14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
For those of you wondering, “Hey, where did that nice Cathy lady go”: it turns out, she’s not actually the pastor here. True story: she’s actually a semi-retired hospital chaplain and I am actually your pastor. I don’t blame you. I know it’s been a few weeks: but my name is Brian and I’ve been the pastor at Calvary for ten years now!
I’ve never held a job into double-digits before; I’m very excited about it. But here’s the weird thing: I can’t tell if it feels like it’s been ten years or not. On the one hand, it seems like just yesterday that you were helping me and my family move to Bayfield; but on the other hand, we’ve been through so much together over the past decade that it also seems like a lifetime ago. On the one hand, I feel like the years have earned me some trust—that time has proven that I care about you, that I want what’s best for this congregation, and that I’m not going anywhere; but on the other hand, I wonder if I’ve become too local; like maybe you know me too well; like maybe you’ll look at me and think, “Oh, that’s just Brian.”
My hope is that it’s more about the trust than the familiarity. I think it is. I think that if we try new things, you know me well enough and I know you well enough, that we can take chances together. I believe that we can receive the movement of the Spirit through one another better than Jesus’ townsfolk did. They say that “familiarity breeds contempt,” but I am confident that as we see God at work in one another, our familiarity can grow something better.
So, the mother and siblings of Jesus are mentioned specifically twice in the Gospel of Mark. Oddly, the last sermon I preached, back on June tenth, was the other time they are mentioned. If you don’t recall a Scripture lesson from about a month ago, it went like this: the family of Jesus came to him because they thought he’d gone crazy. They were repeating a theme that we see a lot in the Gospel of Mark: very few could see Jesus for who he truly was. Nearly everyone in Mark asks some version of the question: who is this guy?
This is funny because the very first line of Mark says, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” So from the very beginning of this story, we get it. We know who Jesus is, but we are continually astounded by all of those in Mark who don’t. Perhaps it’s a reflection of God’s sense of humor, but it’s always those who should most see the power of God in Jesus, who are the very people who can’t see it: the religious people like priests and Pharisees; his own disciples; his family; and even his own townsfolk—people he’d been going to church with all his life. It’s enough to make you wonder: maybe there’s a point there we should be paying attention to. Do we who should know him best, sometimes miss what he’s doing in our midst? Could it be that we don’t know him as well as we thought?
People have asked me how my vacation was. The short answer is, “It was vacation, are you kidding?” I entrusted VBS cleanup, Fourth of July preparation, and worship leadership into the capable hands of other people and left town. It was great!
The longer answer to how my vacation was is that I got to know my family again. We decided to drive to California this time; we split it into a two-day trip, so that’s two seven or eight hour days… in a car… with the same people. It turns out that, when you are stuck in a car for hours on end with the same people, you learn things about those people. I learned (or probably re-learned) that my family is great! We get along well. They are funny, helpful, and more patient than remembered. I learned that, although my wife’s road trip playlist is decidedly different than mine, our musical tastes do have some overlap. I learned that my eldest son is a surprisingly good driver. Surprising because I’ve seen him play video games. It turns out that there is always something to learn about people; even family members. If there is more to know about one another, even among our families, it shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus still surprises us.
It seems a little overly-simplistic to say this, but it needs to be said: get to know Jesus. The more I get to know Jesus, the more I like him. That might sound weird to hear from me, given my profession and that I’ve been a lifelong Christian. But it’s true, even in the past few years. I was raised in certain types of churches: churches that made it seem like Jesus built walls; walls that insured that the right people got in… and the wrong people were kept out. But the more I know about Jesus the less I think those walls are from him. Jesus says, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." I wonder if he would add, “And in their own churches.”
We like to think of a life in Christ as if it’s a game of Follow the Leader, but the truth is it’s more like Simon Says. Do you remember Simon Says? The leader tells you to do something, but if the leader doesn’t say “Simon says” first, you’re not supposed to do it. “Simon says, ‘stand on one foot.’” So you stand on one foot. “Put your foot down [puts down foot],” and now I’m out. It’s an easy mistake to make, especially as we try to follow Jesus.
That’s why it is vital that we strive to know Jesus more and more. It’s vital for our own spiritual health, but it’s also vital because of what happens in our story today. Our Scripture lesson takes an unexpected twist, and I think it’s on purpose. On the very heels of being rejected by his own people, Jesus sent his disciples out two by two. They are sent, essentially, to do what Jesus has been doing: to have authority over unclean spirits, to travel light, and shake it off (so to speak) you get rejected. Jesus sends us into this world to be mini-Jesus’ in it. To do what he did, to say what he said, to love like he loved, and to expect to be rejected like he was rejected. I don’t know if I like or hate that last part. I like it because it’s honest: not everyone is going to receive the word we proclaim. I hate it because, like most normal human beings, I don’t like rejection. I think perhaps, it is our fear of being rejected that often keeps us from proclaiming our faith; at least through our words.
Historically, many of the followers of Jesus have made sharp distinctions between "mission" and "evangelism"—between outreach in deeds and outreach in words. And understandably, we have tended to gravitate more toward “mission,” perhaps because of our anxiety about “evangelism.” But lately, I’ve come to see that Jesus didn’t make distinctions like that. When Jesus sends his followers out into the surrounding villages, they were sent to do both healing (or mission) and proclamation (or evangelism).
We recently wrapped up what they call “commencement season.” A commencement story that I heard a little while ago, I think, sums up what’s going on in our Scripture reading today. It happened a few years ago at the commencement exercises at Emory University. Now, I imagine we’ve all been to a graduation before, so we all remember how unbearable they can be, right? They are long and they are boring for the audience and they are even worse for the graduates. For the graduates, who have just finished years of reading, studying, writing, and testing, all they want is their diploma so they can go. But no, now they have to wait through this unending ceremony first. You can’t really blame them for getting a little squirrely after a while.
At this particular graduation ceremony at Emory, they were also awarding honorary degrees. Can you imagine? You’re graduating from college, after years of hard work, and now they’re handing out degrees who just neat stuff with their lives. And to top that off: they let the people getting honorary degrees make speeches. The graduates were not exactly respectful, as you might imagine.
That is, until Hugh Thompson got up to receive his honorary degree. Thompson was probably the least educated man on the platform. Rather than going to college, he enlisted in the army, where he became a helicopter pilot.
"On March 16, 1968, he was flying a routine patrol in Vietnam when he happened to fly over the village of Mai Lai just as American troops, under the command of Lieutenant William Calley, were shooting dozens of unarmed villagers—old men, women, and children. Thompson set his helicopter down between the troops and the remaining civilians. He ordered his tail-gunner to train the helicopter guns on the American soldiers, and he ordered the gunmen to stop killing the villagers. Hugh Thompson's actions saved the lives of dozens of people, and he was almost court-martialed for it. In fact, he’d have to wait thirty years before the army awarded him the Soldier's Medal for it.
As he stood at the microphone, the rowdy student body grew still. And Thompson used that opportunity to talk about his faith. Simple words, speaking of what his parents taught him as a child. He said, "They taught me, 'Do unto others as you would have them do onto you.'" The standing ovation Thompson received at the end of his speech was not simply for any well-crafted words, but because of the life of the man who spoke them. Thompson's words about his faith had weight because he lived a life proved it true.
May we know our Savior more and more. May we know him well enough, that by his Spirit, we might be made more and more like him. And as we are sent into this world, may we share him through both the things that we do and the things that we say.