This week in our Gospel story, the writer Mark gives us two stories back to back. One is disappointment and the other elation. One is rejection and the other acceptance. One looks like failure and other looks like success.
The first story is Jesus returning to his hometown of Nazareth. In my time, I’ve heard many stories from friends, families and colleagues about returning to their hometown. Sometimes these experiences are fantastic–reconnecting with friends, mentors of old, and being the hometown hero done well.
Other times… the stories don’t go so well… like my classmate who went away to college, got her teaching degree in Chemistry and returned home. Unfortunately, students and teaching colleagues only saw her as the hometown kid, rather than the Chemist she was. If you’ve ever gone back to a high school reunion, you find your old labels following you around. A few years ago I went back for a reunion and one girl came up to me and said, “Well… you haven’t changed at all.” Thinking about her composer and pointing finger, I don’t think it was intended as a compliment!
But yet, I always get a little uncomfortable when reading about Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth. I want to skip over it. I mean…it’s Jesus! You know “Lamb of God,” “Savior,” “Son of the Most High”… if there were ever high school superlatives given out for “most likely to save the world” it would go to Jesus. But here he is–for the first time in his hometown synagogue, and what he is saying is wise and of God. But then the people–his hometown homies–remember just who it is who is talking.
They can’t get past Jesus’ past. They can’t see more than his family’s vocation–“just a carpenter.” And the way they talk about his family– “isn’t this Mary’s son?” This question was asked long before the Church would refer to Mary as Mother of God, long before the Renaissance painters would depict her as faithfully saying yes to God’s plan, and almost two thousand years before Christmas carols would sing about that holy night.
The Gospel writer Mark alludes to the gossip that must have been circulating about Jesus and his legitimacy. As if gossip is anything new! And whether your reputation is smeared by email, text message, Snapchat, or face to face–the end result always seems the same.
And as I said, I get uncomfortable with this part of the Gospel story… I want to skip right ahead to the next part. You know the part that we like to quote, “He called the twelve disciples and sent them out two by two.”
That’s a success story!
Jesus gives a little instruction, the disciples go out, and just like that these hapless disciples transform from confused wannabes to bonafide demon exorcists and healers!
But I think it’s good for us to hear these two stories back to back.
In fact, I like to think of this little section as a “Jesus Guide to Discipleship and Leadership.”
First Lesson–rejection happens.
It’s a part of life.
I think we grow up and we hear the message that we can’t possibly fail. We can’t possibly make mistakes. And God forbid, we can’t possibly be rejected…so if we think there may be a rejection coming our way…then we shouldn’t even put ourselves out there. Just stay home. Not raise our hand. Not try out. Not suggest an idea in the meeting. Not do any of it.
Rejection happens. Even the Son of God is rejected.
And this is not the only time that Jesus will be rejected. There will come a time in his earthly ministry when he will be rejected by religious leaders, by the once-adoring crowd, and even by his closest friends and disciples.
Rejection is part of the brokenness and sin that permeates our lives and this world. It’s what makes us blind to the good things right in front of us. It’s what can cause those painful days when it feels like the world is against you. It’s what makes us fool-hardy enough to not ask for help when we need it. Sin is what makes us push away and reject the very love that is God.
And yet in and through this rejection, God persists.
God reaches into our hearts and makes us feel again. God persists against the hate and vitriolic mess that we as humans find ourselves in and breathes new life into us. As new life was breathed into the risen Christ, We too are made into something new.
In fact, God promises to do something with that rejection you’ve experienced. With what may be deemed as failure, God promises to use what you have and who you are, and will transform what was deemed rejected into something beautiful.
This is what God does. From the words of Jesus as found in Matthew 21:42,
“Didn’t you ever read this in the Scriptures? ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone. This is the LORD’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.’
Second lesson to the Jesus Guide to Discipleship and Leadership is this: Mission matters.
In spite of rejection or perhaps informed by it, Jesus’ mission is to reveal God’s kingdom come near. He continued to teach and gathered his 12 disciples and empowered them to reveal God’s kingdom through acts of healing.
So many of us work in environments that may or may not have a mission. We may have a formal one written down somewhere, but do we follow it? Do our bosses and coworkers follow it? And what about our personal mission–the one that directs our days? The one that guides us to be good leaders, faithful spouses, devoted friends, and good caregivers?
It’s why as a church we have spent a year forming a mission statement.
“Building a community of faith by God’s grace.”
A good mission should direct us in what we do, why we do it, and how we do it.
From the beginning of the Gospel, Mark tells us that Jesus’ mission is to reveal God’s kingdom to us–to show us that God is near…always…not distant in some far off place.
This mission tells us that God is not an angry God, but one who is merciful and compassionate, full of grace and through Jesus this mercy, compassion, and grace can be ours!
This mission…the Jesus mission extends beyond himself and he bestows it on his group who then pass on the mission to all who could experience it. Their lives are forever changed. Their eyes opened to the nature of God. Their hearts filled.
And in time this mission would extend past the one man called the Messiah, past the 12 called disciples, past the areas of Galilee, Judea, and beyond to the four corners of the world.
The mission: experience the kingdom of God right now, turn from your sins, and have faith in God’s good news of grace and love. Right now.
Third lesson to the Jesus Guide to Discipleship and Leadership is this: Be willing to be vulnerable.
Being trusting and vulnerable are strengths in the kingdom of God.
There is somewhere along the way that we learn from the world that we can’t be too trusting. It happens from sin. We’re not born that way. As babies we HAVE to trust. We are completely vulnerable and we need someone to feed us, protect us, guide us, love us.
And in order for this to happen, we trust.
And then somewhere along the way, that trust gets chipped. Maybe we’re hurt by someone. Maybe something doesn’t go the way we hoped. And there may even come a time that we’re labeled foolish to be trusting.
And yet being vulnerable allows us to be open to abundant presence of God. Growing in trust and faith in God is a life-changer.
Jesus equips the disciples to go out with very little, gives them advice on how to be ambassadors of God’s kingdom, and how to handle it when things go wrong.
And the awesome, amazing piece is that they go.
They trust. And where they go, people are blessed. Where they go trusting and being vulnerable, they are blessed…and amazed by the power of God.
I’ve heard some stories from our teenagers who went to the Youth Gathering in Houston the other week. They’ve shared stories of how much they walked how incredibly hot the weather was. I’ve also heard stories about meeting other kids just like them, hearing inspiring messages, and being empowered to dream, to live as Christ lives, to dare to envision what can be.
While in Houston the 30,000 teenagers had days of service where they would go out and serve the community. Our teenagers were asked to go–two by two–or as a group–and go to the many Hurricane Harvey-ravaged communities and reveal God’s good news. And in this case, God’s good news came in the form of resources that heal the soul–resources for physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual recovery.
Let me state that again–thousands of teenagers were asked to simply go, be open to the unexpected, talk to people they don’t know, and share the good news that restores lives.
Be willing to be vulnerable. God will do great things through you.
We so often deem the word ‘vulnerable’ as a bad thing, but perhaps being open and vulnerable is the truest way that God cracks through our walls and layers.
This is how Jesus instructs us to be– to be like a child–trusting, vulnerable, and open to the kingdom of God.
What can we learn from the Jesus guide to leadership and discipleship? Being trusting and vulnerable disciples of the risen Christ can embolden us to step past moments of fear and rejection, having a mission can give you a life’s direction worth following, and being vulnerable opens us all up to trust in the God who has loved us before time.
Thanks be to God. Amen