Sermons

Ezekiel 2:1-5Psalm 1232 Corinthians 12:2-10Mark 6:1-13

 

Mark says of Jesus in his hometown, “and he could do no deeds of power there.”

 

Jesus, the healer and miracle worker people from all over came to see, could do no deeds of power.  

 

Apparently, there were some things God Incarnate could not do.  That isn’t heresy. That’s the Gospel According to Mark.

We think this story is about the universal experience we all have of being brought low, back to earth, ego shot by the people who know us the best.  No matter what role or accomplishments we have reached in life, to the people who call us ‘dad’ or ‘daughter’ or ‘cousin’ or ‘friend’, we will always be just that.  

 

The fact that my siblings call me “Saint Jeff of Edgewood” is no compliment, I assure you.

 

But it is about something so much bigger I think.  It is about something that has huge implications for our understanding of how God moves in the world.

 

God needs us.  And not in some abstract way that keeps us from being accountable to God’s need.  God needs each one of us in order for God to do what it is God longs to do in this world.

 

That is the reason Jesus couldn’t be Jesus in his hometown.  His hometown refused to let him. They saw him in action, they heard him teach, they marveled at what he had to say the the deeds they heard he’d done, but they couldn't allow themselves to open up to that same loving grace.  

 

God needs us.

 

We are taught that again in the very next story, as Jesus equips his disciples to be sent out into the world.  Why would he need to equip others for the work, if he could do it himself? Because God needed them to do the work.  God needed them, like God needs us.

 

These two stories; Jesus in his hometown and the equipping of the disciples are put together to teach us that God needs us.  God needs us to be open to the Grace and love and healing God is offering us, and God needs us to partner in the love and healing God need done in the world.

 

Many of us are better at one than the other.  

Most of us are more willing to partner with God in the doing, than opening ourselves to the vulnerability of needing God, particularly if that means opening ourselves to needing someone to do God’s work with us.

 

The story of Jesus in his hometown is the story of God among the pessimists.  There is nothing Jesus can do.

 

The story of Jesus and his disciples might be the story of God among the optimists.  The disciples have no reason to believe that Jesus won’t always be with them, doing what needs to be done, healing what needs to be healed.  All they need to do is follow and watch.

 

I think most people would assume that I am an optimist, a glass half full kind of guy; someone who can see the best in a situation.

 

The people closest to me might have reason to challenge that assumption.  And I haven’t been feeling like much of an optimist of late.

 

It has become increasingly difficult, in the face of world events, to assume everything will work out for the best in the end.

 

Two weeks ago you heard me preach about the powerful experience of being at the immigration detention center and the encouragement it gave me to keep moving forward.

 

Last week, I attended the huge “Keep families together” rally at City Hall.  It was wall to wall people on a beautiful day in late June. There were inspiring speeches and catchy chants.  And while I was buoyed to be among so many people who are actively seeking justice and mercy in the world, I wondered what difference it really made.  

 

What difference does one more rally make, particularly here in Massachusetts.  And even more so, what difference did it make that I was there? Would one less person have made the rally less effective?  Did my presence tip the scale to make someone take notice and change a vote or a policy?

 

Oh how quickly I can move from optimism to pessimism.  I was reminded recently that while we are certainly not called to be a people of pessimism, we are not called either to be a people of optimism.  Why? Because neither optimism nor pessimism require anything of us. Both let us off the hook completely and relegate us to spectators of the events around us.*

 

Pessimism tells us there is nothing we can do, there is nothing to be done, things will not work out, so no need in trying.  Pessimism puts us in Jesus’ hometown. “And he could do no deeds of power there.”

 

Optimism tells us things will always work out, things will get better, everything is awesome, there is nothing we need to do.  

Maybe we follow God, but we are following waiting for God to do what needs to be done, a bit like the disciples before they are equipped and sent out, prepared for the same receptions he has gotten in his ministry.

 

We are not called to be a people of Optimism, or a people of Pessimism.  We are called to be a people of Hope.

 

There is a world of difference between optimism and hope.  

 

Pessimism assumes everyday will be Good Friday.  Optimism assumes everyday will be Easter Sunday. Hope stands in Good Friday with a view toward Easter Sunday and then works to get from one to the other.

 

Hope requires action.  Hope requires God. And Hope requires us.

 

Pessimism breeds apathy.  Optimism breeds complacency.  Hope breeds agency.

 

Think of the young men from the Thai soccer team trapped in an underground cave.

 

Pessimism would say nothing to be done but grieve and wait for the inevitable.

 

Optimism would say nothing needed to be done as everything will work out.  All we need do is send thoughts and prayers.

 

Hope says that things look grave, and the way out is unsure, but that there is possibility and there is commitment and there are hands and feet and hearts ready and willing to do what must be done to bring these boys out.

 

Hope is what made it possible that this morning we heard the Good News that four of the young men had, indeed, been rescued.  Hope is what will be needed for the remaining eight boys and their coach to be freed as well.

 

We are called to be a people of Hope.

 

Maybe what the scriptures are trying to tell us this morning is that we can’t control if people listen, but it matters greatly that we speak.  In Ezekiel and then again in Mark, we hear the struggle to maintain hope when those who need to hear the word will not listen.

 

But God says to Ezekiel, speak, whether they listen or not.

 

Jesus taught and healed some, whether the whole community listened or not.

 

And then Jesus sends his disciples out to do the work of God and prepared for those times when they would not be listened to, when they would feel like they were shouting against the wind.  Go anyway, he tells them.

 

Maybe the challenge lies in how we measure success.  What can one person do? What difference can I make? What difference can God make?

 

Maybe success in God’s view, maybe Kingdom success is the willingness to speak when no one is listening; to help when there is no foreseeable end to the need; to keep looking even when it hurts to see.

 

I am not an optimist about the immigration challenges in this country.  But I do have hope.

 

I am not an optimist about many things these days, but I do have hope.

 

We must not assume things cannot change, for we have seen Easter.

 

And, because we have seen Good Friday, we can not just assume things will change, without us offering our lives to the work God calls us to.

We can, and we must, work to move ourselves, our loved ones, our neighbors and the world from whatever Good Friday we are in to the Easter Sundays that wait for us, that are promised to us.

 

Because we are a people of hope.  And a people of hope can change the world.  

 

We are a people of Hope.  Alleluia, Alleluia.

Amen.

*The framework of pessimism, optimism and hope came from something I read recently, and is not original to me.  I wracked my brain and scoured my recent reading materials, and could not find the source.  If I do, I will update accordingly.  If it sounds like something you've read recently, please be in touch and let me know.  

© 2018 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

 

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