First Congregational Church
July 4, 2021
6th Sunday after Pentecost
“Freedom to ….?”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Preacher person, Maxie Dunnam, in her Collected Sermons, wrote, “My friend, and mentor, the great Quaker Douglas V. Steer, tells a story that comes out of Maine. A, young blacksmith, short in stature, in a small town, fell in love with a tall local girl. But he was so short, he was too bashful to tell her. One day she went into the smithy to get a tea kettle that he had fixed for her, and she thanked him so nicely, that he suddenly found courage to ask her to marry him. She consented and he stood up on the anvil, put his arms around her and sealed it with a kiss. Then they took a walk out through the fields together. After some time he asked her for another kiss. When she refused, he said, "Well, I'm not going to carry this anvil any longer.”
Noted preacher, Ken Collins, wrote in his book, “No Honor in His Own Country,” When I was in elementary school, I remember when all the kids in the neighborhood got together and put on a show. We rigged up a curtain of sorts by hanging an old bedspread in a screened porch, and arranged folding chairs for the audience. Then we practiced a small play, and added in a few musical solos, for which I played the piano. (Because we couldn’t move the piano closer to the play, I had to play it very loud, and even then it was barely audible.) As I remember it, it was a prodigious feat for little kids like us.
We invited all our mothers to come to our performance. (That was back in the days when housewives were not an endangered species and most mothers were home all day.) Although we did not charge admission, we went through the motions of collecting tickets and ushering our guests to their seats. Our audience was charmed by how cute that was. Then we put on our play.
We put a lot of work into our play. We had to invent everything from scratch and improvise sets and costumes from things our mothers reluctantly loaned us, and yet they didn’t pay attention! They sat there and gossiped with each other, commenting on whether this kid was a natural singer or that kid was terminally shy. At the end, they retained nothing of the plot or the story of our play; they just told us how cute we were. Cute! The word stung! We wanted them to take us seriously, as if we were adults putting on a play. But they were so well acquainted with us that all they saw were cute little kids, and no play at all.
That is pretty much what happened to Jesus, in today’s reading, after a fair bit of teaching, preaching and healing had made him famous throughout the area.
Mark 6:1-13 A Prophet Without Honor
6 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,[a] Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Jesus Sends Out the Twelve
Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. 7 Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.
8 These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. 9 Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.
Thank you, Bob. The story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, "I murdered my grandmother this morning." The guests responded with phrases like, "Marvelous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir." It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, "I'm sure she had it coming.”
I’ve often wondered if red banana I could slip in things that would be out of place - if people would notice green overalls. Early in my study for this message, I came across an quote by James C. Howell at ministry matters.com, that got me to thinking. He was bemoaning the fact that this year, this 4th day of July falls on a Sunday, and that a lot of people would be celebrating - but not in churches. I think he should come to Benzie County some time. Anyway, in his attempt to link this day and faith, he said, “Scripture gives us plenty of thought on freedom, that gift of the Spirit liberating us not for fireworks, hot dogs and beer, but for holiness.
Rev. Howell also shared the point made by Rev. Dr. Sam Wells, pastor at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church in London and Dean of Duke University, NC. “Sam Wells has helped us see that Jesus’ unremarkability is precisely God’s point: “The (three-year) ministerial period makes up perhaps 10% of Jesus’ life among us. What is the theological significance of the hidden 90% - the 30 odd years Jesus spent in Nazareth? Those Nazareth years demonstrate, in their obscurity as much as their sheer duration in their simplicity, God’s fundamental purpose to be with us – not primarily to rescue us, or even empower us, but simply to be with us, to share our existence, our hopes and fears, our delights and griefs, our triumphs and disasters.”
Rev. Wells’ wise claim is that “the most important word in theology is ‘With.’” God is with us. That subtle distinction shifts how we ‘do ministry.’ We don’t do for others. We are with them. Jesus was God with us. Emmanuel is his nickname! Then we also see “His family was with him.” Sort of. Earlier in the book of Mark, Jesus’ family took issue with him, claiming that he was “out of his mind,” preaching a new way of doing life and collecting twelve individuals to help him lead the charge.
There is an old monastery which was down to just three monks Years had passed since anyone joined the order. Its time had passed and the three monks figured they would be the last. The abbot in charge shared his sadness with a friend, the neighboring rabbi. The rabbi looked surprised. "Oh no," he said. "Your order will not die. Your monastery will not close. I have had a revelation that the Messiah is among you. So, no, you will not close."
The Abbot returned to the other monks scratching his head, and told his two colleagues. They were all astonished. And suddenly, they began to see each other in an entirely new light. They began to take care of each other as never before, as if they were taking care of the Messiah. They listened to each other as they had never listened before, as if they were listening to the Messiah. They blessed one another as they had never blessed one another before, as if they were blessing the Messiah.
Visitors to the monastery noticed the quality of the monks care for one another. It was beautiful. And it was contagious. People wanted to experience what they experienced. People wanted to join, and when they did, they were told the secret: "Sh-h-h-h-h! The Messiah is here among us!" And each met the Messiah in the other until all were drawn close in the love of God.
As we begin to pick up the points that have threaded themselves to this point, we are reminded that there comes a time when we have to put the anvil down - because we can keep trying too long and some burdens need to be put down. As we come out of the last 18 months, we have such a huge opportunity, as people of faith and people of God, to clarify our job and mission and even that around which we can wrap our hearts, because some of what we previously tried didn’t work all that well. Think: indifference, the sin of being too busy for whatever, distancing not so much socially, but because we didn’t want to get into the messy parts of other lives.
And we have a new - or renewed - freedom to tap into God’s power and authority to bless and heal and teach - just like the disciples, which is a point that is perhaps more relevant this day, in this county, surrounded by “opportunities” that may become frustrated and tired and surprised by road construction and ways to get around it that may not have been so clearly or timely announced as they try to partake in that glorious event known as 4th of July Fireworks in Frankfort, MI.
We have the opportunity, not to notice just how cute outfits are, how contagious the music, but the message that those around us bring, because they all have something to teach us and we’re all in this boat together - or parade - fireworks show - together. We have the freedom to listen, engage, invite people in to share Christ’s love - not just in church, but in so many aspects of life.
Not everyone here knew a gentleman named Theo Chandler, but he was a pretty great guy, and after almost eleven months, his life was able to be celebrated yesterday. And the more I listened to the reading and thought about Theo, the more it made sense to include that reading today - the day we can answer the question, as followers of Christ, “Freedom to….?”
Desiderata By Max Ehrmann © 1927
Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Let us pray. Good, Good, God, we know you will not let us down, and we know you are a God of mercy and grace, and we know that sometimes we don’t do our best in helping others see the freedom you have given us to realize the holy and sacred in the everyday lives and events of this world. Forgive us when we fall short of reflecting your greatest gifts, living our own lives too much apart from our life with you. Help us to embrace the ability we have to minister to your world, not because of our faith in you, but because of Christ’s faith in what his love can do working through us. As we reflect on our fortune to live in this place, complete with our warts and stumbling, help us to determine and to rise to that holy path to which you have called us. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.