Sermon - 5th July 2015
Rejection and Mission
Scripture - Mark 6:1-13
[An audio version of this sermon can be heard via the link at Spirituality > Audio and Video.]
The bible that I have by my desk at home contains helpful headings on each page which summarise the main theme of the passage beneath the heading. So, I will often see headings within the gospel texts which say things like, ‘Jesus travels to Jerusalem’, or ‘A blind man is healed’, or ‘The women go to the tomb’.
But the heading in my bible for today’s passage from Mark’s Gospel really jumped off the page for me, because it says, ‘Rejection at home’. And over the last few weeks, I have heard people in this faith community telling their stories of very real - even life-threatening - rejection at home.
If we are asked to think about the occasions when Jesus was rejected by those around him, we would probably call to mind the betrayal by Judas; or perhaps Peter’s threefold denial of even knowing Jesus, coupled with the sudden disappearance of all his disciples from sight; or perhaps the jeering masses at his trial who chose Barabbas over Jesus and who abused and sneered at him as he hung on the Roman cross.
I think the occasion we frequently forget about is the time when he was rejected by the people of his own home town, the people he had been living among, the people he probably regarded as family friends from his earliest years.
The setting for today's reading is the first occasion on which Jesus speaks in his hometown synagogue. He has spoken in other synagogues in the towns around Lake Galilee and people were astounded at his wisdom. Another healing had already occurred in in the home of the leader of a neighbouring synagogue. But here, things turn negative and the crowd verbally attack Jesus on the basis of who he is, and the family he belongs to.
There is prejudice here: it’s cultural, not rational; and the clue to what the crowd are getting at is concealed within the description of him as "the carpenter," "the son of Mary," pointedly ignoring any mention of a father figure. If Jesus’s birth had been regarded by his local community as legitimate, he would have been described as ‘son of Joseph’. But to describe him as ‘son of Mary’ is a deliberate insult to his personal character as well as to his family honour, because it hints at someone who was conceived outside marriage - perhaps even someone whose father cannot be determined. Remember, there is no Joseph in Mark’s Gospel - he has no tradition of a Holy Family such as we find in Matthew and Luke.
This type of family history, with a fatherless lineage, would be scandalous to a first century Jewish community. It was more than enough reason for gossip, jibes, exclusion and rejection. And as the Gospel progresses, the tension between Jesus and his family or hometown is a continuing sub-plot of the story.
Jesus’s response was to define himself in terms of a prophet. He acknowledged that his voice was a different voice; that his vision was a radically different vision; and that he was being rejected and excluded because he put forward a different understanding which challenged the cultural generalisations of his local community. By taking on the role of a prophet, who proclaimed God’s truth when it needed to be proclaimed, he associated himself with a long line of counter-cultural figures within Israel. Jesus effectively shaped his mission as something which openly challenged the corrupt and oppressive beliefs and practices of his time, but which would almost certainly be seen as unpopular, disruptive, antisocial, anti-establishment, and probably dangerous.
Jesus and his disciples now had a mission - and a mission which would not win over everyone who came into contact with their teaching. They taught wherever they would be listened to: sometimes in synagogues, but more frequently in households, bringing the gospel message to where people actually lived. And Jesus prepared them for future rejection, realising that his message was a major challenge to all the vested interests, corrupt practices and cultural conservatism that he knew his disciples would encounter.
I hear many parallels between the rejection that Jesus experienced and the rejection which many of us have experienced because we are different; because we love in different ways; because we speak with a different voice; because we challenge the boundaries within which a prejudiced culture seeks to imprison us.
When Troy Perry first defined the shape and mission of the faith community he was founding, he said that one of its roles was to be a family for those who have no family or have been rejected by them. He knew that rejection at home was a major problem in the lgbt communities of his day, and he set out to create one of those neighbouring places mentioned in our reading, where Jesus’s message of love, peace and justice would be welcomed, affirmed and recognised as the deepest revelation of our humanity. Troy believed there was a Christ-like way to move beyond the rejection he witnessed.
When, in April 1989, a young gay runaway from a social services home in Salford died after falling from a car park roof in Manchester city centre, while being chased by several attackers in a car, campaigners set up a Trust which would give young LGBT people somewhere to go if they were kicked out of their parental home or struggled with homophobia while in the care system. The Albert Kennedy Trust continues to this day with its work in Manchester and London, and has rescued and restored countless lives since its foundation because good people saw the possibilities of life after family rejection.
I know we are wounded by the rejection we experience, but there are people and places where healing can happen, and where some degree of wholeness can be restored. The challenge we face is to be those people, and to build those places. Allan Boesak was a South African resistance leader and minister. He wrote: “We will go before God to be judged, and God will ask us ‘Where are your wounds’? And we will say ‘We have no wounds’. And God will ask ‘Was nothing worth fighting for?’”
I know we do not always survive the fight. Sometimes our brokenness means that wholeness never returns; and yet we can often still be a channel of healing for others. Albert Kennedy lost his fight for a future free from homophobic persecution when he fell to his death; and yet so many other young people have found healing and wholeness from a charity which ensures that his name continues to be spoken and his voice continues to be heard.
My hope is strengthened by the fact that Jesus knew what rejection feels like; he understood what it is like to be disowned by the community which nurtured you; and he told his disciples that the journey towards God’s kingdom of love, justice and peace for all people will not always be easy and will sometimes appear to be a lost cause. But that is exactly where the disciples of Jesus, past and present, should be working to bring about change, and to bring God’s kingdom a little closer each time a life is saved and life’s wounds are tended.
In my heart, over the past few weeks, I have wept with friends who were weeping and I have laughed with friends who were laughing. And I feel blessed because I see healing and restoration happening in this faith community where we all work for the coming of God's Kingdom.
I also see some of the wounds which God will see when we stand before him as disciples of the prophetic teacher from Nazareth who was rejected by those he loved. And I pray that God affirms us for recognising that, indeed, there was something worth fighting for.