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YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN

A Sermon preached by the Rev. Michael Anderson Bullock

[Ezekiel 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13]


“You can’t go home again.”1  In my own personal experience of “home”, I agree with this famous observation from my fellow college alumnus, Thomas Wolfe.  In an American novel course I took as a college junior, I was introduced to Wolfe’s great novel, Look Homeward Angel.  And in fact, when Bev and I moved to South Carolina (a location that at first Bev emotionally regarded as near Brazil), a thoughtful and caring parishioner sensed that these two “Yankees” might be suffering from a sense of “home”.  On one occasion, my parishioner brought me to the Smokey Mountains near Ashville, North Carolina, where we visited Thomas Wolfe’s grave.  Approaching the burial site, I felt – if not as if I were on sacred ground – at least in the presence of a kindred spirit.  


Wolfe’s gravesite plaque recorded the usual biographical data: date of birth; date of death; along with his famous quote: “You can’t go home again.”  But beyond this information, the depth of his famous saying was made manifest by the image of a carved angel, kneeling over Wolfe’s grave.  Standing about three feet high and perpendicular to the plaque, a white, carved angel kept vigil.  Kneeling on one knee and slightly leaning toward the burial site, as if to offer some protection, the angel’s serene face was slightly tilted upward and held a yearning gaze.  Looking for “home”, I suppose.


“Home” is not a neutral term for any of us – surely not for me.  Unavoidably, it conjures up images and memories of family, of place, of personal history, failures, successes, and growth.  More significantly, at its deepest level, “home” speaks directly to the reality of our need to belong – belong somewhere, to someone, to a history, a locating story.  Given this, “home” as a sense of belonging transcends all other aspects of the term’s meaning.  I think our poetic neighbor, Robert Frost, conveys a sense of what I am getting at, when he writes:  “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.”2  As conveyed in this morning’s gospel, I think that Jesus had this same sense and hard experience of “home” – both what “home” offers and also what “home” hinders.  


In today’s lesson, we have another installment of Mark’s account of Jesus’ six “boat trips” on the Sea of Galilee.  What we have in today’s episode reflects the impact of the third trip – even though in this “Year B” of the lectionary cycle the second boat trip is skipped.  Today’s gospel installment stems from the return trip from confronting the Gadarene demoniac. [6:53]. It is returning from this foreign adventure that today we find Jesus coming “home” to what we already know from previous references is the Village of Nazareth.  


Like many a seminarian or many newly ordained clerics, Jesus’ return to his “home” entailed an invitation to preach and teach on the sabbath day at his childhood synagogue – the one he and his family had so faithfully attended and supported.  From Mark’s account, the sermon Jesus gave and the class he conducted “astounded” those who were worshipping with him.  With the pride of a hometown crowd, the people praised the fact that Jesus was such a reputable product of their well-funded and effective public school, to the extent that in the next day’s edition of the Nazareth Gazette, the headline above the fold, next to the headshot of Jesus, trumpeted: “Local Boy Comes Home and Makes Good!”  So it was that, holding barely 500 souls, the small village of Nazareth was quite eager to claim Jesus as its “favorite son”.


Yet, like the wind that quickly shifts as the prelude to an emerging and violent, summer storm, the hometown accolades about Jesus soon swung.  From shouts of praise, “We had no idea he was this good!” “How did he get so wise all of a sudden?—their shouts soon soured menacingly into accusations about his resume and even his parentage.  “He’s just a carpenter – Mary’s boy.  We’ve known him since he was a kid.  We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters.  Who does he think he is?”3  Mark tersely and mercifully ends the tension of the moment by simply reporting: “And they took offense at [Jesus].”4


The implication of the hometown crowd’s mention of Jesus’ family ties echoes a terrible and ugly slur that had some traction after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Unlike what Matthew and Luke do with this family remark, Mark (being the source for these two later gospels) does not mention Mary’s husband.  Jesus is called “a carpenter, Mary’s boy!”  While this is not something Mark takes up more explicitly, as I say historically one of the floating and gas-lighting cuts that seemed to linger over Jesus and his ministry was that he was a bastard.  The intended malice was that Jesus had no father, that Mary was … was at best a single mother.  The implication was meant by Christ's adversaries to disqualify Jesus from any positive attention, specifically asking how Jesus could be Messiah material?  Welcome home, Jesus!  


If “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in,” I wonder what the reason was that Jesus’ brothers (James and Justus, Jude and Simon) didn’t defend their shared family honor?  (We know the reason: It was easier and safer to duck for cover than fight.). But more significantly, Jesus takes this stinging defeat and disappointment and turns it into something new.  Jesus does two new things.  


The first is to respond to the crowd with a pithy proclamation: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.”5  Mark editorially puts a knot in this thread by pointing out that the rejection of Jesus kept him from doing any mighty work in Nazareth, save for the fact that he was asked by a few nameless folks to lay his hands on them and heal them of their diseases.  So it is, as Jesus says, that a prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played as a child.”6  And since we know that a “prophet” is not a fortune teller but rather someone who knows what God is doing at the moment and what impact that divine action will produce, Jesus is quietly saying that the rejecting Nazareth crowd missed a great opportunity.  They missed God and the life of God in their midst.  How often does this happen to us?


The second thing Jesus did in response to his rejection at “home” was to “shake the village’s dust off his feet” and move on.  If Jesus was licking his wounds over his hometown’s dismissal, he didn’t pout about it for long.  Mark importantly focuses on Jesus turning from this stubborn, threatened, rejecting “home” community and reveals Jesus shifting to a new community, that of the Twelve.  Unlike those in Nazareth who thought they knew him, the disciples now emerge as the ones who have seen and heard Jesus.  The Twelve respond to Jesus by giving themselves to following him, learning from him what they are and Whose they are.  


To what extent are we here to follow Jesus and to learn how to be Christ bearers in the world?


In moving on, Jesus gives his disciples both a gift and a direction.  The gift is a portion of his healing authority.  The direction is to get them on the road again” (to quote the venerable Willie Nelson).  The Twelve are to go to the villages beyond and do what they had seen their Lord do.  With no laptops, no smartphones, no credit cards, Jesus sent his new family, his new community (ones that were anchored in doing what he did so that they could become what he was) – he sent them out to do the work God had given them to do.  And to do this with the message to “repent” (that is, to turn around and face God and the God-life in their midst).  These commissioned fishermen cast out whatever destructively possessed the souls and minds of God’s people.  And the clear, radiant message was: A prophet is here; and God is on the move!


I can’t help but connect what these two gospel scenes say to us now that we at St. Philip’s have received the results of the “Congregational Assessment Tool” we took in May.  I am not sure to what extent St. Philip’s is a “home” for you or for me; but what I do know from the evidence-based survey is that St. Philip’s is our “basecamp”.  It is the place and the community from which we both stage our forward Jesus Movement and to which we come back for the resupplying of our souls and to discern what the next step in our mission will be.  To the extent that we have discovered one another as spiritual hikers and explorers, reliable ones who do our parts in responding to God’s call, St. Philip’s is our basecamp.  It is our safe and sending place as we follow Jesus and represent Jesus.  In this, I am reminded of the telling beginning of a prayer that says this: “Lord, deepen our relationships to be the church for the sake of the world.”7


Based on our individual responses, the CAT results indicate that we at St. Philip’s have the capacity and the inclination to be journeyers and explorers.  In this regard and technically speaking, places like St. Philip’s are referred to as “Magi” communities.  The reference, of course, is to the Magi (the Christmas “Wisemen”) who in their attentive lives noticed a star that drew them beyond the familiar to discover something their souls needed to find.    


“Magi” faith communities journey.  They explore; and they seek to discover and share what life is like on God’s terms.  Additionally, “Magi” communities are adaptive groups because following the star and discovering the God in our midst by definition takes us beyond the security of the familiar.  “Magi” faith communities adapt not only in response to the star but also ultimately in response to discovering Emmanuel: God with us.  


The “Congregational Assessment Tool” is the evidence-based results that indicate our capacity to journey, explore, traverse, and discover.  But capacity, as important as it is, does not automatically equate with acting on the capacity.  The actual doing of what it takes to discover God in our midst is, I think, what it means to come “home” to our true “home”.  


So, these familiar words of Jesus come to mind: Come to me, all who labor and are heave-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.8


My fellow “Magi”, Welcome home!  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

 

1. Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again, 1940

2. Robert Frost, The Death of the Hired Manˆ, line 111-120

3. The Message, Mark 6:2-3

4. NRSV, Mark 6:3

5. Mark 6:4

6. The Message, Mark 6:4

8.  Matthew, 11:28-30, from “Compline”. P. 131

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