Sunday, July 5th, 2015 – The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Gower Christian Church, Gower, MO
Scriptures: Psalm 123, Mark 6:1-13
Hymns: “Sing a Song”, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, “Living for Jesus”, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”, “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love”, “Come Share the Lord”, “America, the Beautiful”
You Can’t Go Home Again
Ministry takes a rather long time to get into, believe it or not. For some who go into ministry, the seeds are planted when they’re very young. Perhaps a Sunday School class, or VBS, or church camp sparked a desire in them to someday stand behind that big fancy music stand at the front of the church and talk to the people. Some are a little older, recognizing the calling when they’re teenagers, feeling the tug of God on their lives to step up and be the man or woman who leads the people of God in worship. Either way, many of those kids who feel that call to ministry have a very specific church in mind that they want to serve: their own. The very church where they grew up, where their faith was turned into something bigger – that’s where they want to be the minister someday.
Then, of course, you have the people like me. The people who are asked as kids in Sunday School if they think they might like to be a minister someday, and laugh it off, because of course, they’re going to be a fireman. Or an astronaut. Or the President. Or a space-fireman who gets elected President. That could be a thing, right?!
Then, those kids get to be teenagers, and for reasons passing their understanding, pastors that they know seem to think they’ll make good ministers, which of course those teenagers know is ridiculous, because they plan to go to college, learn to be a software engineer, and then go work for Bill Gates, or the FBI, or whoever’s willing to pay them six figures right out of the gate. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something whispering to them in the back of their minds, but they ignore it.
Then, college comes around. The dreams of being a software engineer go out the window along with the high GPA that the teenager had in high school, and suddenly, the teenager finds himself walking through the streets of Flagstaff, Arizona, in the middle of the night, wondering what the heck went wrong. And that’s when they hear the question about ministry again – except this time, it seems to be a more direct source. This time, there’s no Sunday School teacher or pastor-as-camp-counselor serving as intermediary – this time, it seems as though the question is coming from a source no less than God.
I have to wonder what sparked Jesus’ call to ministry. On the one hand, we can objectively say that Scripture tells us that He was the Son of God, and we figure that that had something to do with His call. We know that as early as age 12, he had enough of an understanding of who He was and what He was destined to do that He went to the temple to challenge the priests and debate them on the finer points of the Jewish Scriptures. But it seems reasonable to imagine that Jesus, the little boy, probably wanted to be a carpenter, just like His dad, and that Jesus, the teenager, probably thought that His parents’ talk of Hebrew school and a rabbinical education was absolutely ludicrous. After all, He might’ve been the Son of God, but He was still a teenage boy, and when was the last time one of them willingly went along with his parents’ ideas?
Eventually, though, Jesus would’ve reconciled those ideas with His knowledge of who He was, and gone off to study, to learn the Scriptures, and over time, figure out that those prophecies were talking about Him. He was the Messiah, the chosen one, and He was the one that the people would condemn and hand over to the government to be executed. And you know what? Seminarians these days are angsty and downtrodden enough without that kind of weight on their shoulders. If I had come to the realization in the middle of my second year theology class that oh, hey, I was the lamb that would be sacrificed, I would’ve probably said, “Nope, I’m out. Peace!”
Obviously, though, I didn’t have that realization. Instead, I studied the theology formed around the one whose own ministry had given life to mine. Here was Jesus of Nazareth, rabbi. He came to the Jordan River to be baptized by His cousin, John, the original hellfire-and-brimstone Baptist preacher. And when He came up out of the waters, He was anointed, commissioned, perhaps we could even say ordained by God, descending upon Him in the shape of a dove. And in the modern context, we sort of split that event up into two halves. The first half is one that takes place in the lives of many Christians – when they, like Jesus before them, are baptized in the cleansing waters to be anointed by God. The second half, though, is the part that is set aside for those who go into Christian ministry – the ordination, where we recognize the resting of the Spirit upon those who have been called to preach the Good News.
And here’s the thing: many, many ministers out there, though they may protest otherwise, continue to harbor that child-like desire to someday stand before the sacred desk in the congregation where they were raised. Each one of us has this secret dream that maybe, maybe someday we’ll go back to that congregation where we grew up, to serve them as pastor, if only to repay them for raising us the right way. I have to imagine that Jesus had that same desire – to return home and show the people amongst whom He grew up the way, the truth, and the life.
That’s how He started off His ministry, too. In the Gospel of Mark, after He is baptized and spends the next forty days in the wilderness, being tempted by the devil, Jesus goes back to the Galilee region in Israel. Nazareth, the little town where He grew up, was situated in Galilee, so it was a logical place to go. He spent the next several months going around, preaching and teaching throughout Galilee, in synagogues and houses, gathering His twelve disciples, and doing His best to bring the new covenant to the people of this region where He grew up. To compare, it would be like if, say, Morgan Walkup were to go to seminary and become a minister, and after she was ordained, headed back to Gower, but on the way, spent several months going across Missouri as an itinerant minister before finally ending up back home.
And end up back home is just what Jesus eventually did. Just like He had in every other town in Galilee, He went to the synagogue and began to preach – and that’s when things kind of went very wrong. You see, these people were different. These people didn’t see Him as the mysterious rabbi about whom they had heard so very much, going throughout Galilee, teaching and healing. No, they saw Him as the son of Mary and Joseph, probably as that troublemaking little kid who they could’ve sworn broke their window – they heard the glass break! – but by the time they got there, the window was intact, and Jesus was just standing there with this innocent look on His face. He was no rabbi, He was Jesus the baby, the boy, the teenager who had grown up among them. They knew Him, and they just couldn’t take Him seriously as a rabbi.
If you think about it, it’s kind of a question of credibility. It doesn’t matter how great a preacher you are, being accepted in your home congregation is difficult at best. Yes, there were times when I thought about how great it would be to go home to Foothills Christian Church and be a pastor there. Without that church, I would never have gone into ministry. It only seems right to pay them back! Of course, that train of thought only works right up until I remember that there are several women there who worked in the nursery when I was a baby and changed my diapers. I mean, how exactly am I supposed to preach the Word of God to people who likely still have this mental image of me running around the nursery with a sagging diaper?
Or, in Jesus’ case, given that diapers didn’t come into common usage until late sixteenth century England, the people of Nazareth probably had this mental image of naked baby Jesus running around town. You can see why He might have had a hard time getting the people of the town to take Him seriously!
And so it is that for every preacher, there eventually comes that realization that you can’t go home again. You’ll never be the preacher that your home church needs, nor will your home church ever be the congregation that you, as a minister, need. Jesus recognized that Himself, when in Mark 6:4, He said, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Jesus was Himself the Son of God, and even He wasn’t able to do anything at home. It was just asking too much for the people of Nazareth to look beyond the fact that they knew Him as Jesus the son of Mary and Joseph, and acknowledge Him as Jesus the rabbi.
That’s why Jesus sent His disciples out, and that’s why He Himself went out from Nazareth. He knew that in order for His ministry to have any effect, He was going to have to get out among the people He did not know, and who did not know Him. It was a leap of faith, too – He took nothing with Him, and He told His disciples to do the same, to take nothing for their journey except a staff, no food, no luggage, no money, just enough clothes for the journey.
When new ministers head out from seminary today, it’s sort of a leap of faith for them as well. Many of them don’t have very much. Those of you who helped me move in might beg to differ on just how much I had, but at the same time, I had had a successful hotel career before going to seminary. Many young ministers coming out of seminary today went straight there from college. Their worldly possessions are limited. Their bank accounts are puny. Their clothes are sometimes a little worn, their car looking like something that belongs in a Mad Max movie. But they take this leap of faith, and they follow the call that is placed upon them by Jesus. They go out, to a new place.
And for each of us who undertakes that call, we are given an instruction: wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. Now, that might seem kind of obvious – stay where you are until you leave – but the underlying meaning is this: for as long as you feel welcome in a place, for as long as you feel like you’re making a difference in a place, for as long as you feel like God has called you to a given place, stay there until you leave.
And y’know, sometimes those young ministers just coming out of seminary go to a place, and stay there for thirty-eight years until they leave.
As for me… well, my inner five year old still holds out hope of someday being elected the first space-firefighting President. But for the minister that years of subtle “suggestions” managed to make out of me, I know that while that oasis in the desert in north Phoenix will always, in a way, be my home, I can never be their minister. Here, on the other hand… here, I know that I’m making a difference. Here, I know that the words that God speaks through me reach people. Here, I know that I’m accepted as a minister, if for no other reason than none of you ever changed my diaper.
As long as all of that is true… well, my directions from Jesus are to stay. And my hope is that all of that will be true for a long time to come.