6th Sunday after Pentecost
- Pentecost 6.21 “The Hometown Dishonor Thing” Mark 6:1-13
Here’s a weird little thing about Jesus: even though he taught in the synagogue with astonishing power—telling a Story (“a love-song so divine” 🙂 that practically caught them up into the third heaven with Paul, and did mighty works, healing the sick, raising the dead, casting out demons, and turning water into wine—even though he did all this really cool and divine stuff, the people in his hometown went: “But we know this guy! He’s Mary’s son, a humble carpenter from the wrong side of the tracks, no Ivy League education or anything special that he should do stuff like this!”
And they take offense at him. Because, they figure: if God Himself came to earth, he’d surely come with a better pedigree, to a better town than Nazareth, right? Right!
And Jesus… marveled at their unbelief. “And he could do no mighty work there”—an interesting line! Why not? Well not because he couldn’t—obviously, Jesus could and did do tons of mighty works! But it only alienated the hometown crowd—who shunned him, wouldn’t let him near them, afraid he’d make them holy or something terrible like that! A few [desperately!] sick folks were like “What the heck?” and let him touch them; but they did this on the down-lo, like Nicodemus, so no one would know…
It’d all happened before, to Ezekiel in Babylon; later to Paul, in Corinth. I love Paul’s sardonic tone here: “I must go on boasting [you made me!] though there’s nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who 14 years ago was caught up into the third heaven, heard things that can’t be told, saw stuff too wonderful for words. I’d boast about that guy, but you probably wouldn’t be impressed by him, if you ever saw him. For myself, I’ll boast only of my weakness, my thorn in the flesh that keeps me from being conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations…”
What do you think Paul’s thorn was? Most people go with epilepsy or eye disease. But I wonder… Do you think it could have been hometown family/friends whose disbelief was really bringing him down? Surely Paul’s wife (at this writing, sadly gone) wasn’t like Job’s—all “curse God and die”? All “no one likes you or this Xn thing! Just go back to tent-making for Christ’s sake! Or be a lawyer. You’d be good at that!” Nah! But what if… it was the “hometown dishonor thing” that was Paul’s “thorn”? Could it happen still today with the Gospel? Why? How? And what should we make of it?
I just so happen (like Paul) to know a guy, a pastor also, who, 24 years ago, actually—the Jack Bauer number!—had a kind of ‘third heaven’ signs and wonders moment that didn’t really get him any street cred with his peeps either.
Here’s how it went for my “friend”: it’s 1997, he’s the pastor of a small, struggling congregation in a nowhere, declining Rust Belt town, like Nazareth. One hot summer day, a couple of bikers, man and woman, looking like Hells Angels, tatted up to the hilt, long ratty hair, leather jackets, metal studs, roar up on Harleys, ring the front door bell of the church. They want him to do their wedding. He only does weddings for members and hasn’t ever seen them in church. They insist they are members and show up on the rolls he was always trying to get his [recalcitrant] elders to purge.
Great! Well, the pre-marriage counseling is gruesome. The bridal bikers seem to be doing this just to make a mockery of Christianity and the Church—just to yank God’s chain. When my friend comes into the sanctuary for the rehearsal, he finds the bridal party, all leathered and liquored up, sitting on the altar, smoking. When he shoes them off, they’re sarcastic: “Oooh, like God’s really here on this altar, like he might smite us or something if we’re not reverent?”
Their laughter echoes in his ears, driving home. And that Alanis Morrissette song comes on the radio: “It’s like raaaain on your wedding day/ it’s a free ride when you’ve already paid…” and it hits him like a bolt from the blue, like divine revelation! Elijah made it rain on wicked King Ahab! What about rain on the biker wedding? Maybe some hail? They’d asked him to pray for the weather because they were doing a big Harley Davidson procession to the reception venue after the wedding.
So he prays: “Dear God, your servant Elijah called down rain from heaven on the wicked despisers of your Word, once, and you heard him. If these are the same sort of wicked people as Ahab, then I pray: around 1:20 pm tomorrow, make the sky black, the wind howl, make it rain buckets! And some stinging hail would be nice, too. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”
He told his wife about it and his prayer. She said “0% chance of rain tomorrow. Sunny and 75.” And, well; so it was. An hour before service—not a cloud in the sky. 1 pm, the bikers roll in and there’s maybe one tiny little cloud the size of your fist on the distant horizon. Still, beautiful and sunny. Suddenly, about 1:20, at the pronouncement of marriage, it’s like the lights go out and it gets real dark. As the bikers process outside, the sky blackens, the wind roars, and as they hustle onto their Harleys and pull out of the parking lot, thunder, lightning starts, the rain comes pouring down, sideways. With hail! [like sprinkles on your ice cream]. And it literally washes them away…
He arrives home. His wife is standing at the garage door, agape. “Wow!” she says. “That was amazing! How do you feel?” “Like Elijah” he says. Cool, right? But recently, my friend and his (smokin’ hot 🙂 wife had a 10 minute walk to catch a train. They were planning to leave at 3 pm. But at 2:40 he says “It’s going to rain, hard, at 3. Let’s go, right now.” She’s like “Nah!” He’s like “Hey, I know.” She ignores him. They leave at 3, as planned, and just as they hit the sidewalk, the rain comes pouring down [hard!] and soaks them. He’s like: “I have this thing with rain. Remember?” She’s silent, slightly… sullen? Household crowd’s tough.
“How do we know a prophet’s really sent by God?” someone asked at Tuesday morning bible study. That’s a great question! Because we look ordinary, less than extraordinary, mostly: like Ezekiel, Jesus, Paul, me and my, me and my, me and my friends. Hey! I have a hard time believing me, too—believe you me…(!)
But you know because God says so when He ordained, sent us, in His Name. You know because the Word we speak comes true! We tell the Story—the old, old Story of Jesus and his love—of sin and forgiveness, grace, mercy; of signs, wonders too glorious to tell; cross and trial, magnificent defeats that make us heavenly, holy; and bread, wine, water, and words that transfigure the sadness of earthly life into something truly Grand and Glorious. Sometimes, we lay hands on a comatose girl and she wakes; we ask the impossible, and… it happens.
Signs and wonders gain us nothing, though, as Paul says. We boast not of such things—which only happen to our “friends” anyway :-). We know and preach one thing: Christ, and Him crucified.
The hometown dishonor thing is more perk than problem—it’s a sign of the humiliation that truly exalts and keeps us from conceit (not that me and my friends struggle with that :-). Hometown dishonor helps you recognize Christ’s servants by the way they bear the cross and scorn with a smile, a slightly smart mouth, pointing ever always to Him alone, as Peace, surpassing understanding, guards all our hearts, minds in Christ Jesus (and his love). Amen.