Fourth of July Message

This was the message in church for July 5th, 2015. We used the scriptures of: Mark 6:1-13, II Corinthians 12:2-10 and Ezekiel 2:1-5.

Independence: Tradition or Change

Corn was knee high

Corn was knee high

“Knee high by the fourth of July” is what James keeps telling me we need to see in the corn if it is to be any good for the year. Ours was well over knee high by yesterday, but the thing is we did not plant eating corn this year. We planted the colored decoration corn, which last time we grew it got to be right around seven feet tall, so knee high might be short for it right now. We did have some corn on the cob for supper yesterday and it was good, but it was not homegrown.

July 4th celebrations are always a good reason for people to gather in their home towns across our country. As a youngster, I remember years of attending celebrations in Artas and later the rodeo and carnivals in Mobridge. Family members would come home from California, Minnesota or even Rapid City. Later when James and I were married and the girls were youngsters, and even yesterday, we take the day to go to Hull or Westfield (yesterday) to the parade and kiddie races.

Years ago they would have a large meal followed by a church service with an outside speaker, or a musical group. The building would be filled to capacity and hot. I was happy when we finally had children, and I could use the excuse that they needed a nap, so I could go to an air-conditioned home to let them rest.

The frontier books about our area often include stories about the Fourth of July celebrations. Many times the meeting place is the church. Children and adults participate in games, and the stories are always filled with lists of food, usually fried chicken and potato salad and homemade bread wrapped in clean dishtowels. And there would be jugs of fresh lemonade or for the poorer set perhaps a mixture of vinegar and molasses water setting in tubs of ice chunks or even in cream cans. It is hard to imagine how all of that was organized and arranged without plastic Tupperware dishes or Coleman coolers or even refrigerators inside the mobile home campers. And how could those children possibly find anything to do without their smart phones or iPads or any number of electronic devices. Things have certainly changed in our modern times; though I often wonder if we have half the awe and excitement that they did in celebrating the meaning of our independence, or our free manner of life.

The people of Israel in the times of the prophet Ezekiel had lost their awe and longing for following the ways of God. Ezekiel was called as a prophet to go to the Israelites and bring them God’s words, God’s instructions, God’s call to repentance. But God knew what the people were like. He knew they were rebellious and hard hearted and that it would be a tough sell for Ezekiel. God knew it, and he warned Ezekiel that it would be a hard job, but not an impossible one, and not a life threatening one because God was with the prophet and God was there to watch over him so that he could fulfill his mission to bring the message to the Israelites at this time.

The lectionary message that we don’t have in the bulletin today is in II Samuel chapter 5. It is the story of the coronation of King David. If you just read the pieces that are in the lectionary, it sounds like a wonderful relationship between David and the Israelites. It was at times, but it wasn’t an easy start, and it wasn’t always perfect. David had his moments. Yet he was chosen by God, and he took up the mission. He ruled Israel and built it up into a great nation. Yet the people of Israel were still a rebellious people. It took some doing before they accepted the youngest son, shepherd boy as their King. Years later it was not going to be easy to accept a carpenter’s son as the Messiah even if he is one of the descendants of the great King David.

So here we are at the gospel story for today. In today’s passage from Mark, we meet up with Jesus and the disciples just after he has performed two very impressive miracles. He has just healed a woman who was hemorrhaging for 12 years, and then proceeded to restore life to a young girl who was dead, both of whom he should not have even gone near. Now he is back at home in Nazareth, the town where he grew up, the town that knew him as the oldest son of a poor carpenter and his young wife. He is in the place least likely to accept him. And he knows it, and he says it.

You often hear that “Home is where your heart is.” I have a coffee cup that says, “Home is where your Mom is.” There is also the quote of “Home is the place that when you go there they have to take you in.” Actually according to Jesus, “Home is the place that is least likely to accept you as a prophet.” And I suppose it is understandable when you are able to think back to everything that a person was about as a youngster, you might not accept the change in them, especially from someone who was such a nobody.

I remember back to the Centennial Celebration in Herreid. It was in the afternoon, Thursday or Friday, before the activities were in full swing. We were in my mother’s café, and one of the alumni came in. He was so disgusted. He had been across the street watching some of the locals playing pinochle and someone had called him by a derogatory nick name that he had in high school. This was a man who had grown up poor and had been a no one in high school, but had gone on to make out pretty well as an adult. He came back to see some old friends. He came back to show that he really was someone, but no one who had stayed behind was willing to see him as anything different than what he was as a child. His remark that day was that he would never come back to another reunion ever. I remembered that when the next reunion came along, and he had passed away before the invitations went out.

Jesus came home to Nazareth after what had been an amazing and probably pretty draining time of preaching and teaching and healing. Before the most recent healing and raising from the dead, he and the disciples have been traveling around spreading the gospel and casting out demons, and that alone should have been taxing enough. Imagine this: the demons that he cast out understood who he was, but the people he healed and those watching and listening had no idea of his connection to God. And then when he got home to the place where he was raised, the town in which he grew up, they couldn’t understand how he knew what he knew. How was that carpenter’s son supposed to have gained all that knowledge? Where in the world did Mary’s boy learn to interpret the scripture the way he did? It was just not believable. It just couldn’t happen to a boy from Nazareth. He couldn’t possibly be the Messiah.

At the end of the section about Jesus and the disciples in Nazareth, we read that he wasn’t able to perform many miracles. He was only able to cure a few illnesses by laying his hands on some people. It wasn’t because he had lost his touch. It wasn’t because he was so upset that his power was gone. It was because those who came had no faith. It was because they were so unwilling to see Jesus as the Messiah, as the one sent from God, that their faith/or lack of faith, blocked his ability to heal them. That’s sort of a scary thought.

Now, thankfully, we don’t leave the story at this point. If we did, it would be a pretty depressing way to end the service. This would feel more like Maundy Thursday, the end of Lent than the first Sunday in July.  Mark tells us that Jesus and the disciples move on. If his hometown is not going to listen and hear what he has to say, they will all take the message to the other villages in the area. This is the place that Jesus takes the disciples and divides them into groups of two and sends them out to spread the gospel.

This part of the story reminds us of the importance of spreading the word to all parts of the world, to every corner of civilization and beyond. And, not only does he send them out and give them authority to do what he has been doing, but he gives them some very specific instructions on what to take with them and how to act. He tells them to take only what they are wearing, no extra clothes, no food, and no money. He does allow them a staff. Perhaps it is for helping them over the steep spots or to chase away a wild animal or maybe to protect themselves from whatever could cause them harm. Mostly he sends them with faith and the power to complete their mission.

Jesus also gave them some pretty descriptive instructions about what to do if they were rejected. He told them to stop at the outside of town and shake the dust of that town off their feet. Apparently that was a custom at the time; it was something the disciples would understand. The Orthodox Jews would shake the dust off their feet when they returned from traveling to the area of the Gentiles. It was a sign that they were having no part of the people in the area they had been through. But from the final verses, it doesn’t sound like they had to use that custom. It sounds like their mission was very successful because it says they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. They had a successful mission.

The delegates, who took up the task of writing the Declaration of Independence for our country, if they were here today, might say their mission was pretty successful. It has lasted for 239 years after all. The settlers, who founded our country, the few who started the colonies, and then those who fought for our independence to become a country to move to a new way of being did so with very little more than what they could carry.

Some, perhaps not all, had faith in God, a belief in Jesus and what he did to allow us salvation. Many of those early Americans were the ancestors of our own wider church. They were people who believed in God, but also in an independent way of doing things. They had a strong commitment to mission and spreading the gospel, and some even had a commitment to equality and fairness and justice for everyone. I like to think those are the ones we try to pattern ourselves after.

This passage in Mark seems to break into two pieces and almost be two separate messages and then you add the timing of the calendar and you wonder, “What is the message for today, what is the actual topic?” If we would have stopped with the first part of the lesson, we could have looked around and said, “Yes, it is so depressing, Jesus was rejected at home, there is no point to go on.” We could have looked around at ourselves and said, “We seem to be rejected, we are small, we feel alone, lost unable to grow, no purpose to be,” And we could be depressed. But the passage doesn’t end there.

Jesus took the disciples and went out to the other villages. Jesus took the disciples and went away from where they were and spread the gospel to those who were away from where they had been. Our church ancestors took themselves away from the country, from the countries where they had been living and rejected and came to a new place to live and be and share the gospel with themselves and those around them. I hope you see what this story, all these stories are telling us.

Jesus did not allow the disciples to sit and wait for the people to come and join them; he sent them to share the gospel with others. Our message is not just for us inside these walls. Our message is not just for Sunday mornings. Our message is for tomorrow and the next day and the next. It is for everyone we meet. It is in every action we do. Sharing the gospel of Christ is all about how we live and act and are. Let’s remember to do that this week, and let’s hope we don’t have to shake any dust off our shoes. Amen!

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