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photo by Yazhang Photography
All in the family

Mark 6:1-13

Year B

July 5, 2015

For almost 35 years the Hood family have celebrated their presence in the world when they gather every three years and have what is known as a family reunion. My father had ten siblings, and so we are a large gathering. There will be between 75-100 people gathering this long weekend in August. My father’s parents came to Raymore Sk. to homestead in 1910, and they came from Peru, Indiana. The eldest son, John returned to Indiana, where he married and had a family. This family still lives in the USA. So, in 2007, the Hood clan made their way to Indiana for our reunion.

We celebrated the Fourth of July in Peru, Indiana, the hometown of my father’s parents, and my grandparents. On July 4 some of us went on the cemetery tour; some of us went to the parade and some of us out to the home place, the farm where the pig was being hoisted on to the spit to cook for our supper. Whether we knew it or not, we were following in a fine old Biblical tradition that dates back several thousand years. Gathering together with family and friends to share food is one of the oldest ways of celebrating important events and of celebrating important relationships. We have been doing this for a very long time.

In my own family, as I was growing up gatherings for holiday meals had a special importance. We lived on a farm so food was the centre of all that we knew. Often on Sundays people would gather around the dinner table for a feast of chicken, turkey, or pork. And when we were older we always came home, and if possible we came home on Sunday when we knew the family, relatives, and friends would be gathered. Now, we are more spread out and we don’t gather so often, but this August on the long weekend, we will gather at Pigeon Lake, Alberta. We will come bringing our favourite family desserts and our favourite potato salad. Cousins, aunts and uncles, and shirt-tale relatives will line up for hugs, and welcome everyone to this place.

The first meal on Friday evening is huge because we need to eat all of that food that won’t keep, and the tables are laden with food. The grown-ups sit together at one end where they can visit and the kid’s pile together at card tables, and the teenager’s hedge to one end of the grown-up section. Everyone waits for the grace, and the Amen, and then we will eat until we are so full it will be difficult to move. These meals are wonderful events. Not only is the food always fantastic, and it will feed our bodies, but more importantly, it will feed our souls. As we eat we will share what is happening in our lives – there will be a time for sharing the good things going on in our lives and time for bragging about our accomplishments, small and large, and time for crying on each others shoulder’s about the difficult times. Everyone will listen, and laugh with us, and cry with us, and give advice, likely both good and bad, the teenagers will lean our way and say, “what was that?” In the midst of all of this we know that we are loved. We know that we are a part of this family. In this family, for the most part, we just naturally expect to be welcomed, to be cared for in some way, and we want to be heard and affirmed by those gathered.

Which is probably not all that different from the expectations that Jesus had in today’s scripture story from Mark. In this story he’s returned to his hometown after spending months out on the road, he has returned to the place where he too should have been able to expect to be welcomed, and heard, and affirmed. He was probably looking forward to seeing his family and old friends, and learning what was new with them, and catching up on the local gossip, and telling them what he had been up to lately.

He was probably anxious to see them, since they didn’t have cell phones, or email to help them keep in touch when they were apart, and he was almost certainly expecting that they would be glad to see him, expecting to be received and treated, like a much-loved family member. But that is not what happened.

Instead, on the Sabbath, he goes to the synagogue, as a special visiting guest preacher wjere he begins teaching and leading worship, a very surprising thing happens. The people gather there for worship – and remember, these are not just congregants, but his own family and friends. Jesus speaks words of wisdom and powerful words of prayer, but instead of those gathered being impressed, or being proud of him, they get upset with him. They start muttering ugly things to one another. Things like: “Where did he get this stuff? What is he talking about? Who does he think he is, doing all of these amazing things?”

This is just Joseph’s carpenter son. This is just Mary, the ordinary village-woman’s son, who, if you will remember was pregnant at her wedding. This is the guy they remember from early childhood, falling and skinning his knees while playing tag, and playing tricks on his brothers and sisters, and hiding behind his Dad’s shop when his mom was calling him home for supper. This is the guy who had been the village handy-man, before he got so high and mighty and went traipsing off around the country preaching, a guy with dirt under his nails and splinters in his hands, the guy who they had brought their broken ploughs and hay-rakes and furniture to for fixing.

But on this day, instead of the mischievous kid, or the rough-handed carpenter they thought they knew, they see a grown man standing up in front of their small synagogue, wearing his prayer shawl, looking solemn, and leading the prayers, holding the Torah with much cleaner hands than he used to have, clearly filled with the power of the Spirit, and reading and interpreting the scriptures to them in a way they had never heard before. This was not the boy from back home that they used to know.

They are disconcerted by how different he is from what they had expected and the scripture passage says that they “took offence at him.” In fact in Luke’s version of the story, they just didn’t take offence, they were “filled with rage.” So filled with rage that they all got up, drove him out of town to the edge of a cliff and were prepared to hurl him over the edge. They behaved like they did because they were afraid of change. This man, Jesus, came to change the religious, social, and political world; and these people couldn’t cope with those possibilities. Jesus was attempting to create change that would bring equality to the marginalised. He was attempting to talk about justice and to include everyone in that conversation. In the Old Testament, David is made King and we know he is, in many ways, very successful, but he is a very different leader than Jesus was. People were not threatened by David because he didn’t upset the status quo in the same way.

The story makes it clear that Jesus is deeply affected by this turn of events. First, not surprisingly, he gets angry, even sarcastic. Rather cuttingly he observes that a prophet is not without honour except “in his or her own country, among his or her own kin, in his or her own house.” In other words, everyone else in the world may appreciate you and think you are wonderful, but when it comes to your own family, watch out.

This experience which causes much pain and anger for him is one most of us can likely relate to – he moves into a space where he has trouble coping, he shuts down emotionally, and he doesn’t have the energy to carry on.

As he thinks about what has happened, we are told that he was, “amazed at their unbelief.” He tries to make sense of what’s happened; yet he cannot. These people had known him his whole life. They knew he was a good, honest, caring, hardworking person. But on this day, rather than being proud of how he has grown, proud of who he has become, of what he can do, they criticise him, they violently attack him.

I would guess that most of us sitting here this morning have had an experience that sort of resembles the gospel story, though maybe not as dramatic. I’d guess that most of us has had at least one experience where we are with family, and we are proud of a new skill we’d mastered, or pleased with a piece of art-work we had finished, or a degree we had completed, or a job we had gotten, or a new relationship we had entered into, and we expected them to be excited and happy for us, we expected them to be proud of us, to affirm us, to celebrate with us. But instead, what we expected didn’t happen – or at least it didn’t happen the way we thought it might. We feel let down, we feel disappointed, we feel like we should have been supported in ways that we weren’t. We feel devalued and somehow discounted. For each of us this experience will have a different focus and we will have responded to our experience in different ways.

This morning we are given an opportunity to realise and understand that miscommunication happened to Jesus and, it happens to all of us.

We yell at our kids when we didn’t mean too, we say things we really didn’t mean to say, we want to be positive and upbeat, but we are tired. Often our response to others causes pain when we really didn’t mean for that to happen, but we know that it does. That is what happened to Jesus when his family and friends reacted badly. Although I must admit they acted very badly, and perhaps from time to time we all do.

At the end of this story from Mark, Jesus offers us one way to move toward healing. Despite the intense effect this experience has on him, Jesus doesn’t stay stuck in his anger, or in his powerlessness, or in his analysis of the situation. He undoubtably said a prayer or two, and he centres himself with the Spirit, then he takes hopeful, positive, action. The text concludes, “Then he went about the villages teaching.”

He shakes the dust from his feet as he instructs his disciples to do also, and he moves on to what he knows he is called to do. He is somehow able to recognise that people have limits – even people who are supposed to love us the most and that sometimes, perhaps, because of their own pasts, their own brokenness, they are just not able sometimes to offer what is required. He is somehow able to recognise and remember the Holy Spirit within all of us even when we loose sight of that spirit.

We are all offered the opportunity in many ways to gather around the table whether it be at family gatherings or at the meal we celebrate at church, no matter where it is that we gather, it is a spiritual moment. Whenever we share food together, we bring with us the holiness of abundance and the opportunity to hold one another in the goodness of the spirit. This summer as you sit down to eat with family and friends, I invite you to recall this story and to tell your stories with one another that are about the goodness and the difficulties in life.
Sharon Ferguson-Hood