“Leftovers” John 6:1-21

The multiplication of food happens all the time in our kitchens. 

I am the chief cook at home, and one of my favorite things to do is to go the refrigerator and see what is there for leftovers and then concoct a way to make something completely new and different from them.

A bit of mashed potatoes?   Combine that with an egg, some scallions, garlic and a generous amount of parmesan cheese and you’ve got the makings of some tasty potato cakes.

A chicken breast and thigh?   Pull the meat off the bone, dice it, saute’ some onion, celery, and make a bechamel sauce.  Add in some herbs, pimento and a splash of hot sauce and you’ve got a creamed chicken to serve over those potato cakes.

It’s not miraculous, to be sure, but it does happen.  By the time I’ve worked up the leftovers into something new I discover that I’ve made enough to still have leftovers again!   

That happens mostly because I underestimate what it is that I have to work with in the first place.  How it multiplies on you in the process of cooking still always seems like a sort of a mystery to me.

The miraculous feeding by Jesus of the multitudes is the only story that is included in all four of the Gospels.   The details vary a little from Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, but the essentials of the story remain the same.  

You have one huge needy, hungry crowd.  

You have what looks like too little food to even begin the task.

The solution the disciples come up with is always to dismiss the crowds and turn them to their own resources.  

The solution Jesus proposes instead is to take whatever it is we have at hand, break it, blessing it, and begin serving it up and sharing it amongst those gathered.

In the end of Jesus’ directions being followed, leftovers are gathered, both as a sign of abundance and to prove that there is sufficient for all to eat their fill.

There was clearly something very important about this event!   

A little delving into the history of that time and the circumstances in Judea at the time helps us understand it, particularly as John tells the story.

We are by the Sea of Galilee, which John reminds us is also called the “Sea of Tiberias.” 

That is an ownership claim by the Roman Emperor.   This sea and all that is in it belongs to Rome now. 

We know from historical records that under Roman occupation at the time of Jesus, the Sea of Tiberias was being seriously over-fished to supply Rome with a salty fish sauce called Garum.   It is a fermented savory sauce, something like Worstershire sauce.  A hungry Rome savored it.

We also know from records of the time that under Roman occupation, typically 25% of all the grain crops grown in Judea would have being required as tax apportionment and shipped back to Rome to feed the population there.

It is significant that John identifies what the child has to offer.  

Barley was the least desirable of all the grain crops grown, and so it was the grain most often “left” for the people of Galilee to feed themselves.

The fish the child has may well be cast off remains of the production of the fish sauce that Rome craved.  Garum is made by salting the fish and drying them in the hot sun until they would “weep” the clear liquid that becomes the sauce.  Once the extract was collected, the rest of the fish could be discarded.

So, what is it that the boy has to offer to Jesus for his lunch?  

Leftovers! 

This is what Jesus has to work with – the cast off and the dregs.   This is what he transforms into abundance.

And who does he do the miracle for?  Well, these too are the cast offs and the dregs of the Galilean people.   The ones who have come to find him, bringing the sick and those in need of his touch.

Something is happening here that not one of the Gospel writers wants us to miss, and that is what makes this story so hard to preach.

What does Jesus get to address the needs of this world?  He gets the leftovers!

What he’s got never looks like it will be enough for the crowd before him or for the task at hand.

What this world has to offer to the Son of Man is not its finest or its best, but rather what it decides it doesn’t want for itself!

However, whatever Jesus takes into his hands, (all the gospel writers maintain) is more than enough!

When you give something to Jesus, no matter how inadequate it may appear, whatever he takes and blesses is what God somehow makes work!

In the end, in fact, you discover that you’ll have some leftovers, and you’ll have to figure out just what to do with them!   

How this all happens is always a mystery to us.  Something we can’t quite explain.  

          Despite Jesus showing us this directly what happens when we place what we have in his hands, we still find ourselves underestimating what it is that we have to work with.

 It happens all the time. 

I hear it all the time.  

We talk about the needs of the congregation, or the needs of the community and we start to talk about how to address those needs and the litany of “What are these among so many?” begins.

“I have nothing, I can’t contribute.”
“I’m too old for this sort of thing.”
 “I’m sorry, but I have issues.”
 “I’m too busy.”
 “I’ve already given and I’ve done my bit.”
 “We should let the younger folks do it.”
 “I’m not ordained.”
 “I don’t know enough about the Bible.”
 “This is not my gift.”
 “I’ve got too much on my own plate right now.”
We look at the challenges laid before us, in our communities, in our schools,

in our neighborhoods and in our churches and we find ourselves echoing what those first disciples said as they looked at the crowds and at what they had on hand.

          “But what are these among so many…”

“Sure, we’ve got a few things going for us here, but what are they among so many needs?”  So many issues?  So many people?  So many demands?

The point of this story is clear.

 When you deliver whatever you have at hand into the hands of Jesus, commit them to God for God’s use, God will take whatever it is and somehow make it work!

 If you keep those things to yourself, lock God out of the picture, then what you have in hands will never be enough, not even for yourself!

The miracle in this story is not just one of feeding the hungry.

The miracle is also about the opening of the imagination!   It is about inspiring faith on the part of the Disciples.  

The miracle is inextricably tied to the world in which these people find themselves, where they are marginalized and left only the dregs.  Where the rich and powerful sap the resources of the land for their benefit or export them to others who do not live there.

“What are these among so many?” they ask, as if Jesus was going to agree with them?  

As if Jesus was going to say, “Oh, is that all you have, five loaves, two fish, excuse me, I didn’t realize it was so small.”

NO!

From Jesus we hear, “What have you got?”  and “Let’s get to it.”  

Jesus knows that God the Father is a lavish God.  A God who creates still all that exists and as such provides generously for this world! 

God the Father is always giving, always creating, always more generous than we know how to comprehend. 

Jesus knows and comes to show us that God is indeed a generous God.  That part of his nature is not diminished!

          Our God is capable of taking what looks wholly inadequate for the task at hand and somehow transforming it into what is needed right now and then some!

But we’ve got to stop thinking, “We have nothing.”   

If the child had not opened his hamper, and said, “Here Jesus, take my lunch!” – This story would never have unfolded, never would have been told.

We’ve really got to stop thinking we have nothing, or not enough!   

We’ve got to stop thinking about how we can procure for ourselves, and begin thinking about how we will see the abundance provided by a generous God and how it should be shared by all – with all!

Which of us will be the child of God who will open his or her hamper and say, “Here Jesus, let me share what I’ve got!”   

Instead of just lifting the lid and peeking inside and making the determination on your own, “I don’t have enough!.”

“Enough” as it turn out, is always an elusive amount, is it not?   It becomes more and more elusive the more you try to pursue it for yourself, decide when “enough” is yours.

See, here’s the blessing we miss in this story. 

How do you think that little boy felt as Jesus accepted his offer? 

How do you think he felt when Jesus took what he had and made it go out to the multitudes?  

Can you imagine the little boy beaming with pride.  “I was part of that!”

“Jesus took what I had to offer!   It didn’t look like much to me, but he said it would be plenty!”

“Wow, look at what Jesus did with what I gave him!”

Look at all the people fed, and the happy faces, and the satisfied and hopeful looks.”

Did you ever think about the joy that must have come when the child put what looked like so little into Jesus hands, and then watched as miracles unfolded? 

This is a story not just about miraculous feeding, it’s also about the opening of the imagination and the beginning of faith and hope for a different life.

What do you believe? 

What do you find yourself saying?   Doing? 

Do you peer into the hamper of your life and say, “What is this, my gifts, my abilities, my resources, my talents among so many needs in this world?”

Or will you dare to open your hamper to Jesus, and offer what is there for him to bless, break and use in this world.

If you do, then just you wait. 

It will happen.

The miracle will take place. You’re going to have to be part of the crew trying to figure out what to do with the leftovers, because there will always be leftovers!

“Come Away” Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

As an introvert, I understand and appreciate this directive of Jesus.   “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” 

          I like nothing better than to get away from bustling, crowded places.   My idea of relaxation is to have a leisurely lunch in quiet place, read a book, listen to a podcast or just take in the scenery.

          I know that is not a universal love. 

For many who are extroverted in their nature, the thought of sitting quietly in a deserted place is excruciating!

They much prefer the “many were coming and going” part of this story.  They want a restaurant with a lively “buzz” of conversation, music, the clang of the kitchen and find it all stimulating and energizing.  They relish the interchange of ideas, the people watching, and all of the interactions going on.

That exhausts me!

So, as I read this gospel, I find particular comfort in seeing Jesus recognize both of these often divergent needs.

It is Jesus who encourages interaction in the first place.  He sends his disciples out two by two, instructing them to mix and to mingle in the towns and countryside around Galilee.   

The disciples become “apostles” or the “sent ones.”  

In the sending out they learn to trust in God’s provision, how to assess those whom they meet, and discern where they can best offer healing and peace as they talk about the Kingdom of God.

We are told in the opening of today’s Gospel that as the disciples return from that busy work of proclaiming the Kingdom, clearly, they are stoked!   They launch into telling Jesus all about what that they have “done and taught.”

If the Gospel were just a matter of getting busy and getting the work done, I suppose Jesus would have only called such extroverts who could have moved endlessly from interaction to interaction like heaven sent “fuller brush sales-persons.”  Each vigorous interaction would have propelled such disciples on to the next, more energized by each passing contact.  This gospel story would have highlighted the next big move or the journey expanding, the ever-widening circles of the disciples influence and impact on this world.

Clearly “they” (meaning both Jesus and his disciples) are now recognized and gaining notoriety, for Mark tells us as much.  

Momentum is building!

Which is why it is important to note that Jesus intentionally shifts from the extroverts excited to share what they have done to caring for the needs of any introverts in the group. 

Instead of building on the wave of energy and pushing forward on the momentum built, Jesus gives those who need it opportunity to retreat and to reflect, and in fact, imposes that even on the energized ones. 

“Come away…”

In doing so, Jesus is modeling that both actions are important, necessary, and affirmed.

Which do you find yourself more drawn to as a disciple? 

Are you the “let me tell you what we’ve been doing” kind of disciple?  The “let’s get out there and make it happen” kind of disciple?  Do you find doing the work of the Kingdom energizing and get frustrated that you aren’t accomplishing more, doing more, involved in this or that endeavor?

Surely this Gospel reminds us that the need is never ending! 

We hear that people are running ahead of them as they row the boat to get to where Jesus is going. 

People are bringing those in desperate need out just to touch the hem of his garment.

There is no end to the need or the demands of Kingdom work, that much is certain!

Or are you the “let me take a moment to rest” kind of disciple?  The one who needs some time away to recover, to find the inner peace and refreshment that comes from stepping back for a bit.  Do you need some time to assess where we are right now, how best to proceed into the future since the needs are many and the laborers indeed seem limited?

I think it is important for us all to wrestle with those two often divergent needs from time to time because this world in which we live does not model any kind of balance between those two at all!

We tend to value action over reflection.  

In the United States, the average person will take only 54% of the time that is allotted to them for vacation.  The remainder will go unused.   

Many who take their vacation will report feeling guilt over taking time off, either because of the importance of their job, or the burden they feel they are placing on co-workers or the company by their absence. 

Many more will also report feeling tired after their vacation because they tend to pack it with activity.  They travel on a tight schedule.  They make family and friend contacts.  They take in shows, nightlife, and sightseeing.  People run themselves ragged trying to “get it all in” while they are there or while they can.

As a society, we just don’t do “come away to a deserted place” very well.

This point was driven home to me on a high school youth mission trip about a decade ago.

The ELCA has a Navajo Lutheran Mission in Rock Point, Arizona.   This was never a residential school.   It had some housing for families, but it mostly focused on teaching, health and social service work on the Navajo Nation near Canyon de Chelly.  

As a church we had planned to go down, take in a few sights in the southwest and then serve the community there.  

In a previous trip, under a previous director for the mission, we had scrubbed and polished, painted and cleaned, helped out with a VBS program and busied ourselves serving in the distribution of food from their pantry.

This time however, under a new director, we did none of that. 

He welcomed us.  He invited us into our arranged lodging on the campus and sat with us.  He talked a little about the work they did amongst the Navajo, the “Dine’”, which translates “human beings” but when we asked how we could help, he abruptly shifted gears.

“You have planned an awesome mission trip,”  He said.  “While you are here, you will rest with us.”

He had no projects for us to do.

He simply sat and talked with us about all that he, all that we, were learning from the Navajo.

“This is the mission.”  He said.  “God is already here and we are just now listening to how God has always been here.  We are learning in what ways God has made the Dine’ God’s people.   We are learning the wisdom of being in the lonely place, the deserted place.  That is your mission here.  God has much to teach us here. We become better followers of Christ as we learn to become Dine’,– human beings.”

For two days, we sat and watched the wilderness.   We greeted the sunrise, felt the Sun’s power in the midday and watched it set behind the butte in an explosion of oranges, reds and deep purples at night.

We saw stars and the milky way in the skies that were not dimmed by city lights.

We hiked the desert.  We marveled at all the life that we found there.  All the life that would never been seen had we not slowed down enough to pay attention to it. 

Flowers on the cactus, insects and reptiles scurrying under bushes and between the rocks   We saw the beauty that was this place.

We talked deeply, listened well, and experienced “Navajo Time”… the doing of things when the time was right to do them instead of being driven by clock and a schedule.

On the third day as we packed to leave, the director came and thanked us for our “work.”  “You have done awesome things here by living in our midst and honoring the ways of the Dine’.”  He said.

          As we drove away, we talked together about the experience.  

“What did we really do there?” one young man asked.  

          And from the back of the van came the response from a young woman, who thoughtfully said, “We changed….”   

We spent the rest of the van ride that day talking about all the ways in which we had been changed by the experience.

          In the Gospels there are several places where Jesus turns to his disciples asks them a question.

          “Who do people say that I am?”

          “What were you talking about along the road?”

          Jesus speaks to the disciples in parables and does things that are not the norm for how the world usually works.

          As the Gospel stories unfold, we witness the change that comes upon those whom he talks to and touches.

          Here is the thing.

          When you are plunging head long into the work that must be done, you usually aren’t thinking about much else besides the task at hand.

Jesus, however, models something quite different for his disciples, for us.

          He wants us to think.

          He wants us to process what it is that we have just seen, heard, and experienced.

Jesus encourages his disciples to step away from the busy work to have a leisurely meal and to consider what has been said, what has been done, and what they have seen.

Jesus pulls them back from the headlong rush into doing so that they can ask good questions and to gain new perspectives and insights into this Kingdom that he comes to proclaim.

          That too, is work!

          That too, is your mission!

          Jesus wants to you to be opened to change!  The Kingdom he proclaims and invites you into is a different kind of Kingdom from the one you are currently living in!

          That is going to take some time to process!

          So, I ask you again, what kind of a Discipleship do you find yourself naturally drawn to being?  

Is it the “Let’s get going!” kind?  If so, Jesus will likely make you slow down and ponder.

Is it the “Just let me think about that..” variety?   Well, If so, then don’t be surprised if you find him pushing out to interact with others, to step into their homes and live where they live to find out what the Kingdom would be like in their place, their situation, and their shoes.

          Both are affirmed by Jesus.

          Both are needed, for you will not change if all you are doing is rushing to and fro!

Just as, you will not get anything done to change this world if all you do is sit and think about it.

          What is the invitation you hear from Jesus this day?

          Which one scares you most?  

          Which one appeals to you most?

          Which one do you most need to develop?           Come away and consider, the call of Jesus on you.

“A World Without Jesus” Mark 6:14-29

What are we to do with the Gospel lesson today?  Where is the “good news” in this story?

The story of the fate of John the Baptist in Mark’s gospel comes as a kind of a rude interruption to the narrative flow. 

Jesus has just sent the disciples out two by two, and we’re told that They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”  

What one would expect to come next would be the “welcome back” event where Jesus commends the disciples for their work.  

What we should have here is a moment when the news about the Kingdom that Jesus has come to proclaim begins sweeping across the Judean landscape.

What we get instead is this perfectly awful “flashback” story of the beheading of John the Baptist, where Jesus is not even mentioned!

It is like a bucket of cold water to the momentum of the spread of the Kingdom.

Instead of an ever-advancing Kingdom of God, we get a story of the kingdom of this world, its exercise of political power and where manipulation seems to rule the day.  

Instead of a report of the Disciple’s successes on the streets and back alleys of Galilee, we get a story of court intrigue, deceit, and subterfuge in the halls of power.

It is a story about how certain things “must be done” in order to save one’s face in front of one’s own guests and how certain events (once set in motion) cannot be pulled back or changed but must move toward to their inevitable and unfortunate end.

For those who would prefer that the church not talk about politics, Mark seems to plunk a story down that makes examining political forces at work in this world unavoidable, and wants us to see that the story of Jesus will indeed interweave with them.

In fact, you cannot avoid them because the kind of Kingdom that Jesus and John come to proclaim is always a threat to the “business as usual” of this world, the business of kings and rulers.

You can pick your reason for John the Baptist’s displeasure with Herod Antipas.  Herod had married his deceased brother’s wife Herodias to consolidate his claim to the throne.

In order to do so, he had divorced his previous wife and broken a treaty with Nabateans (modern day Jordan) that had resulted in conflict on the borders.

He had claimed the title of “king” even though he did not rightfully have any legitimate claim to it.  He was simply a puppet king set up by Rome, the real power broker in the region.

John had come proclaiming repentance.  Herod had plenty to repent about and was simply having none of it!  

When John calls Herod Antipas out for his actions, he ends up imprisoned and finds himself caught up in the machinations of politics and the court.  He incurs the wrath of Herod’s new wife and runs afoul of the political expediency of Herod having to “save face” in front of his own banquet guests.

Herod knows that what the young girl asks for when she asks for John’s head is not what she really wants.  But the King is pushed into an untenable position.  He does not want to appear weak in front of his guests.

So it is that Herod reluctantly gives the order and the prophet’s head is served up. 

This is a perfectly awful story, but it is not one with which we are totally unfamiliar.  We live in a world full of awful stories where injustices take place and the abuse of power is ever possible and present.

“What is wrong with people these days?”  We exclaim as we hear the latest news reports of a shootings, or of angry people railing against this person or that issue.

“What is wrong with people these days?”  We ask as we hear of the assassination of the President of Haiti and watch the scramble for power that takes place.  We hear of back channel political dealings, watch the maneuverings of those in power in what appears to be a never-ending cycle of payback and brinksmanship.

“What is wrong with people these days?”  We cry out. 

And then, we read this Gospel lesson; and it suddenly becomes clear to us.

What is wrong with people these days is what has always been wrong with people in every day an age.

In the kingdoms of this world, local, regional and worldwide there has always been a lust for power.

There has always been a desire for control.

The desires of the flesh have always resulting in the seeking of satisfaction, or been used to influence, or to entice, or to silence the good and cover up the misdeed. 

The desires of the flesh have been used to get what one wants, or what one thinks one needs, what one convinces oneself of being the “better option” or “the preferred outcome” at any cost.

The need to save face, protect reputation, look good is universal.  

Whether you are a pretender king in front of your dinner guests, or you are just an ordinary person in front of your own co-workers, family, or friends.  

The temptation to do anything, to say anything, to manipulate even the innocent to make yourself look better is always there, and always has been in the kingdom of this world!

This little interlude in Mark’s Gospel is a snapshot reminder to all those who have gone out two by two with the intent of changing the world, that the world as it stands does not care much about changing. 

It does not care much about Jesus or his Kingdom!

John and the call for repentance is a curiosity at best for Herod, and he will treat Jesus in the same fashion at the end of this Gospel. 

John is someone that Herod likes to listen to, maybe hear more about, but certainly not take too seriously!  

So, in the middle of the moment when the word about Jesus and the Kingdom should be spreading like wildfire, we have in Mark’s gospel this “fire break.”

Don’t believe for a second that those who rule this world are just going to roll over and let the Kingdom of God come and change the workings of this world without putting up resistance!

Don’t expect them to eagerly welcome a message that threatens their power, their status quo, or questions their dealings.

This is what resistance to the Kingdom of God looks like.  

It looks very much like “business as usual” for this world!  

Mark tells us this story about John’s death in an almost “matter of fact” fashion.  Notice how understated it all is.  How he just describes that macabre request as if this sort of thing happens all the time.

This is what Herod’s banquet is like, and it feels strangely familiar to us; does it not?  As awful as it is, we can imagine it in our minds because we’ve seen it, sometimes around our own tables.

We’ve sat in meetings where the conversation turns to “political expediency” – what has to happen.

We’ve sat in family gatherings where politics are on display, and watched as people avoided one another or certain topics, or where requests have been made that shock our sensibilities.

Oh, this is all too familiar territory for us.   We have all walked on eggshells, watched as schemes unfolded, witnessed perfectly legal parliamentary procedures be employed to get one’s own way, or to impede the actions of others.  

We’re all very well acquainted with how things can be set into motion that can only really have one outcome and have found ourselves hooked into or discovered that we were complicit with the conniving behind the scenes.

Mark wants us to see that this is what Herod’s banquet looks like, what “business as usual” in this world is like.  We watch it unfold here.  It feels all too familiar to us. 

It is as if Mark is saying; “Now, as you watch the Gospel spread, don’t forget what the world without the Gospel looks like!”

It looks like Herod’s table, where there is no repentance, no forgiveness, no remorse, and no love.   A place where even your own wife and daughter can conspire to get something out of you, where the innocent are exploited and you get backed into corners and make awful decisions.   A world where orders are carried out unquestioned and where people are sacrificed on a whim of a pretty face and a thoughtless comment.

Is this the world you want?  Mark seems to ask?

This is the world that you will have without Jesus! 

The world of a banquet where everyone is after what they can get, or can get hold of, or can keep for themselves, or can coerce someone else to do for them.

Look at that world!

Is that the world you want?

Or are you ready for something different?

The next story that Mark will tell in his Gospel will be the story of Jesus’ banquet, the feeding of the 5000.  

This is the kind of banquet that Jesus throws, the one that he promotes, and instructs his disciples to serve.

It starts with coming away from your accomplishments and your use of power to cast out demons, heal, and proclaim with power to simply rest for a while.

The banquet that Jesus invites you to continues with a recognition that, “yes the work never really stops,” .. but it also doesn’t depend upon you either, lest you begin to think that you have to hold it too tightly – can’t step away from it.   Even Jesus takes a break!

It is a banquet where you are called upon to serve, and where you learn to trust that God will provide.

There is no scheming. 

There are questions asked, of course. 

“How will we ever get enough bread?” 

“How many loaves do you have?”

 But such questions are asked not to figure out how to get more by hook or by crook but rather to show how a little can become more than enough in the hands of a true king who cares for his people.

There is no flashy maneuvering of how to get things done. There is no differentiation of place, where one sits, where one ranks, and there are no places of greatness. 

All sit in the presence of Jesus. 

All will eat their fill, and there will be leftovers aplenty.

This is the kind of banquet that Jesus gives.  It is not a banquet where those attending have to jockey for position, or where face must be saved, but rather one that is given out of compassion, for they were “like sheep without a shepherd.”    Jesus says.

This is how a banquet looks in the Kingdom of God.   All are welcome, all are fed, all are given a seat and none are turned away.

In other words, the Kingdom of God is not like the kingdom of Herod or this world.

Are you ready for something like that? 

At which table would you rather find yourself seated?   The table of Herod, of this world, that place that we all know all too well?

 Or, are you ready to have a seat at another Kingdom, another table, the one where can safely graze under the watchful eye of the shepherd?

Mark gives us this perfectly awful story as a way of taking a pause to consider. 

Very soon in Mark’s gospel Jesus will set his face to go to Jerusalem, and the powers of this world will make known their displeasure with the Kingdom he proposes, for it is their end. 

For those of us who follow Jesus, this is a reminder.  

The temptation to sit at Herod’s Table is always there, but it is a dangerous place.  So, which banquet do you really want?  Which table are you seeking? 

“No Deeds of Power” Mark 6:1-13

It is apparently not good to know Jesus too well.  Familiarity is precisely what prevents the hometown crowd from hearing his message.  

Jesus begins to preach the same message in his hometown that he had just given in Capernaum, where he had been received by throngs and had done amazing things, “great deeds of power” as Mark describes them.  

We have been following the stories of Jesus healing, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the calming of the wind and waves and the casting out of demons. 

Jesus has left every place that he has visited so far with people wide eyed and open mouthed. 

Despite asking people not to talk about what he has done, word about Jesus has spread far and wide, and even now to the hometown. 

Jesus starts to talk to his hometown about the coming Kingdom of God.  Many are “astounded,” Mark says, but not for the reason we might expect.   An undercurrent of “where he has gotten this?”  pervades the hometown audience.

These are people who know him too well!  

They begin to say, “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses?   Aren’t his sisters here with us?”

In other words, “What makes him think he is so special?”  Who does he think he is? We know who he is, he grew up here! 

At first blush, it’s hard to understand how such thinking could take place among those who knew him so well, but then we simply have to look around us are realize how much skepticism pervades our own lives.  

Narratives have a tendency to spin in social, political and familial circles, and we form our opinions and make our comments accordingly.

This is the 4th of July, and today of course we look at the signers of the Declaration of Independence as brave heroes, men endowed with peculiar vision or fortitude. 

We forget that in 1776, each and every signer was a traitor to their country – which was at the time, England.   Many of their neighbors, fellow colonists, and even family members viewed them as such!

We forget that in 1776, the thirteen colonies were not in universal agreement about this move for independence, and debate raged long and hard before compromise and pressure brought the parties to agreement. 

One can well imagine in the taverns of Philadelphia a lively debate raging on all sides. 

“Who does Jefferson think he is, writing ‘all men are created equal?’”

“What the heck are those idiots in the Continental Congress doing?   Trying to get us all killed?  Who deliberately provokes the British Empire or speaks against the King?”

The history of the Declaration of Independence is indeed rife with competing interests, old friends parting ways over decisions made and stances taken, families being split and loyalties questioned.

It should not surprise us then, that when Jesus begins to speak of the Kingdom of God – a re-ordering of the way this world works…with the people with whom he grew up, they would question where he had gotten these ideas and notions!

We are told that because of their unbelief, Jesus could do no deed of power there.  

Which is not to say that he was not able to do anything!  

We are told he laid hands on some who were sick and cured them – but what he could not do were “the deeds of power.”   

We are told that Jesus was amazed at their unbelief, and that is saying quite something, because in all the places that Jesus traveled and preached, from Samaria to Jerusalem and even into the Gentile provinces of Tyre and Sidon, this is only place in the Gospel where Jesus encounters unbelief and is amazed by it!  

Here, of all places, among his own hometown crowd, his people!

This Gospel troubles me because it runs head-on into the kind of piety that is so often lifted up as being seen as most desirable to us.

          “Oh, if only you knew my Jesus.”   I have heard people say.  From the saccharine tone in their voice and the smile upon their face I can tell this is a genuine sentiment.  They have a love for Jesus that empowers and emboldens them in a very personal way.  

          I do not want to say that this kind of piety is wrong.  It is in fact a precious gift, the foundation from which many receive the strength of conviction that empowers them to move and act in response to their faith.

          But still, this Gospel story seems to suggest that there is a certain danger in a piety of familiarity.  

You can know Jesus too well!   

Or, maybe better put…you can at least think you know him so well, — and maybe that is the danger.   You think you know him so well that he can do “no deeds of power” in your midst!

          That is not to say that Jesus may not be doing something in your midst.  It just means that he may not be doing all that he could be doing.  

          Jesus might indeed be healing.  He might be curing old wounds.  He may be doing all of this, and still be amazed at the unbelief of those who think they know him.

          This Gospel troubles me, because no matter what your piety, you may think you know who Jesus is too well, and because of that familiarity, you may be missing the deeds of power in your life and in your community that are needed.

          What are those “deeds of power” according to the Gospels? 

Deeds of power happen when Jesus directly confronts the powers that are opposed to God and to God’s Kingdom.  

          Deeds of power look like casting out demons.

          Deeds of power look like radical acts of inclusion.  They happen when someone who is identified as a sinner is forgiven and welcomed back, when someone who is unknown is called “daughter”, when the unclean is welcomed back into community. 

Deeds of power happen when the one exiled from the community is shown a way to get back in.  

          Deeds of power are what the twelve do as they are sent out, for deeds of power seem to involve experiencing radical hospitality. 

Who is it that will accept you into their house? – That is the one upon whom your peace is to reside.  Who receives you and listens to you becomes a mark of a deed of power.

          That may be a clue as why familiarity, why being too chummy with Jesus, can end up being a problem.

          The hometown crowd knows the Jesus who grew up around them too well.  “He can’t really be questioning us, can he?   He can’t really be calling us to think about things in new ways?  After all, he is the product of our community!   What do we have to learn from him?  We know him, he’s just like us!”

          The people that I am just “chummy” with, those are the ones with whom I have a surface relationship.  They rarely challenge me in my thinking or cause me to question my own actions.    

          We are so alike that we are so comfortable with things just the way they are, and we work hard to keep them just the way they have always been. 

After all, most of us join a church because the people here are like us!  They think the way I do!  We have the same beliefs and convictions about things.   Surely Jesus wouldn’t challenge long established beliefs and practices, — would he?

Have you read Jesus’ parables lately??

          This is the danger of thinking we know Jesus too well!  

Being “chummy” with Jesus can take all the power out of him, all the “bite” out of his parables, and all the “sting” out of his observations, all the uncomfortable calls he makes upon our lives.  

Jesus has the power to transform lives, but to do so he challenges long held beliefs and brings into question treasured assumptions.

The Kingdom of God that Jesus comes to proclaim bears little resemblance to the way this world works or is ordered.  That’s what the disciples learn as he commissions them and sends them out. 

He strips from them everything they think they need.   They get no tunic, no “outer wrap” that would serve as a blanket to sleep outside, no money, and no extra food.  They are therefore compelled to interact with others, to become totally dependent upon the hospitality of complete strangers.

There is power in that.  

There is a kind of power that comes from learning to trusting in a Lord who promises to be there for us, and to provide grace sufficient for this day. 

There is also a kind of power that comes in having to live in someone else’s house, to walk in someone else’s sandals, and to see the world from someone else’s perspective. There is a kind of power that comes from receiving what it is that they have to share with you, the world that they know, the one that they live in.

The Kingdom of God as Jesus describes it bears little resemblance to the life we hold to so tightly in this world.

          In the Kingdom, there will be justice, and true equality, and that often involves the rearranging of priorities and the examining of what life is like of others.

          In the Kingdom, the lines of separation in this world that we with our voices say are wrong, but with our practices and inclinations still tend to uphold; will finally be swept away.  

That probably won’t be very comfortable for everyone as it unfolds.   

          You see why I am troubled by this story?   

          I would much rather have a chummy relationship with a Jesus that is everything that I expected him to be.   The hometown boy who does good and now wants to share all that he has with us.  That would be comfortable.  

          But Jesus has designs and desires on this world that are not exclusively concerned with my comfort.

I do not know if I want a Jesus who has deeds of power in mind when it comes to me and to my community.

          Am I ready to drop some of my long-held convictions if he shows me another way?

          Am I ready to “go” if he tells me to drop everything and experience the deeds of power in his name that come by accepting the hospitality of those whom I do not yet know or trust?   Dare to see the world as they see it, and work toward a better world together?  

          Have I become too familiar with Jesus, expecting him to only act in certain ways, and to only support my set of views, my own way of thinking?  

          If so, is he amazed that I can know him so well, and yet be filled with unbelief that the world can change because of him?”

          These are the things that trouble me today as I read this.  Do they trouble you?  And if so, are you ready for his “Deeds of Power” when they come into your community?