. I am by nature a curious person and I will be digging into some of what you’ve said. Have a great week.

  5. There does seem to be a lot of mixing Christianity with American patriotism. Ugh! People would do well to remember what the founding fathers said about separation of church and state.

    • I am not sure anyone is clear of that the separation of church and state means. I do think it means more that the government won’t stick its nose in the church, but I also think the church at times needs to be the conscious for the government and larger society. But that is hard, these days.

  6. Honestly can’t say I’m proud of being American these last few years ending in 2020. But as far back as the 1990s I began having concerns when I first started hearing the term “American Exceptionalism” being used like a religious mantra signifying that our nation was above all others.
    Just throwing this out there but there are a bunch of countries freer than us and where the living standards, education, and economic mobility are better.

    More to your point, I’m pretty secular but even I yearn for something greater than just our immediate surroundings and limited nationalist view. Something that emphasizes our common humanity and that a crying child in Syria or on the wrong side of the US/Mexican border is of equal importance to those here.

    • The term “exceptionalism” raises the hair (what little there is of it). It seems to be the first time before the fulfillment of that Proverb, “pride goes before the fall.”

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