Hometown Boy

Sermon for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost
July 7, 2024

Do you remember the first time you did your job—the first time you actually carried out your calling in life? Every profession is unique, of course. But preaching hits different. It’s something very public that comes out of something that’s intensely private. And in many cases, it’s performed in front of the preacher’s family and many other people who watched them grow up. It’s scary for everybody—whether speaking or listening: The preacher because public speaking is one of the biggest fears out there; and the listener, because who knows what this little preacher might say, or what dirty linen they’re going to hang out in public?*

If you can picture what I’m talking about, then multiply it by about a million to begin to understand the context of this morning’s reading from the gospel. Because Jesus’ message that morning in his hometown synagogue wasn’t like any other message his friends and family had ever heard before. He wasn’t just talking about God’s law and how to obey it. He wasn’t just helping them find hope for the future. He wasn’t just searching the prophets to discover when and how God’s kingdom might come. No, he himself was the fulfillment of all the topics those people had heard preachers talk about before. When Jesus spoke, he was the very embodiment of the kingdom he preached. He was the fulfillment of God’s promises: He talked about it in words, and he showed it in his actions.

And this was a bit much for the people who probably knew him best. Their response was basically, “Who does he think he is?” And with the benefit of two thousand years of Christianity behind us, we might feel comfortable judging and criticizing them. But I don’t think our reaction would’ve been that much different. If somebody from our hometown stood before us and spoke with a power and authority we didn’t know they had, we would probably also have a few discouraging words for them.

And so, when Jesus went home, his friends and family couldn’t open their hearts and minds to the truth of his message and the power of his transforming love. He moved on, and his hometown wasn’t able to hear his message of wholeness. Instead, some were angry that he’d gotten above his raising; while others, acting more charitably (or so they thought), felt that Jesus wasn’t all there, and needed to be saved from himself.

I hope that most of us know Jesus. And “knowing Jesus” probably means different things to different people. But through our church, and through reading the Bible, and through what’s said out there in our culture in general, we have all formed an idea of who Jesus is supposed to be—who we think he must be.

It happens with everybody we have a relationship with, no matter how close that relationship is. Once we get to know somebody, we begin to think we really know them, and that they can no longer surprise us. When we’re at our best, we can still allow people to change—we won’t hold somebody back when they’re becoming something that they weren’t before. We can be there for them in the tough times when they need us, or we can learn from them when their experience has something to teach us.

Though I think we all know this about the people in our lives, it’s easier said than done. But when it’s really important, I hope that each of us is able to accept the people in our lives for who they are, and to accept that change is possible.

So let’s remember that one of our relationships—perhaps our most important relationship—is with the One who came proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand: There’s a way of life that lifts us above the selfishness and the pettiness and the vindictiveness and the unfaithfulness, and it’s embodied in the Man from Nazareth. He is our hope for something better.

We’re told this is true, but we’re too often blinded by our own assumptions about who we want Jesus to be. Sometimes he interferes with this person we want to be with, this goal we want to set for ourselves or this thing we want to possess, or even this political or social belief that we hold dearly. But rather than taking stock of who we are and what’s really important to us, we too quickly try to put the Lord into a box he can’t actually fit into.

This doesn’t just happen to us, and it didn’t just happen to the good people of Nazareth. I think it happened many times in the lives of Jesus’ closest followers—the disciples that witnessed everything he said and did. And there was no time when this was more true than on the night before he died, when he broke the bread and shared the cup, saying, “This is me. Remember me when you eat and drink: look at my body, think about my blood, and know that nothing in life or death can stand between you and my love.”

When we gather round the table, we always tell you that no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here. But it’s also true that no matter who and where you are, you don’t know it all; there’s still something to learn, there’s still a sermon intended for your ears, some of the scripture that makes you uncomfortable is aimed at you, change is still possible.

In our church, Holy Communion is about relationship—our relationship with our Lord, and our relationship with our sisters and brothers in Christ. As we eat and drink together, we realize that we are one with the One who died for us, and we are one with all who share the faith with us. So let us love one another, for love is from God, and God is love. This is the essence of the Kingdom message, and it is our hope for something better in this life… and the next.
—©2024 Sam Greening 

*This opening illustration is based on N.T. Wright’s commentary found in Mark for Everyone (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), pp. 65-66.