I realize that this is summer time and the living is suppose to easy and people would enjoy a sermon that was as light as their clothing. But this ain’t one of those! Our scripture this morning has Jesus standing in a temple before his hometown, declaring “The Kingdom of God is at hand!”
Apparently, as we see in this story, declaring the Kingdom of God is not always good news to some people. Some people are resistant to the true power of God’s love. We, who know the power of that love, stand here scratching our heads and wondering ‘Why?’ Why wouldn’t people want to experience the grace and forgiveness, the inclusiveness of God’s love? Because it is exactly that, God’s love to dispense exactly how and when, and with what magnitude God intends. It is a love over which we have no control and we don’t like things that we can’t control. It makes us feel defenseless and maybe a wee bit vulnerable.
God’s love is a love which infiltrates the world like that persistent weed on your front lawn, you know, the one you don’t want there but it just keeps coming no matter how hard you try to dig and spray it? God’s love is a love that does not adhere to the louder and more dominant voices of our world, the ones that like having the airtime to proclaim the selectivity of God’s love as if they alone are privy to God’s choices.
Our scripture today takes a very serious look at this, at those who think they know all about how God’s love works and to whom this love extends, and to those who are left rejected. The following story is given to us by Claudio Carvalhes.
But first we read from Mark 6:1
Jesus went away from there
and came to his hometown,
and his disciples followed him.
His name was Jesus as well, a name his parents gave to him when he was healed as a child. Jesus Jose Maria Lopez. Everyone from his village expected Jesus to go to ‘the north’ and save them. ‘The north’ was a mixed place filled with contradictions. Promises and nightmares filled both side of the mouth of the people who ever dreamed of going there. The situation of is village was such that people had to leave their homes to escape sheer brutality and economic hardship. Many of them went to the north, not because they were looking for riches, but because they had no other choice. The most radical hope was to get to a place in the United States where they could work quietly, hoping to send some help back home.
Jesus was one of the many people who was going to save his poor village. Jesus’ hope was not just for money, but a way out. Jesus’ pride and honour were at stake here. The expectations of him were varied. Some were expecting an actual miracle. Others weren’t expecting much, knowing that just going was an act of unspeakable bravery. They all knew that the path to the north was strewn with smugglers, border patrols, rapists and prisons in which inmates became profit for private business. Hatred was everywhere, evil eyes and brutal hands, where north-bound travelers were stripped of their bare-minimum sense of humanity.
And on the Sabbath
Jesus began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were astonished, saying,
“Where did this man get these things?
What is the wisdom given to him?
How are such mighty works done by his hands?
Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary
and brother of James and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here with us?”
And they took offense at him.
Jesus Jose Maria Lopez managed to cross the desert, got a job and sent money back home, until he was caught. In jail, he wrote and told his mother everything, asking her to forgive his failure. He also asked what the villagers were saying about him. His mother didn’t want to tell him but she had promised that she would always be honest with him. At first the villagers asked, “Where did he get all this money from? It is like a miracle!” But then they started to doubt him, believing him to be a robber or a con-man. When they found out he was in prison, then they started to say, “See, we knew it, he was no good for this village. He thought he was above everyone else. Now he is in the hands of the border patrol. Stupid!”
When Jesus received this letter from his mother, he was devastated. He thought his people would be proud of him for at least trying. He thought that having been caught would have brought with it their mercy and cover him with prayer. But there was none of that. Knowing that his people had abandoned him, Jesus came to understand that there is a very thin line between honour and shame, a line which could be easily stepped over depending on what the community needed from him. Allegiances and betrayals were on the same side of their feelings for him.
And Jesus marveled because of their unbelief.
And he went about among the villages teaching.
And he called the twelve
and began to send them out two by two,
and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
He charged them to take nothing for their journey
except a staff—
no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—
but to wear sandals
and not to put on two tunics.
And Jesus said to them,
“Whenever you enter a house,
stay there until you depart from there.
And if any place will not receive you
and they will not listen to you,
when you leave,
shake off the dust that is on your feet
as a testimony against them.”
So they went out
and proclaimed that people should repent.
And they cast out many demons
and anointed with oil many who were sick
and healed them.
Feeling utterly alone Jesus Jose Maria Lopez mustered the strength to send a letter to his four kids. His wife had been killed by the brutality of gangs and the acquiescence of the state, something neither his kids or himself had ever been able to grieve completely. He wrote, “My dear children, forgive me. I had to leave you to find a way for you to eat, to live. I know you wanted to come with me but I am glad you didn’t. The border patrol is taking kids away from their parents as soon as they catch them crossing the border. I am writing to you from a jail that is more like a cage for animals. I hear mothers and fathers crying day and night longing to be united with their children. But no one knows where they are. We hear the government is misplacing our children and even they don’t know where they all are. I can’t imagine how these children must be feeling. My heart aches so much sometimes I think it will simply stop beating.
Jail is like a cross where we die slowly of shame and violence. Our blood drops from our hearts every day, and every day a little of what we think of ourselves is lost. Perhaps, someday, I will rise again in your hearts. But I need you to listen to me now. DO NOT, under any circumstances, go anywhere alone. Always go out together. I don’t care if it is for bread or to find a safe place to sleep. Take care of your grandmother. DO NOT try and cross the border. There are merciless people here. I have heard there are good people here as well, but they don’t raise their voices the way the angry, patriotic people do.
If you were to stay here you would think they are possessed by demons because only demons could do such things as they do. The worst thing is that if you stay long enough, you begin to feel like you are possessed. too. You start to curse and say they are evil.
Guard your hearts, my children. God has given you fullness. Continue to be grateful to the God of the earth and the God of the universe. Nobody can take away your dignity because you are a child of God. Love as much as you can! Pray all the time! Above all else, don’t give up! Know that I love you and will always be with you.”
Jesus Jose Maria Lopez’s children never heard from him again.
Rejection. It is hard lesson for we Christians to accept. We want the entire world to experience the beauty, the grace, the mercy of God’s healing love. Why in the world wouldn’t people want to experience that? Yet, so often it is simply dismissed as a pie in the sky ideology. Dismissed by those who put their trust in age-old systems of patriarchy and privilege and patriotism because this is what they know, what they can control. This is their reality. They uphold policies and principles over people. Why? It is idolatry. A worship of systems, values, and morals that they have created and defined over the worship of an omnipotent God. You see, when you kneel before an omnipotent God, you surrender all control and, as I said before, we don’t like not being in control. We worship those things which give us control and what we think is power. Idolatry.
A less observable form of idolatry is the worship of the self, the worship of what benefits and protects us. It is the love of self that thinks it can control God’s love, believing they have the moral high ground. People believe this gives them the right to adjudicate God’s love based on their own concepts of worth and merit, which is accompanied by comparison and competition.
We must keep America safe.
We must protect our own jobs
and economic health here in Canada.
All emigrants are terrorist.
Close airports to certain countries.
Build a wall.
Keep them out and us in,
nice and safe.
Send them money, by all means,
in the form of relief.
But keep them and their problems out of here.
We disciples are being sent out by Jesus carrying little-to-nothing with us indicating, suggesting that we should not be carrying our own self-love with us. We are sent out to tell the world of God’s extravagant love, to hopefully transform the world, by helping people experience that love. There are no conditions on that love. No last or first, no place of honour at the table, no kiddie’s table in the corner. Nothing but a calling of all people from the highways and byways of life to sit together at the table of life. Unfortunately, we quickly realize that not everyone will choose to see this truth. To accept that God’s way is the only way to heal a broken world.
Love. That through the power of love God created the world and it is through the power of love the world creates and grows. Any other way is folly, is not the way creation was designed to work.
There are people who will cry, “What do you really know anyway? I know who you are. I know who your mother and father are. I lived right down the street from you. I saw you playing as a child. You don’t have any more authority than I have. Why should I listen to you?” Then, they will lead you to an emotional cliff and be ready to throw you off.
The danger is that persistent rejection can set into motion a kind of unraveling of our own souls. With all the external forces clamoring for our attention and loyalties, we begin trusting and believing in the things that make us feel included and indeed loved when we accept the values of privilege and participate in supporting the ideals of our dominant culture. It is easier to belong and get along than to shake all this dust from your feet.
Rejection is never something easily shaken off. Jesus knew it as he looked into the eyes of neighbours and even family members who were ready to throw him off the cliff that day. Rejection can eat at your soul, even a soul which has felt the salvation of God’s love.
That’s why Jesus goes first. Jesus always goes first.