The following is a sermon I gave at Crescent Hill Baptist Church on July 8, 2018. In it I draw a parallel between Jesus being rejected by his hometown with the current climate of attacking the messenger because the message is threatening those of privilege and power. The text is from Mark 6 verses 1 through 6 and I am using the New Revised Standard Version.
Mark 6:1-6 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 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! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary[a] and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense[b] at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, grant us strength for the day, grant us courage for the day, and grant us the means to be your hands and feet as we live in a land full of strife and discord. Help us to live into the words and deeds of the living one, Jesus the Christ. And now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing unto you o Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen
Good morning. Grace and peace be to you as we gather together to share our faith and give each other encouraging words as we begin our week. My name is Ernie Romans and I am relatively new to Crescent Hill Baptist Church. I am a recent graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Seminary and I am honored to be speaking with you today.
These verses in Mark tell us of a Jesus who went home. Maybe he missed his family and friends; maybe he was tired from journeying all over the country and just wanted to get some rest and hang out. Perhaps he desired to bring his message home, to share it with whom he grew up. We know that he preached in the synagogue, and as the text relates to us, things didn’t turn out as he probably hoped. From the beginning, he started getting all kinds of feedback, the negative kind. It went so far to say that he could do no deed of power there except for healing a few people there and in the end; was amazed at their lack of belief. The text represents to me an instance of attack the messenger and ignore the message, or the “You’re ugly and your mama dresses you funny” stratagem. In it the attacker, having no reasonable counter argument, attacks the messenger; the fancy words for it are ad hominem. I still like the former, but I come by it honestly, being a poor boy from Rush, KY.
In Mark chapters’ one through five, we see the beginning of Jesus ministry. He calls the twelve and this is significant. When choosing the twelve, he does not go to the houses of the rich, he does not go those who already had ecclesial authority, he does not go to the privileged, and he does not go to those with whom political power resides. What did he do? He took a walk along the beach, and calls some fishermen, he goes to a dinner and calls a tax collector, in short, he goes among the common folk. He goes to them and calls them to an uncommon mission. Already we see Jesus as one who calls to those in the margins of society. In that day and especially in these days, the privileged were and are threatened by this type of inclusion.
And when the active ministry begins, what do they do? In Luke Chapter 4 we see Jesus at the synagogue; he walks up and unrolls the scroll to the words of Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
We see Jesus and the disciples travelling the land preaching and healing people. In this preaching and healing, they do not stop to ask for credentials as a requisite for this healing. They don’t ask for an insurance card or a co-pay and they don’t ask for citizenship documents before said healing is rendered, they simply do it. They travel the land and care for the people, all of the people. This is a message of liberation and healing.
It is here where our narrative picks up and we see Jesus coming home. Now while I don’t think he expected a ticker-tape parade, or congratulatory dinners upon his homecoming, I think that on some level Jesus might have expected a little more faith from his hometown, or at least been glad that a local boy did good. It’s at this point where Jesus is rejected and is unable to do any deeds of power. Jesus didn’t come home to perform tricks, to be “Magic Jesus”, simply to amaze his people, he came asking for faith in his message and the work that he was doing. His expectations were not rewarded and he is confronted by the realities of his humanity, and the frustrations it can bring. He responds to the crowd by not only restating, but amplifying the adage, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Jesus ends up leaving town “amazed”, and not in the good way.
What causes the use of the “You’re ugly and your mama dresses you funny” stratagem? I believe we reject the messenger because that message is dangerous. The message is dangerous because those already in power and experiencing privilege will naturally be threatened by any attempt to redistribute that power and privilege. Even though the message may make perfect sense and may provide a greater good to all, we become afraid because we might have to give up something to live into that message. Since we cannot refute the logic of the argument, we descend to attacks on the messenger. It was true in Jesus day and we see it in verse 3 where it reads 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary[a] and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense[b] at him. It didn’t matter that he was doing the work God called him to do. It didn’t matter that people’s lives were changed because of their encounter with Jesus. All that mattered was that Jesus was upsetting the apple cart of power and privilege and at least some people were threatened by that. Common people do not get to have power and privilege. Only those of “insert group here” get to have this power. It doesn’t matter if your argument makes sense; we’re not giving up what we have.
We’ve all experienced it or engaged in it at one time or another in our lives. You’re in a heated discussion, perhaps even an argument trying to come to a meeting of the minds discussing some issue weighty or not when out of the blue you or your conversation partner comes up with a “What do you know? You’re just a (and here is where you or they insert a personal insult) that does nothing to do with the issue at hand. I know I’m certainly guilty of it. Either side becomes so exasperated and angry that the whole argument devolves into who can hurl the best insult and the message is lost in a whirlwind of hate.
It certainly plays out in our society today. Every day we are bombarded with it and it is even more disturbing that this hate comes from our leadership. As I prepared this sermon, I thought to look at some of the tweets of our leaders. As many of you know, they are pretty disgusting. We see words like moron, lyin, incompetent, stupid, ugly, and the list goes on and on. No where do we see any thoughtful analysis of facts, just hate speech designed to create discord and secure power. Our leaders do this to maintain a white, male, hetero hegemony that threatens the very stability and prosperity of this nation, all in the name of keeping power and privilege. They pit us one against the other while claiming Christian values. These men preach the gospel of the anti-Christ. I say that because their words and deeds are in direct opposition to what Jesus said and did.
We see those in power despicably use that power to divide. We see those in power using their hate filled speech to distract us from the realities of living in these United States. Problems like continued gun violence, the marginalization of people of color, income inequalities, lack of decent health care, the separation of children from their families because their parents were fleeing violence in their own countries. And as those who would rightfully stand and call into question these heinous acts are met with personal attacks. They ignore the issue and attack the messenger.
Colin Kaepernick is vilified and denied employment because of his protest of police brutality aimed at people of color; the Parkland Survivors are called paid actors and are told that it would be better to learn CPR than address the awful reality of mass shootings. Black Lives Matter protestors are called terrorists when all of mass shootings seem perpetrated by white men. The list goes on and on. We hear words like snowflake, libtard, and tree-hugger. We have leaders that mock the #meToo movement, a movement founded to fight against sexual assault, to score cheap points at political rallies. We see these people of hate employing the words of hate and doing nothing to add anything of substance to the conversation and how we as a people might make life better for all of us.
In all of this hate speech, in all of the ugliness, how do we keep from falling into the trap of the “You’re Ugly and your Mama dresses you funny” stratagem? First of all we have to become educated. This education is not just on issues, although that is important. We have to better understand our faith and that will necessitate a little work on our part. If our faith informs our actions, and I believe it does, we have to become active students in the word. Pastor Jason made this point during last week’s adult class. It will require us to look afresh and see what others are saying. We are already doing that here, having John Pavlovitz and others speaking to us. We could look to Michael Eric Dyson and other people who have perspectives different than our own. It’s perfectly fine to study the theologians of the past and we should, but we should not dismiss the new voices speaking truth to power in an ever changing world. These voices are the ones representing people of color, the LGBTQ community, the voices of the immigrants, the women, in short, those who represent the length and breadth of humanity. As we become more informed, we can make better decisions regarding how our faith is made manifest in this world.
Secondly as we become more informed, it is important to stay on message. It is vitally important that we remember what it is we stand for and not be so easily swayed by those who would sew hate and division among us. If we stoop to the ad hominem attack, our own message is diminished and we risk the chance of becoming the oppressor. Most of us enjoy some kind of privilege here. How much more can we do if we, in our privilege, speak this truth to power and put our privilege on the line?
Thirdly, and I think that this is an important one; we have to realize that our message will not be received by some. Some will reject us and we will have to be fine with that. Jesus dealt with that back in the day, and we shouldn’t think it would be any different for us. Nevertheless, it does not absolve us of speaking and living into the truth of the living Word of God, Jesus the Christ. Jesus was born a Palestinian Jew, a refugee, one living in an oppressive state. He brought a message of liberation, love, of healing, of community and if we are to be his ministers, we should remember that.
And finally, and this is the hardest part, we are called on to have a little faith. Great deeds are possible with only a little faith. The road is long and hard, but the kingdom of God is at hand if we will have faith that God can and does work in creatures such as ourselves. Our faith calls us to hear the words of Christ and do as Jesus did. What did Jesus do? He healed all, he ministered to all, and Jesus calls us to take care of one another, of the planet on which we live and to do these things without expecting or demanding reward. God calls us to do these things beyond borders, beyond national identity, beyond the privilege of a few. If all are not free, then none are. To God be the glory… Amen.