I can remember the first time I stood up to preach in front of my own parents. It’s not the same as with other things people do. If you’re a musician, chances are your parents heard you practicing when you were little; if you played baseball in college, chances are they first saw you swing the bat in T-ball. But preaching is something dangerously public that emerges from something intensely private. I had a year of seminary under my built - just enough to be dangerous – and I was home for the summer working in parents’ home church in Hendersonville, North Carolina. It was the 80s and liberation theology (“God is on the side of the oppressed”; “Jesus as revolutionary”) was front-and-center in theological institutions but anything but front-and-center in that retirement community in the mountains of North Carolina. Parents, and others who have known you when you were growing up, are inclined to be embarrassed both at the revelation of something so deeply personal and at its being waved around in front of the neighbors. Everybody is vulnerable at a moment like that. I didn’t share any embarrassing family stories of our picking up our luggage in the interstate median while on a family vocation. Nor did I tell any stories about some of my crazy aunts and uncles.
Dave and Gladys’ boy preached one summer Sunday…if you can call it preaching. Mom was proud but I know she thought I brought a little too much politics into the sermon. I recall Dad saying I turned the sermon too much into a theology lecture and I tried to cover so much of the waterfront that it caused some in attendance to lose their place in line to the Baptists and Methodists at Clifton’s Cafeteria, a favorite among locals.
Turn to Mark 6:1-13 (the scripture passage for this 4th of July weekend) and Jesus has come back home. He’s been asked to preach in his hometown synagogue. It is quite an occasion. They handed Jesus the scroll to read, and when he commented on the passage—that is to say, when he preached his first sermon in his hometown synagogue—they asked one another, “Who does he think he is? Where does he get all that? He may be big down in Galilee, but here he is still Jesus, the carpenter, Mary’s boy.” He was saying, apparently on his own authority, that the kingdom was coming, then and there. Where he was, the kingdom was. And if there was any doubt on the matter, he was doing things that demonstrated it. They –family and neighbors - were offended by him, perhaps by what he said, perhaps by what they thought was his presumptuousness. Whatever the reason, their attitude was effective. “He could do no deed of power there,” Mark tells us. And so far as we know, he never went home again.
In my case I have gone back to that church on a number of occasions. They were very supportive of me. And every time I am in Hendersonville, I stop at the church and its columbarium where my father’s ashes are to remember him and to remind me of my roots.
The story from Mark states that the family weren’t very pleased with him. Maybe they missed something very important Jesus was saying because they thought they already knew what they needed to know. We are good at doing that in our families after all. And we are certainly good at doing that in our religion. “We have the information. We know what we need to know. We don’t need anything more, thank you very much.” They knew what the Messiah looked like. It never occurred to them that God would come among them in someone as ordinary as Jesus, the carpenter, Joseph’s son, Mary’s son.
Barbara Brown Taylor writes in Bread of Angels: “God is all around us, speaking to us through the most unlikely people. Sometimes it is a mysterious stranger, but more often, I suspect, it is people so familiar that we simply overlook them—our own children and parents, our own friends and neighbors, all those hometown prophets who challenge us and love us and tell us who we are.” We do well to keep in mind both the big picture of what God is doing in our world and our time, and the many smaller pictures of the individual humans who will become people of faith and prayer.
That’s worth keeping in mind, especially on this 4th of July weekend when we may be gathering with our families to celebrate and eating potato salad together.