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Sunday, July 05, 2015

Take nothing for your journey


“Take nothing for your journey” (Mark 6:1-13)
Pentecost VI – 9B – July 5, 2015 – St. Philip’s, Laurel
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton.

In this morning’s Gospel lesson from Mark, we have two very different stories pieced together that seem, at least at first blush, not to have anything to deal with each other, much less have anything to say to us on this July 4th weekend.

The first part of the story is of Jesus returning to his home. The second part of the story is of Jesus sending his disciples away from their home and into the mission field. 

In the first part of the first story, Jesus does pretty well. The hometown boy is coming to bring the morning message. He's bringing his entourage with him, as his family and former neighbors sit waiting for him to speak. 

I bet they were preparing to give him the benefit of the doubt. They're prepared to excuse the shortcomings of someone safe and familiar who is from where they live and known by all of them. At least, that would be my hope – that was my hope when I first preached. 

They think they're waiting for the boy, the carpenter’s son, who knows how to make the best shelves in town. They think they're waiting for the familiar sibling of James, Joses, Judas, Simon, and his sisters (unnamed!). They think they're waiting for the obedient son of Mary.

Mark, with his usual reticence, simply tells us that "he began to teach." Luke 4:16-30 gives us a much fuller account of what he said, why they responded as they did, and what they then tried to do. Luke has him reading from Isaiah 61:1-2, strongly implying a Messianic identity, and then offering a litany of non-Jews who had more faith than his hometown congregation.

Not exactly a smart move. No surprise that this lovely homecoming ends not with a strawberry festival in the grove, but with a mass attempt to hurl the hometown boy off a cliff.

And, isn’t that always the way of it? People think they know you  - especially the ones you grew up with – but they don’t. Well, maybe they know about the essentials of you – the good parts of your character like honesty and loyalty and trustworthiness and a good work ethic – but some just don’t want you to change and grow in any other way. Or, experiment with your life. Or make mistakes. Or, well – LIVE! No matter how old you are.

And, God forbid you turn out to be something different than they thought you’d be! Depending on where you come from, that can turn out to be a fairly nasty situation. Except, of course, when we read about these characters in novels by great authors and story tellers such as Flannery O’Connor or Eudora Welty or Mark Twain or F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Authentic lives lived fully, mistakes and all – okay, especially the mistakes – seem to be much more interesting to people in novels than in real life.

Perhaps Jesus had this in mind when he sent out his disciples. He called the twelve and sent them out, two by two. I always have to stop here and wonder how Jesus would have sent out disciples today, in the Age of Technology. Centuries ago, he sent out his message two at a time. Four sandals at a time. Today, I’m thinking that would be two gigabytes at a time. Or, maybe four texts? Or two tweets? Four well-placed emails?

Anyway, Jesus sends them to leave their homes and, interestingly enough, to take nothing for their journey. No bread. No money. They are completely dependent upon the kindness of strangers. Which, come to think of it, considering what we just saw happens to you when people know you real well, might just be a safer bet.

So, I’ve been thinking: what do we have to learn from Jesus about “home” and “leaving home” on this weekend when we celebrate our Independence? What does independence mean in the context of community? What does  ‘home’ mean? What does it mean to be ‘home sweet home’? Especially when this land, for most of us, is not our ‘native land’.

Everyone comes to America from a different place which was once home. It’s “The Great Melting Pot,” right? Now, it’s more like he Great American Stew, or the Original Tossed Salad.

English French. Irish. Hispanic. Asian. Southeast Asia. The Middle East.  When you think about it, all of us come from immigrant families. Maybe, in your family, that was more generations ago than anyone now remembers, but unless you are a “Native American” – from one of the great nations like Cherokee, Choctaw, or Nanticoke – then America may be your “home sweet home” and, even if you, yourself were born here, this it is not precisely your “native land”. 

My ethnic heritage is Portuguese and Azorean. My grandparents on both sides came here when they were young or young adults because they heard and actually believed the stories that the streets here were paved with gold. They came for the Great American Dream which was often a nightmare but far better than the poverty they suffered in their native land.

My grandmother arrived here from a little village outside of Lisbon at the age of 14. She was the youngest of seven and the only girl. After her mother died, and after she wiped the tears from her eyes, she looked around and saw her future: caring for her father and six brothers. She made a decision right then and there: She was leaving.

While her grief was real, she feigned really deep grief, lifted only by moments of melancholy. The other women in her village conspired with her and told her father that she really needed the solace of a woman. Just for a little while. Perhaps, just the summer when things were a bit slower on the farm. Perhaps she could go to stay with an aunt and cousins on Beacon Hill in Boston and help with the domestic work and earn her keep as well as some money to bring back home. 

And, wouldn’t that be good for everyone?

So, before she knew it, she was packing a very small bag, put her Portuguese guitarra on her back, took no food or money, and boarded a cargo boat for Boston.

She never went “back home”. Oh, she talked of it and sang songs of her beloved country. She told us stories of her village and her brothers – several of whom she helped provide passage for to immigrate to Boston – and, interestingly enough, she never really learned the English language. 

Indeed, she insisted that we all learn to speak HER language. She said, “You’d better learn how to speak Portuguese now, because when you get to heaven, you won’t be able to understand the angels.”

Some of you know that I’m a Hospice Chaplain, so I often have conversations with people about “going home”. And, what heaven is like. And, if there’s really a hell. We talk about how the one who created us and called us into life also calls us “home” – “back home” – with the one who created us. And, some of us wonder what the Eucharistic prayer in the Prayer Book means when it says “we believe life is changed, not ended”?

Here’s what I know about ‘home’. Home is less a ‘place’ than it is an ‘experience’. It’s not a “where”, it’s a “when”. In that way, ‘home’ is like faith. It’s less a tangible thing than it is a feeling. An inkling. An idea. A concept of being right where we’re supposed to be right now.

I don’t know about you but I’ve had that feeling of home even while I’ve been thousands of miles from the place I’ve always called home. Like here. Like now.

And, I know this much about ‘home’: You don’t need a lot of ‘stuff’ to get there. Indeed, you’re more apt to find it when you, as Jesus says, “take nothing for your journey.” When you are dependent upon others for the basics. When you do not necessarily expect to be greeted warmly everywhere you go but you treat others with warmth and courtesy.

We’re all just trying to get to that place. Home. 

Like the wonderful game of baseball on a hot summer day, we’re all just wanting to get home. Some of us strike out or hit foul balls while up at bat, but there are more innings in which to play. Some of us can only make it to first or second base, while others get all the way to third and then the sides retire and another inning goes by and we don’t make it home. 

Fortunately, however, it’s not just about us. We have a whole team to help us win the game. 

Well . . . Unless, of course, you’re playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

As we celebrate our Independence as a nation this weekend, I hope you’ll spend some time thinking about our interdependence on one another in community. What does ‘home sweet home’ mean to you and where is that for you? Who makes it that for you? Before this was ‘home’ for you, where was ‘home’ for your family of origin? Whose home is this, anyway?

And, hopefully, you’ll consider the words of Jesus about home – about being accepted in your own hometown and what it might mean to leave home to find your own home. And, what it means to be ‘homeless’. Or to ‘be at home with Jesus.” Or, go “home to God.”

“Home,” as Robert Frost reminds us, “is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  And, the sweetness of that home is beyond compare.


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