Mark 6:1-13 (CEB)
Jesus left that place and came to his hometown. His disciples followed him. On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue. Many who heard him were surprised. “Where did this man get all this? What’s this wisdom he’s been given? What about the powerful acts accomplished through him? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t he Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” They were repulsed by him and fell into sin.
Jesus said to them, “Prophets are honored everywhere except in their own hometowns, among their relatives, and in their own households.” He was unable to do any miracles there, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them. He was appalled by their disbelief.
Then Jesus traveled through the surrounding villages teaching.
He called for the Twelve and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey except a walking stick—no bread, no bags, and no money in their belts. He told them to wear sandals but not to put on two shirts. He said, “Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. If a place doesn’t welcome you or listen to you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should change their hearts and lives. They cast out many demons, and they anointed many sick people with olive oil and healed them.
It seems that Jesus and I are in opposite places this week! While he headed home, I headed out from Colorado to all of you here in Thermopolis. Unlike Jesus with his family and neighbors, I am new to you and you to me, so we might all be a bit curious about one another! On the other hand, no one was curious about Jesus, so he had the opposite problem of everyone already thinking they knew who he was and what he was about. They thought they knew the man too well, and so they stopped up their ears against God's voice echoing through Jesus’ life and ministry. This challenge is something that we can all relate to, as God speaks into our lives and through each and everyone of us, but sometimes we stop being curious about one another, especially someone we’ve known for a while. Hopefully, as I learn about all of you and you all learn more about me, we can also learn more about each other and what God is doing in each of our lives.
What I would like to share with you this morning is my call story. Now, that can sound like something unique, but we all have them. It’s like what the bulletin says this morning, everyone who is a believer is a minister. To be a minister means to have been called by God. This call is the way that God is speaking into your life and through you to the world. The only difference between my call story and your call story might be that I have to talk about mine a lot more than most folks do. At seminary and in becoming a pastor, you have to tell your story over and over again, so here’s mine:
Before coming out here to the big open spaces of Wyoming, I lived in a few different places and spaces over the course of my thirty-odd years. I have grown in that time in my faith and my understanding of God’s call in my life. Before all that growth though, there was an awkward teenager living in the northern tip of Pennsylvania. I was neither sure of what my faith looked like or whether God had any kind of purpose for me. I never intended to have a transformative moment in the middle of the woods at the age of fourteen, and yet the summer of 2002 took my life in a new direction after a powerful experience with the divine. As a teenager, I lived in a small town in northwest Pennsylvania, going to school and attending church. I really had not been a Methodist very long, growing up Lutheran before my parents switched to Edinboro United Methodist Church.
At that time, I never quite felt comfortable in my own skin especially around other people and definitely anyone close to my own age. Most of the time I felt awkward, and when I mustered the courage to talk to others, I felt unsure and vulnerable. Still, I tried to do things that others my age were doing that summer, to fit in and blend in, and in my small rural town, summer camp was one of those things you did, so I spent a week that summer at a place called Wesley Woods United Methodist Camp in Western Pennsylvania. I went into the wilderness, into God’s wide creation that summer.
However, being a teen, I decided to go with night camp at Wesley Woods, where you could stay up all night and sleep during the day! That seemed to be an ideal summer to my teenage mind, though my adult brain recoils from it just a bit. While at camp, I still felt at odds with myself and unsure around the other teen campers. The others knew what to say and how to act, to make friends and bond so quickly, while every word out of my mouth felt like another reason to just shut up and stay invisible. One night during the week, we trekked from the remote corner of the camp we were in, where we would not be a bother to everyone else sleeping at night, to the main camp where the chapel was. It was our only big worship time during the whole week. There, our worship consisted of contemporary Christian songs sung by counselors and teens alike accompanied by the one adult who could play the guitar. We had a casual evening with the counselors sharing testimony on what Jesus meant to them, and we closed with more music as slides projected up on the chapel wall cycled through bold encouraging words on bright colored backgrounds.
As worship drew to a close, the slideshow wound through to one slide that shared how God, as our heavenly parent, cared for each and every one of us. At that moment, that unexceptional slide during an unremarkable worship service opened up something in me. At that moment, God’s presence fell upon me like a hammer stroke. I couldn't breathe. I felt turned inside out. I felt full of something, different from what I had ever felt before. Prior to this moment, I was sure that there was something about me, some flaw or ugliness that others could see and explained why I felt so alone. I carried those feelings with me, like so much baggage, keeping me from God and from others. That night, I didn't feel flawed or ugly, I felt loved, more loved than I ever thought possible. How do you react to something like that? I cried. Tears streamed down my face and I bawled as counselors and other teens stood around me, not sure what to do. I didn't care what they thought, and I didn't care what they saw. All I knew is that I felt seen and loved and accepted at that moment.
It was for me like a line from an old Charles Wesley hymn, “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.” I knew in that moment that I was going to follow God wherever God led. I did not know where that would be until years later in Colorado. There, as a young person in my early twenties in the congregation of Broomfield United Methodist Church, I somehow got included in a congregation-wide meeting as the church met to decide what their vision for the future would be. We were split up in groups, and I ended up having to share for my group in front of everyone. Afterwards, the pastor came up to me and asked, “Paul, have you ever thought about becoming a pastor?” It was in that moment that everything clicked into place from the first night so long before. This is what I was called to do and to be, this was how God was speaking into my life and it is the way that I would impact others.
That’s my story, and it is my reason for how I came to be here with all of you. We all have a story, even Jesus had one. However, it can be hard to get people to listen, especially those who are near to us. The townspeople knew Jesus as the son of Mary, the carpenter, and as one more child from a whole brood of brothers and sisters. They could not wrap their minds around this wisdom and mission that he suddenly had, so they stopped trying and did not listen. That can be the funny thing about a call! It can be easier to live out a call in a new place than in our own homes and communities! What do we do then? Should we all leave home so we can be in a new place where no one will question that we are on a mission from God? The disciples from our reading do this very thing!
In order to answer these questions, we have to ask what the difference is between Jesus in his hometown and the disciples who were being sent out. Did they differ in authority? No, each had received their authority from God. I believe the difference is curiosity. The disciples are going someplace new, someplace that maybe they had never been with people they had never known before. When people encounter something or someone new, they look at them with fresh eyes, seeking to understand this new thing in their lives. Meanwhile, the familiar becomes ordinary, and we can forget how extraordinary it can be, like in Jesus’ case! If you need another example, look no further than communion. It can become so familiar that we can stop thinking about the power that this simple act holds. It can be like my call story, something that I say so often that maybe it loses its punch. That’s where curiosity comes into things.
Curiosity invites us to look at things with new eyes! It invites us to listen with fresh ears! To give you an example, think about the fact that you are breathing this morning. Think about everything that goes into breathing. Consciously breathe! It feels strange right? It is something you do all the time, and it doesn’t feel weird at all until you stop and think about it. I do the same thing with my call story. I stop each time I tell it, and I think about it and what it means in my life and ministry at that moment. Every time I tell it, new details and different parts grab my attention in fresh ways. I stay curious about my own story, and it continues to bear new fruit.
Now, you’ve heard my tale this morning, and I can’t wait to hear the ways God is calling each and every one of you. My invitation this morning is for all of us to be curious, to shake off the dust of the old and familiar and see and hear one another’s calls with fresh eyes! Jesus’ hometown couldn’t and miracles were not abundant, instead, like the disciples, maybe we this morning will find that with a little curiosity we will make possible the biggest miracle of all, changing the hearts and lives of everyone around us! Amen!
Pastor Paul Grossman