Let Us Extend Liberty And Justice For All: Proper 9

Let Us Extend Liberty And Justice For All: Proper 9

Proper 9: July 4, 2021
The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost

Year B: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

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What do you think about when someone mentions your hometown? Maybe it’s the sight of your mother’s overabundant garden or running through the backyard to get to your grandparents’ house. Maybe your hometown holds fond recollections of playing summer baseball or walking to the corner store—a few pennies, a nickel or dime in your hand – and getting some candy or ice cream on a hot summer day. I remember that my mother would give three of us a quarter for the day. We’d be at the playground, leaving at 8:30 in the morning, returning home sometime after 4, and that 25 cents needed to take care of all three of us.

Since we’re celebrating Independence Day today, my recollections of growing upon the 4th including swimming in the river and having sparklers at night after a day of coleslaw, potato salad, burgers, and hot dogs.

Sometimes, a hometown can communicate comfort and security. There is something about driving on well-traveled streets, of walking into a restaurant and seeing people you know or who know your parents and cannot believe how you’ve grown. There can be profound warmth in such a familiar world.

They are as often, less the stuff of dreams than they are of nightmares. Hometowns can trigger instances of deep trauma, resurrecting decades-old anxieties.

Hometowns conjure up all kinds of memories and emotions. Over the years, they become saturated with profound importance and meaning and can even take on a life of their own.

Hometowns can be lifegiving and heart-rending and everything in between.

Today, our gospel text from Mark recounts Jesus returning to his hometown with his disciples in tow. And for all the pleasant moments that might have brought to his mind, there were, we hear, some pretty significant challenges.

The gospels don’t give us much on Jesus’ upbringing; there were no ubiquitous smartphones in first century Nazareth to record pictures or video of his family life. But based on a handful of clues, it is safe to assume that Mary and Joseph were devout Jews who trusted in God’s plan and provision, and that Jesus would have been the beneficiary of such a faithful rearing. Remember that scene where adolescent Jesus is at the synagogue for three days, sitting amidst the religious leaders, peppering them with questions? Take that and run with it. Let your imagination fill in the gaps of his formative years.

Nearly twenty years later, Jesus sets out from his home, invites some working-class guys to accompany him, and begins his formal ministry. He’s seen all over the place, traveling in and out of homes and villages and cities around the Galilee, teaching and healing and calling others to a new sort of life. Along the way, Jesus utters some cryptic sayings about the kingdom of God and near-blasphemous statements about his relationship to God. Throughout Mark’s gospel, he tells those who witness these things not to speak, for fear that their testimonies will fall into the wrong hands.

Jesus has been busy, teaching and healing, away from home, but the road now leads him back to Nazareth.

Surely Jesus was hoping for some comfort in Nazareth, some recollection of old times. But whatever nostalgia flooded back was quickly stemmed by a demon of a different sort; Jesus names it as a lack of faith, a collective inability to see the hand of God at work because of past assumptions: “Where did this man get all this?[1] 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?”[2]

“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”[3] If a hometown is a comfortable place, it’s understandable why a prophet would not be welcome there. Prophets are not dictated by comfort or custom but driven by a sort of divine obligation. Hometowns are places often bound, sometimes paralyzed, by precedent. Prophets come to unsettle, to startle a people into new ways of seeing the world, and to demand them cease their spiritual backsliding. Hometowns occasionally toe the line of the status quo. Prophets disrupt the status quo, speaking light and life into the creeping darkness of what has come to be “normal” or “natural”.

Thinking about a hometown is an exercise in thinking about the complexity of being human, our myriad, everyday habits—some good, some not so good. It’s about appreciating the beauties of a place we called home for years. But it’s also about shrewd ways we insulate our lives from failure, from fear, from “those people.”

What are the hometowns we have created for ourselves? Where are the places of comfort that have brought us grace? Where are the sealed-off places where we are doing our best to insulate ourselves and curate a nice, clean life, untouched by those we deem unclean and unsafe for us to associate with?

It’s understandable why we would be hesitant to let Jesus into either one of these spaces. Why would we want to disrupt that which is good and cozy, especially in a world where good news can be hard to come by? Alternatively, why would we allow ourselves to be stretched and challenged, for our lives to be undone, willingly, with all the awkwardness and unease that can bring?

“Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”[4]

It is uncomfortable to let a prophet’s presence wreak havoc in the corners of your heart, in your own house, among your own people. But letting God speak into what we think of as the warmest, coziest places of our lives might increase our souls’ capacity for love—for both God and our neighbors. If we allow Jesus’ prophetic presence to sink in, something like scales might well fall from our eyes, encouraging us to see those who were, for the longest time, invisible. We might start to witness walls of hostility and division come down, or cease to be built in the first place. We might learn to welcome those whom we, at one time, labeled “unsafe” or “other” or “criminal”.

What might it look like for us to be disrupted by Jesus the prophet here and now? There are no pat answers; each life is different and experiences grace and healing uniquely. But I would wager that it would look like taking stock of how things have always been done and exploring how the church can proclaim and enact hope in transformative ways.

So, on this Independence Day, a let us commit ourselves anew to extending liberty and justice to everyone who seeks it, without partiality. Because opening ourselves, our communities, our neighborhoods, and our nation to such a prophet and such a message is not easy. But doing so can bring about beautiful fruit and leave us, like those in the synagogue, “astounded” at God’s words and works.  Amen.

[1] Mark 6:2, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[2] Mark 6:3, NRSV

[3] Mark 6:4, NRSV

[4] Ibid.

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