2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13 1[Jesus] came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is 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?” And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’ve titled today’s message, “The Body.” This title was inspired by the readings for today, but also probably influenced by my own cancer diagnosis and dealing with surgery and consultations and such. As I walked over the skywalk again on Friday after my consultation with the oncologist, with my title for today in my mind, the bronze sculpture of the family outside the first street clinic caught my eye. The bodies of that family are unclothed, exposed, and evidently joyful.
Our first reading has Ezekiel describing how a spirit entered into his body and stood him on his feet, commanding him to go to speak to Israel, even though they likely would not listen.
Our second reading has Paul relating the story of a person who was caught up to the third heaven, possibly an out-of-body experience. Then he speaks of a thorn in his own flesh, an aggravation in his own body, given (he says) to keep him from being too elated of the revelations of God’s mercy that he’d received.
In our gospel reading, we hear that Jesus is doubted when he attempts to teach within his home town, that he is derided because of his physical origins in the family of a carpenter. Then we get a story that ties back to the reading from Ezekiel, because the disciples are sent out—warned that some may not welcome them. If they are not welcomed, these disciples are advised to shake the dust from their feet as they leave.
In the years that I’ve been alive, as a member of congregations, training for this service as a pastor, and serving in the church, I’ve encountered many different pastors and pastoral types of people. I’d like to claim that I’m different than all of them! (–but only because each of us is unique in God’s creation!)
The arrogance of some pastors still startles me when I encounter it, for they will declare that there is one right way to do church, and that it is the pastor’s responsibility to ensure that it is done that way. These pastors give advice that assumes everyone’s meek obedience to their wielding of power. I find this particularly when the discussion concerns communion.
Closely related to that are those who are surprised when it doesn’t work that way, believing there must be something wrong with the congregation, so they quickly look for somewhere else to go so that they can shake the dust off their feet in judgment as they leave.
The vast majority, however, seem to be gifted with the wisdom needed for encountering life as it happens in the congregations of this world.
Each congregation is a body made up of many bodies, each with its unique gifts and challenges. Our congregation is unique in its history, just like every other congregation. Each congregation enjoys gifts and challenges uniquely, because we all are gatherings of different people. Sometimes, the greatest gifts of a congregation can also become its greatest challenges.
I have heard that some people left this congregation when it appeared as if the building was more important than the message we proclaim of God’s interest in this world. Is this building the most important thing about us? I hope not!
So let’s talk about the people, since the people are the building blocks of the body of this congregation in Jesus Christ. Every one of us in this body has hopes and dreams, personally, and hopefully for this congregation as well. Every one of us in this body also has personal challenges related to body, mind, and spirit. Paul spoke of the thorn in his flesh. Jesus spoke of the dishonor the people had for him. Even the psalmist says that we have had more than enough of contempt, too much of the scorn of the indolent rich, and of the derision of the proud. Sometimes, we look around ourselves and at the challenges evident in those around us and we think, “If we could just get rid of so-and-so, everything would be great!” If we could just shake the dust off our feet… if we could just cut out the cancer… if we could just remove the thorn from the flesh…
There are many today trying to do just that kind of thing, in nearly every aspect of life. The divorce rate remains high, at about fifty percent. Turnover in some of the highest offices of our government is extremely high. Job turnovers are frequent. Retail operations in this area are going out of business, closing their doors.
On the other hand, what God said to Ezekiel about Israel applies to us, too. We are a stubborn people. Do we want people to give up, turn away, and shake the dust off their feet? Or do we want to express God’s love in a way that says, “You matter.”?
“You are part of this body, and you matter. You matter even with your thorns, your obstinance, your cancerous actions. Now, let’s figure out how to make this work. Let’s figure out how to make this better.”
One of the speakers at the Youth Gathering in Houston last week was Nadia Bolz-Weber, a pastor often maligned by some of my other pastoral colleagues. She’s maligned for many reasons. She’s female. She’s covered with tattoos. She can’t drink alcohol because it messes her up. She welcomes people everyone defines as sinners as people of God, and the congregation she founded in Denver, Colorado bears the name, “House for All Sinners and Saints.” The thing is, though: She preaches grace. She preaches God’s mercy and love.
How do we proclaim God’s grace here in the middle of Superior? How do we proclaim sinners welcome as beloved of God? How do we meld the dreams of God’s bounty with the reality of creation’s trials and BE the body Jesus has created here at Concordia? …with its cancers, its thorns, and its obstinance…
Because even with the faults of our body, God loves us. That’s why Jesus died and was resurrected, to gather us as God’s beloved, in Jesus’ name. Amen