6th Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 5:1-5. 9-10; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Mark 6:1-13; Psalm 48

 “And they took offense at him.”

   In today’s reading we find Jesus returning to Nazareth, the town he grew up in, after being away for some time, and finds that his reputation has preceded him.

   As he teaches in the synagogue the people are amazed by the wisdom Jesus has. They have heard of the signs he performed in other places, curing the sick and casting out demons.

   These signs were not a demonstration of his power, but instead point to the validity of his message: That Jesus wasn’t preaching a message of human origin, but a message that is blessed and authorized by God most High.

   Yet, the people of Nazareth are unable to accept this message from God. Why not?

   The population of Nazareth at the time was around 200 to 400 people, only a few times larger than our congregation here at St. Paul’s.

   Just as in today’s world, in a town that small everyone knew everyone else’s business. After all, there was nothing else to talk about—no newspaper, no evening news, no phones—just the weather, the condition of crops, rumors from other villages, but, of course, talk of what other folks were doing in the village.

   While it’s easy to explain away the people of Nazareth’s response to Jesus as “They just knew him too closely”, I think, rather, it’s something deeper, more human, and more critical to understanding our world today.

   In Jesus’ day people had expected roles to play in their society. Men were expected to work, follow the rules of the Teachings of Moses, and provide for their family. Women were expected to be married off, have children, and be the servant of their husbands.

   In other words, there was enormous pressure for people to conform to the roles culture and society dictated and expected of them. Is that pressure to conform any different today?

   With his return to Nazareth, Jesus clearly was way outside the role expected of him. “Where was his wife and children? Why isn’t he working rather than traveling around? What Rabbi taught him all this wisdom? Who gave him this authority?”

   Having been transformed by his baptism in the Jordan, and his wandering and praying in the desert, Jesus had become focused on following the path leading to God, and calling others to walk this path.

   Jesus had put aside the demands of conformity to become his true self, living into the Kingdom of God.

   The people of Nazareth, however, could not accept this newly transformed Jesus. “Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary…?” In other words, they could not let go of their expectation of conformity of how a Jewish male should act to see who Jesus really is.

   How often over the course of our own lives have we felt rejection? Not part of the crowd? On the outside looking in? Think of what it felt like to be rejected by those around you—to be treated as something less than the in-crowd. Think of what Jesus was feeling as he walked away from Nazareth.

   In the news recently we heard of the mass graves of indigenous children found on the grounds of schools in Canada. These children had been removed from their families, and then treated as something less. They were interred in graves with no markers and no names.

   The same thing happened in this country to Native American children, and to the children of people who had fled the potato famine in Ireland. These lost Native American children are somehow our brothers and sisters, rejected by the norms of a society demanding conformity with certain European culture.

   As Christians we are called to ask ourselves “Who are the rejected people of today? Who are the outcasts? Who are the throwaways?”

   It’s easy to see if we look around:

  • Why does it still make a splash in the news when a football player comes out as gay? Why do some people still find this as shocking? Why can’t Americans accept people for who they are?
  • Why are there so many homeless veterans, or people suffering from mental illness, living on our streets? Why do Americans look at them as trash, or throwaways?
  • Why are people still suffering discrimination at work, in stores, in our neighborhoods due to the color of their skin, or their nationality, or because of who they love?

   Jesus personally understands what it is to be an outcast. The people of Nazareth were not the only group who rejected the Way of Jesus.

  • The crowd of 5,000 that were fed with a few fish and loaves wanted to make him a king!
  • Pilate was worried where Jesus’ armies were!
  • The disciples argued about where they would sit in the throne room!
  • With the exception of a few women, everyone else abandoned him to his fate on the cross. How much more of an outcast can someone be, even today?

   Jesus, though, lived his life pursuing the outcast, making room for the rejected, embracing the “other”, yet rejecting earthly power.

  As Christians, we are called to do the same. There are no outcasts in the Kingdom of God. Every one of us is a cherished member. Everyone out there is a cherished member, too. We are not called to follow the political philosophies of one party or another—we are called to follow Jesus in his love and acceptance of all who are different.

   This loving concern for all may make us outcasts in this conformist-mandated society, but it is in our apart-ness from this world that we find Jesus waiting there standing with the outcasts.

   On this national holiday of Independence we celebrate a document that states “All men  are created equal”. How long did it take us to recognize that women are equal to men?

   Our country was founded by peoples who came from different places, escaping the wars of religion and governments of feudalism, to break free of the concretion of conformity.

   Did you know 25% of George Washington’s Continental Army was comprised of Native Americans and people of color? Or that many of the men who moved Washington’s army across the Delaware were Black Americans who worked in the merchant and whaling fleets of New England?

   This country started with a vision of equality, a vision that coincides with Jesus’ own vision of the Kingdom of God. A place where there are no outcasts, and all people are considered brothers and sisters.

   We’ve come a long way in this country, but we have a long way to go to bring God’s Kingdom into this broken world. May God continue to bless us, and may God continue to bless this country.

Amen.