Sermon Mark 6:1-13 “Who Do You Think You Are?” July 8, 2012

In one of the most poignant scenes in the gospel story, Jesus returns to his hometown where he’s able to heal a few and attempt to teach in the synagogue. But his message alarms and distresses his neighbors some of whom may have been one-time friends.  They know him…son of Mary, kin to his brothers and sisters, a carpenter taught his trade by his father, Joseph, but they will not recognize him as a messenger of God – a prophet, a healer, or a teacher.  And in self-righteous indignation, they voice their question aloud: Who does he think he is?  Does he presume to think he knows more they we do? How dare this Jesus step outside the rules of a well-constructed caste system?

We have all had an experience like this or we have created an experience like this for someone else. In contrast to what Jesus experienced, let me share with you what can happen when there is acceptance, trust and faith in the one returning to familiar surroundings. Recently, while visiting with my brother, Steve, he mentioned that his new principal was a former student of his. Steve teaches elementary school music and has for over 35 years. It was a surprise and, as it turned out, a very pleasant one, when a former student of his was hired to serve as principal of Steve’s school. Steve was delighted; he has great respect for this woman, but the irony didn’t escape his notice – To shift from the known roles of teacher and student to new roles of teacher and principal made him feel every bit his age. Unlike those in Jesus’ hometown, Steve didn’t ask the question, “Who does she think she is?” That’s the kind of question that could have undermined the effectiveness of his former student’s work in the school as his new principal.  But that was the question of those who thought they knew all there was to know about Jesus, hometown boy with a knack to build a chair or nail a board. Their lack of faith in God’s ability to use anyone to do great things and preach truth, particularly God’s chosen one, made it virtually impossible for Jesus to heal and as Mark states, “they took offense at him.”

Offense – that’s a strong word! A word that leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind of just how tense this moment is. Christ is coming up against long held beliefs and societal expectations. Carpenter sons did not take on the mantle of God, teach with such authority in the synagogue or attempt to heal others with a touch and a word. Professor Beverly Zink-Sawyer at Union Seminary in Richmond Virginia makes the observation: “The townspeople of Nazareth expect to see the Jesus they have always known, the one who seems no different from them. When Jesus preaches with wisdom and performs deeds of power, the people of Nazareth cannot see beyond their own limited view of him.”[1] Zink-Sawyer adds some thoughtful questions to the mix asking us to consider: “Whom do we take for granted? What wisdom, what deeds of power are we missing because we make judgments about how and through whom God’s work can be done?” [2]

Certainly, familiarity can breed contempt, but what is far more alarming and destructive in building a community of compassionate, caring human beings is the preconceptions we make when we question the abilities, intelligence, and ethics of people who do not look like us, believe as we do, or live the kind of lifestyles we take as the norm. We set our rules in place and expect that they are correct without allowing God to work in our lives or to work in the lives of others. So, we see a person of color perhaps and assume they’re not as intelligent as we. We hear a person speak their native tongue and assume they can’t think as well as we do or act as ethically as we believe we do. We expose our prejudices, much like the people of Nazareth did on a carpenter’s son when we close out God chance to make changes in us, in our attitudes, in the way we think claiming how right we are and how wrong someone, not like us, is. God’s miracles of healing and hope can’t live in an atmosphere of a climate of disbelief.

I’m not pointing fingers; believe me. It’s as difficult for me to overcome my ingrained prejudices as it for you. We are, after all, products of our society’s assumptions and cultural prejudices. But what we can claim to help us overcome these rather natural proclivities is the grace of God. It is God’s power that can move us to see another person, who is unlike us, in the light of a divine attitude rather than through the eyes of human prejudice. Our faith is a means through the murk of darkly colored waters and badly taught life lessons, lessons that need to be discarded, lessons that need to be replaced with the kind of teaching that allow God to help us make connections between the known and the unknown in every person.

Jesus knew how tough it would be; he lived it so when he sent the first twelve out to heal and teach in his name, he sent them in pairs so they could act as supports to each other. He instructed them on what they should do when they came up against resistance and he gave them both the authority to act in his name and a blessing by anointing them with God’s Holy Spirit. He encouraged them not to lose hope and to trust that they were not alone in their endeavors. With these tools in hand, authority, blessings, and encouragement, the disciples did succeed in casting out demons. They anointed the sick with oil curing them.[3]  And they preached a gospel that would eventually reach the farthest ends of the earth. That’s the power of God in action. God has entrusted us, each one of us to act with authority, speak a word of blessing and healing, and teach with authenticity and integrity the new lessons of this multicultural world in which we work, pray and live. The possibilities of what God can do when we believe, when we have faith and when we act and speak with the knowledge and assurance God’s presence and grace in our lives are beyond measure. There is no limit. Amen.                                  

[1] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, Beverly Zink-Sawyer, 215.

[2] Ibid, 215.

[3] Mark 6:13