I'm not exactly sure how blogging a sermon works out theologically, and I may decide not to do it, but for now, here's last Sunday's sermon.
Mark 6: 1-13
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
For my grandmother, HOME is still Belcher, Kentucky, the town she left 40 years ago to move to Virginia with my grandfather. Mammaw and Pappaw would always refer to their trips to Kentucky as “going home.” When I was young, I was confused by this – sitting IN THEIR LIVING ROOM with them, I’d wonder where they kept their other house, and why I’d never seen it before.
Oddly enough, my grandparents also used the phrase – going home – when they talked about someone dying, so that when Pappaw passed away and Mammaw referred to him as having “gone home,” I wondered for just a minute whether or not he had driven to Kentucky to visit his relatives.
I do it too, you know. I haven’t lived in Virginia in five years – first away at college and now here in Atlanta – but I still think of Roanoke as HOME. Its where my family is, where our house is, where I get to eat my grandma’s cooking, worship in First Church of the Brethren’s sanctuary, and cheer at Virginia Tech football games. HOME, for me, is some crazy conglomeration of all these things piled one on top of the other.
I struggle with these verses in Mark, partly because they seem to suggest that Jesus’ idea of HOME is radically different from mine. I have to be honest with you and tell you that I chose this text to preach on not least because of the personal questions and frustrations it raises for me: What does it mean to be far from home? Must I always be traveling away from the people and places I love? Is it true that real discipleship requires me to give up everything I own and become, in effect, an itinerant preacher, a destitute hobo, a wandering restless guest, a perpetual stranger?
None of these options sound incredibly inviting. On the contrary, they seem pretty uncomfortable, frightening and impractical. I struggle with this passage.
Part of the problem, I think, is that the entirety of this passage feels counter-intuitive. HOME, for Jesus, becomes a place of pain and rejection. His friends, family and neighbors are offended by him – they won’t listen to his teaching and refuse to allow him to perform his miracles. Its not that he’s incapable of these things: Jesus has been traveling from town to town, preaching, teaching, exorcising demons, healing the sick, and raising the dead. His ministry is in full swing. When he returns to his hometown, however, things come to an abrupt halt. HOME is not a place of encouragement and stability, as it is for me. It is a place of misunderstanding, pain, and rejection.
We don’t use “HOME” to mean these things in our language. HOME is almost always a good thing:
We eat homemade, homegrown or home cooked meals.
We order homestyle breakfasts or homespun crafts.
We grieve the loss of the occupation of homemaker.
We compliment a homey room or a down-home personality.
We yearn for homesteads and homelands.
We cheer for those on the homestretch and applaud homeruns.
We root, root, root for the home team; when they don’t win, it’s a shame!
We describe our homelives, give out our home phone numbers, and fill our time with home entertainment centers.
Home, we say, is where the heart is.
Jesus uses home in a different way. He finds rejection in his hometown. Maybe this is the reason for the radical commands that he gives his disciples. Maybe it is bitterness that moves him to instruct the disciples to travel from town to town, carrying nothing with them, relying on the kindness of strangers. Maybe, unable to experience the comforts of home himself, Jesus wishes to prevent his followers from having what he can’t have.
Maybe. Jesus was, after all, human, and susceptible to emotions and bitterness just as we are. It certainly must have been hard to find his hometown unwilling to embrace him. Mark says that Jesus was “amazed” at their unbelief. Amazed, and, I’m sure, hurt. But I think that the commands are more than reactionary bitterness. I think the commands come from the deeper, radical idea that Jesus has of HOME.
Jesus tells his disciples to go; to travel from town to town casting out demons and curing the sick. “Don’t take much with you,” he says: no bread, no bag, no money. Take a staff, and wear some sandals – don’t even bring an extra coat. And, moreover, when you come to a town, stay there as long as they will have you, and if they do not welcome you, “shake off the dust that is on your feet,” and move on. Discipleship doesn’t involve one place that we can call home. It doesn’t involve certain foods, or possessions, or money, or even people. All of those images of home I carry around with me – the house, the mountains, grandma’s cooking, even my family – none of these makes any appearance in Jesus’ description of discipleship, in Jesus’ idea of home.
David Miller was the pastor of my church for ten years. Last year, he and his wife Carol Lena and their two year old son, Jonas, decided to leave the church and enter Brethren Volunteer Service. The program placed them at a farm in rural Maryland, serving homeless families. The decision was not an easy one for them to make: they loved the church and the church loved them, they had a comfortable house that they would have to sell, and their families were relatively close. It would also be a financial challenge, as the positions were unpaid, and the program’s insurance covered only David and Carol Lena, leaving little Jonas uninsured. To top it all off, Carol Lena found out just before they were to leave that she was pregnant with a second child, a condition that would be sure to make the year a bit more uncomfortable and uncertain.
Nonetheless, despite all the uncertainty, challenge and fear, despite pleas of the congregation to stay at the church, the protests of those who simply could not believe that they would take that child into such an unstable situation, and with another one on the way, too, they did it. They’ve been serving in Maryland for the past 11 months. Their second son, Zeb, was born this summer, and is perfectly healthy. They’re not sure what the future holds when their term of service ends, but I think that they’ve found the uncertainty to be a vital part of their discipleship.
David and Carol Lena are examples for me, examples of what is possible when we take Jesus’ message seriously, when we abandon our own selfish vision of what life should be, of what home should be, and try, instead, to live faithful lives of disciples. The last sermon that I heard David preach was about the practice of communion. The practice is so powerful, he said, that when we participate with others in it, no matter where we are, or what we have, we find that we are at home.
This, I think, is Jesus’ idea of home. Home was not a place or a thing, a single person or a meal. Instead, home is in the practices to which Jesus calls us. It is in the preaching and teaching, in the healing and sharing of the Holy Spirit, in the Sunday school rooms and the advisory board meetings, in Sunday morning communion and Wednesday night meals. It is in the Disciple class, the recovery meetings, the child development center and the fellowship meals.
Home is not a place; it is the practices of discipleship, the practices that we participate in here at Brookhaven. But practices happen all over, not just within the walls of the church. Listen to the instructions of Jesus. What do they mean for you? Where are they telling you to go? What ideas of home are they challenging? What will you have to leave behind?
Home is in the practices that we share. Jesus sent out his disciples, two by two, to share this message with anyone who would listen. He sent them away from their houses and hometowns so that they might build upon this new Home, the Kingdom of God.
Just before he left the church and closed down his e-mail account, David sent a final e-mail out. Peace be with you, he said, and take a chance for the gospel.