You can join this week’s worship service by visiting: https://youtu.be/zqLAejxLayk
Below, you’ll find Andy’s reflection and prayers for this week.
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Mark 6: 1-13
Music: You Are Holy; I Have Called You By Your Name
In sports, teams usually win more often in their own stadium or arena than they do “on the road.” It’s called home field advantage. It’s true in baseball, football, basketball… even Little League. And as an athlete, if you’re playing in your hometown, regardless of whether you play for the home team or not, you generally get a warm welcome.
What we find out in Mark, though, is that there is no hometown advantage for prophets. Jesus fares poorly at home; Mark says he could “do no great works” in the region of his friends and family. There was no pride in the son returned home. Jesus would have been the most famous person ever to come out of Nazareth, but the people there not only didn’t seem to care, they actually turned on him.
His friends and neighbours refused to accept that he was a rabbi, let alone the Messiah. We aren’t told why: was it jealousy? Inferiority? Maybe they were just confused. After all, the sons of carpenters simply didn’t teach in the synagogue. Most people left worship that day saying, “I’m sorry, but that new preacher just didn’t do a thing for me!” Or, “I can still remember him with straws up his nose at the Sunday School picnic!” The crowds didn’t trust him.
Jesus’ response to this rejection is not what we would expect. He didn’t get angry at the crowd, or fire his publicist, or post a sarcastic Tweet. Instead, he gathered his disciples and sent them out “with authority over the unclean spirits”; that is, the same authority given him by God. Rather than continue to make the issue about himself, he doubled down on his trust, not only in God, but in his friends, sharing both his strength and his vulnerability openly with them.
And when he commissioned the disciples, he asked them to live by that same trust. “Whenever you enter a house,” he said, don’t look around for better options; be loyal to those who welcome you. “If any place will not welcome you… shake off the dust that is on your feet…”. In other words, don’t force it. Just move on to the next people and place. Love will find a home.
Interestingly, Mark reports that Jesus gave the disciples an additional, strict order: take nothing for your journey. No bread, no bag, no money, no change of clothes. Only your walking staff, nothing else. Now that’s a strange requirement, especially in the ancient desert. It would leave them vulnerable and entirely at the mercy of people like those who had just rejected Jesus. In a land without gas stations and motels, it was a risky way to go.
A scholar named John Dominic Crossan explains that, in Jesus’ day, there were followers of a school of Greek philosophy called the Cynics. They believed in living a life of virtueand simplicity, rejecting wealth, power, and even possessions. Quite famously, however, the Cynics carried with them one bag: a little food, a little money, and a change of clothes; the single bag symbolizing simplicity, but also their desire for complete self-sufficiency.
Complete self-sufficiency, however, has a shadow side, which is isolation. The Cynics’ lack of need for other people obviated the possibility of building relationships, and trust. Today, we use the word cynic, or cynicism, to describe people who place no trust in new people, or new ideas.
By contrast, Jesus instructed his followers to travel without a bag. They were to be the opposite of self-sufficient, the opposite of cynical: they were to trust in strangers, to depend on others. Jesus’ Way insists on relationship – and not just relationship with family and friends, but the more risky and exposed kind of relationship that develops when we are the ones being hosted. It wasn’t enough simply to be charitable, kind to others; disciples of Jesus had to become the others; to experience the vulnerability and grace of having to rely on their neighbours. Only then, would his followers understand God’s love.
Perhaps that’s why the crowds didn’t like what Jesus had to say: trusting others, depending on them, is uncomfortable. Our society lauds independence, security, and ownership, and throughout our whole lives it builds and shapes our desire for them. To be grown up is to have a good job, own a house and a car, and have nice things. What Jesus offers is the opposite: maturity measured by our depth of relationship; a wealth measured not by mysecurity, but by my neighbour’s.
That is not a vision we can meet as self-fulfilled islands because it’s a vision that demands something of us. And what it demands is more than charity: more than me sharing out of my wealth with a one way gift of benevolence. What freedom and justice require of us is mutuality: our desire for another person’s healing and peace.
At one of my first Presbytery meetings ever, as a newly settled minister in southern New Brunswick, a man well-known in the area came to our meeting and asked for our help. Chief Hugh Akagi asked our presbytery to support him in his effort to have the Passamaquoddy peoples of Canada officially recognized by our government. Having been in Scotland for the five years before this Presbytery meeting, I had no idea what Hugh was talking about, but I could sense in the room that there was both a desire to help him, and a lingering hesitation.
After a few tentative questions, one brave soul asked the question that was on my mind, too: Who are the Passamaquoddy? Having grown up in Dartmouth, I knew that our local mall was called the Mic Mac Mall, and what I had learned about the Mi’kmaq people in Grade 6 had long since faded from memory. My lack of knowledge could be seen as a question of history and context, but the question we faced as a Presbytery that night with Hugh was question of relationship: we simply didn’t know any Passamaquoddy people.
Hugh’s answer not only informed our response as a Presbytery, but my thinking from that point on: “Then let’s get to know each other.” Over the next year or so, we shared meals together and learned about Passamaquoddy history; we spent time in each others’ homes and visited the Passamaquoddy who lived in Maine. We formed a partnership with the local Food Bank and held fundraising events together. In other words, we came to know each other and, little by little, establish trust.
My clearest memory of that time is visiting the house of an elder in Maine, sitting in her kitchen and hearing about how the international border divided a people, and then being fed by someone who didn’t know me from Adam. We came with nothing for our journey, and strangers became neighbours.
It was under Hugh’s tutelage that I came to chair the Aboriginal Working Group of the Maritime Conference and meet teaching elders throughout New Brunswick and Maine, like Alma Brooks and gsitanimuk. It was at a meeting of Idle No More – an activist network concerned with the environmental effects of shale gas exploration and its impact on Indigenous communities – that I talked to gsitanimuk about the congregation here at St. Paul’s. Having named a few people we knew in common, he said, “You’re running with good people.”
It’s because of this community, and the people who help raise and guide our children, that, at a rally last month in memory of the children found in a mass grave at the former site of a Residential School in Kamloops, my son Jonathan spoke to the crowd with confidence about the need to see and treat people with fairness and justice. He, too, is running with good people. When he offered what he has learned to his home town crowd, he was encouraged and loved.
The life of faith is not about self-fulfillment, but about trust in God and God’s vision for us. The life of the church is not about charity, but about deepening relationship with each other and all Creation. It’s harder work, that; making ourselves vulnerable to one another, but it’s really all we need for the journey. Amen.
Holy God, Giver of Life and Source of Love, we give you thanks for the many gifts which are part of your rich creation. We thank you for this summer, for time to spend with family and friends, time to rest, reflect and replenish. We thank you for these gifts.
Today, as we remember Jesus’ teaching about our deepening relationship with all our relations, we pray for your guidance and strength. Guide us to discern what we are called to do, in our lives, in this moment and in answer to your call. Strengthen us to consider the parts of our lives that need tending to: our relationships, the balance between our work and rest, helping others and healing for ourselves.
We pray for our community of faith and for our wider community; for the brokenness we see and that which remains hidden; and, for the griefs we carry ourselves and the concerns we share with others. Help us never to feel alone, God of Love. Guide our hands and hearts to reach out, that we might practice and experience your peace. We pray for the openness of heart to enjoy the moments that bring us life.
We pray for those who are ill in body or in spirit. For those in hospital and care home, at home and in transition to care. We pray for our families and friends. We pray for those who mourn this day.
And we pray for ourselves, God of Mercy and of Hope; that you would grant us trust to know that you are always at work in us and others by your Spirit. This summer, as we emerge from the restrictions of COVID protocols, bless our reunions and keep us safe. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, who taught us when we pray to say, Our Father… Amen.