July 4 Sermon

Gospel lesson and Pastor Richard Pokora’s sermon from July 4, 2021

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and His Son our Lord Jesus Christ.

We all have a hometown. Hometowns are the places we grew up. Our families reside there. We received our education in our hometown. Most importantly, our hometown is the place we grew to adulthood and became the person we are today. 

Some of the best things about hometowns are the comfort, familiarity, and stability they offer. And some of the most difficult things about hometowns are the comfort, familiarity, and stability they offer. Hometowns should be place where everyone knows us. Often, however, they are the place where people only know about us, when we grew up. They may not know the person we have become, as adults.

Jesus returns to his hometown in our Gospel for this Sunday. The Gospel of Mark describes the return of Jesus to his hometown, which is Nazareth. Mark mentioned the visit this way; “Jesus left that place and came to his hometown” (Mk. 6:1).

The first thing we need to recognize is that this is more than just a physical movement or journey from one place to the next. “That place” and “hometown” are not so much geographical locations in our Gospel, as they are a way in which we see and understand who Jesus is; how we either recognize or fail to recognize him, as the one sent by God to redeem us.
“That place” is not just a physical location. It is the place of miracles, the place where Christ calmed the sea, freed the Gerasene demoniac of his demons, healed the hemorrhaging woman, and raised to life the dead daughter of Jairus (Mk. 4:35-5:43). “That place” is the place of transcendence, the place that dazzles and impresses us by what Jesus accomplished. It seems pretty easy to trust the Jesus of “that place.” After all, we can point to evidence and results we have read about in the Bible.. 
Our prayers sometimes demonstrate an almost exclusive understanding of Jesus in terms of “that place” as we pray for cancer to be healed, an addiction to be broken, behavior to be changed, a marriage to be fixed, or even a parking place to appear. I sometimes wonder if we prefer Jesus to stay in “that place.” But he does not stay there. He comes to us in our hometown.

“Hometown” is not just a city. It refers to more than Nazareth. If “that place” is the place of transcendence then “hometown” is the place of his immanence and intimate presence.  “Hometown” may be the place of excessive familiarity, comfort, and stability. It is the place where life is ordinary, routine, and mundane. One day is like another and nothing much ever changes. “Hometown” is, as Jesus experiences it, the place where everyone knows your name and all about you. But the people do not necessarily know the real Jesus. It is the place in which everyone is so close they can become closed to who he has become. So the town’s people can say to Jesus, “We know all abut you. You are the carpenter, Mary’s son. And by the way we know all about Mary and that angel story! We know your brothers, and your sisters are right here with us.”

They are right. They know all about Jesus. But they do not really know him. And Jesus is amazed at their unbelief. I cannot help but wonder if he is not also amazed at their unbelief in themselves. In some way, our rejection of or failure to recognize Christ is a rejection of ourselves and a failure to recognize our true self. Beneath their words lie unspoken assumptions.
The people of Nazareth believe God’s holy one cannot come from their own midst: a carpenter, the son of Mary, someone just like us. Surely that which is holiest and closest to God cannot rise out of that which is most familiar and closest to us. The assumptions of people in Nazaeth are wrong. Despite their failure to recognize who Jesus is and their denials that God is with them in their midst, and among them, Christ continues to show up in his “hometown.”

We learn the most difficult place for God to reveal himself is in that place which is closest and most familiar to us, in our “hometown.” We all have our Nazareths, our hometowns. They are our attitudes, beliefs, prejudices, patterns of thinking, habits of behavior, and ways of seeing and relating to God, each other, and ourselves. All these things help make life predictable, safe, familiar and comfortable for us. There is nothing necessarily wrong with these things. But they can and often do lead to blindness, deaf ears, closed minds, and hardened hearts. We fail to see the Christ in our own midst. God working among us now.

The tragedy of life in Nazareth, the “hometown,” is that we too easily lose that sense of mystery, wonder, awe, and sacredness not only in the people and events with which we are closest and most familiar, but also in ourselves. We have become too comfortable, too familiar, and too secure. We are often unable to recognize the Christ who stands with us and among us.

Christ is always coming into our “hometown” speaking words of wisdom, doing deeds of power, and offering more than we can imagine. So maybe we should stop looking for him in “that place” out there somewhere else and look in the people, relationships, events, and circumstance of life that are closest to us, that occupy our time, and command our attention.

The story of Jesus in Nazareth doesn’t end with the denial of who he has become and what he can do. Instead, we read that he went out among other villages to teach. He sends the disciples out two by two and gives them power over unclean spirits. He says they are to go to a home and stay there during their journey and ministry. If they are welcomed they stay there, if not they leave. Finally, we read the disciples cast out many demons and anointed with oil people that were sick and healed many others.

Rejection by people in a hometown or on a journeys is never the end of the story. Jesus continues to preach news of the kingdom of God. His disciples continue their ministry. God’s desire to redeem humanity will not be frustrated. Nothing stops God’s good intention for us.

Recent reports indicate fewer people attend church today and serve, as disciples of Jesus Christ. We know what it is like to see empty pews on Sunday morning. Its like Nazareth all over again. Christ comes to our community and people doubt him and walk away.

Today we are like the twelves disciples. Rejection of the Gospel does not stop us. Christ calls and sends each of us to proclaim the good new. We know there will be rejection, but we continue the mission and work we have been given. God sends you out today to proclaim that Christ is among us and calls for us to accept him as God’s chosen one. Rejoice and be glad for our ministry.  God walks with us, as we serve his greater purpose. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.