Sunday, July 7th, 2024

At Home in God’s Word

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. Now as many of you know we spent the last couple of weeks on vacation and as many of you know that vacation was long. The vacation started when Becky and the girls went from Albuquerque to Houston, and then Becky and Elizabeth continued on to Jackson MS, and then back to Houston, where I flew in to meet them, and then from Houston we drove to Orlando, and then to Grand Rapids and Western Michigan, and then over to Detroit, on the east side of the state, then up to Port Huron, and then back to Albuquerque, where we got home yesterday afternoon about 4:30 or 5:00. We drove over 6000 miles on our trip, and it was good to see friends and family. We had a blast at Universal and at Disney, but 6000 miles is a lot of time in the car, and so we woke up road weary this morning, and it’s good to be home, and that word home struck me last week. That struck me because home is kind of a funny word. Doesn’t seem funny at first glance, but I ended up thinking about it a lot, especially at the end of this trip, because in some ways we went back home this summer. The home was different for each person. For Becky and for me, going to Michigan felt like going back home. That’s where our parents live. That’s where we bought our first house, it’s where our kids went to preschool, but for Eliana, going back to Houston probably felt more like going back home. She was so young when we left Michigan that she doesn’t have many memories of her time there, and I’m honestly not sure where my other girls would consider home. They were born in Indiana. They spent their younger years in Michigan, middle school and high school in Texas, and now we’re here, and so here feels like home too, because here is where our dog is, here’s where our bedrooms are, here is where we do life now. So, in some ways, we visited home this past month, and in other ways, we’re happy to be back home. That idea of home is kind of a funny thing, but it’s also front and center in today’s gospel reading, because Mark tells us that Jesus went home. He went back to his hometown, and he’s not just commenting on geography, he’s not just telling us that Jesus went to a particular city at a particular place, he’s not just giving us a travel log so we can understand how many steps Jesus took. But Jesus going back to his hometown is about the people who are there, about the society there, it’s about familiarity, it’s about the fact that Jesus is now preaching to those people who know him, instead of preaching to crowds of strangers in other places. Last week we had lunch in Michigan with some very dear friends of ours. Their daughter used to sit at musical rehearsals and hold Eliana. Eliana was three weeks old. This girl was in middle school. We had lunch with her last week, and now she’s a college graduate, and their son was one of my students when he was 13. Now he’s married. He’s managing a gymnastics facility. It’s impossible to meet up with people you’ve known for so long and haven’t seen in a while and not think, “Well I remember when, I remember when you were little” but they aren’t kids anymore. They’re grown up, they’re living their adult lives, they’re living out their different vocations, but that’s what’s going on in today’s gospel reading. The people in Jesus’ hometown are the people who remember when. Maybe they never had teenage Jesus over for dinner, but they knew who he was. They knew his parents, they knew his brothers and his sisters, and that makes it especially difficult for them to receive his teaching, makes it hard for them to believe his miracles, because they’re just too familiar with him. Unfamiliarity breeds contempt. Mark actually draws our attention to this by the way he tells the story. The language here in Mark chapter 6 is strikingly similar to the language in Mark chapter one, when he tells us about Jesus’ first miracle. In both cases Jesus is in the synagogue teaching on the Sabbath and in both cases Jesus’ teaching leaves the crowd amazed. They’re stunned, they’re astonished, and in both cases the people’s first reaction is to look at Jesus and say, “What is this? Where did this man get this wisdom? Where did this man get this teaching?” Then the comment on his authority, acknowledging that even the evil spirits obey him, and that Jesus is able to do great wonders by his hands. But in Mark chapter one, the crowd believes. And then Mark six they don’t, and why? Well, as Jesus says, because the prophet is honored everywhere except in his hometown, except among his relatives, except in his own household in his hometown. They look at him and say “I remember when this guy was an acne-faced teenager” or in Mark’s words “Is not this the carpenter”. Don’t miss the condescending air to the question. Carpenter is a laborer. He’s not educated. He works with his hands. He builds things. The Carpenter is the guy you call when you need a shelf put into your pantry. He gets all sweaty when he goes to work. He’s got calluses on his hands. He comes home dirty at the end of the day. What makes this blue collar guy think he can teach me? Then they ask, “Don’t we know his brothers and sisters?” There might be a little jab at his family there too, something along the lines of “I went to school with his sisters and they were never the sharpest knives in the drawer, and I know his brothers. Let’s just say they were never in danger of graduating top of the class. Why does this guy think he is any different? Who does this guy think he is?” And so, they took offence at him, and that ultimately is the key, they took offense at him, not his teaching, at him. “Who does this guy think he is? What gives him the right to teach us?” The prophet is not welcome in his hometown, or among his relatives, or in his own household. But lest we think this is only an issue for the few 100 people who happened to live in 1st century Nazareth, perhaps this is a good point for us to pause and ask the question “Have we become Jesus’ hometown?” There are many in the world around us who believe they already know the Jesus story backwards forwards, upside and down. They think they know all about Christmas and Easter, and all that they stand for. They’ll quote Bible verses in support of all manner of political causes or social causes. They look at the Ten commandments or the Beatitudes with the same contempt and derision as the crowds in today’s gospel reading, and they’re not willing to listen to Jesus because they think they already know what he’s going to say. But it’s not just a challenge for those outside the church. Have we in the church become Jesus’ hometown? Have our ears been hardened by familiarity? Are we so familiar with words like Pharisee and Sadducee that we don’t truly see how they apply to the church today? Are we so familiar with words Gentiles and Samaritans that we’ve forgotten the way that Jesus would seek and save the lost? Have we grown so accustomed to the false dichotomy of relationship versus religion that we are blind to the way that Jesus calls us to both? Are we so familiar with the parables and the miracles and the crucifixion and the resurrection that we begin to look for something bigger, something better, something more interesting, something more worth our time? The danger is real. Familiarity breeds contempt. The danger is real, but the solution is ultimately simple. We continue in our Lord’s Word. We remember that the Word of God is not just historical information, it’s not just a story to be brushed aside if I’ve heard it once, or committed it to memory. No, the Word of God is living and active. It’s the breath of God himself, the voice of God today, the means by which our Lord speaks to us today. He calls us to repentance, he shows us our sin, he comforts us with the promise of forgiveness, and grants us new life in him. There’s a saying attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus that goes something like this “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man” because time changes the river, time changes the man. Something similar can be said of our Lord’s Word. The word itself never changes, the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our Lord stands forever. The word never changes, but we do, the world around us does, the circumstances of our life do. We hear the Christmas story dozens of times in our lives, but the comfort it brings us when we’re five is different than the comfort it will bring us at 85. So also, the parables, so also the miracles, so also the passion, the resurrection of our Lord, the word never changes, but the comfort it brings us is different at the different milestones of our lives. And so, we always return to our Lord’s Word. We gather at his altar to hear the proclamation, we attend Bible classes to interact with that Word, to interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ, benefiting from the conversation, the mutual growth. We have personal devotions. We sing, we listen to podcasts. We don’t let familiarity become contempt. We rejoice in the continued proclamation of our Lord’s Word. The prophet may not be welcome in his hometown, when those in his hometown think they are above the message. So, may such never be said of us, rather, maybe simply be at home in our Lord’s word, be at home in his church, find our safe haven here, build our house upon this Rock, strengthened and nourished by the gift of forgiveness, the ongoing proclamation of the gospel, because we have a tremendous gift in our Lord’s word. What a blessing to know that he’s present among us now, that he’s always here with us, forgiving our sins, and strengthening us for new life in him. So rather than contempt, may our Lord grant us a continued thirst for his Word. May he grant us the eyes and the ears of faith to see that his mercies are new every morning, and see his goodness anew every day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.