Who Does He Think He Is?
July 4, 2021 Rev. Dr. Darlis Swan
Jesus came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
12 Disciples, painting by Ronald O’Malley
Grace and peace to you from God our father and the lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
As you came for worship this morning, you had certain expectations about what it would be like. You expect an order including prayers, hymns, and so forth. Recently some of us began talking about how we cannot assume that even those who claim to be Christian have any knowledge of the Apostles’ Creed or even the Lord’s Prayer. It seems at times we live in a culture that does not understand or appreciate our Christian beliefs. While at one time at least here in the United States, most people knew “the Lord’s Prayer” as it was part of the culture and used in patriotic celebrations – that is no longer the case.
At the risk of jumping into water too deep for any of us, may I say that I am fascinated by the following question: Who are the Americans who say on surveys that they have “no religion”? And what can we do about it? The new executive director of the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, Rev. Larry Pickens, has challenged some of us to read a book published in 2021 by fortress press called, The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going by Rev. Ryan P. Burge. Because the growth of the Nones in American society has been dramatic since 1972 (from 5% to 23.7% in 2018), we want to ask: what does this mean for the future of Christianity?
When we talk about our faith as Christians, we may have a tough time even finding a frame of reference – a way to begin talking about who we are and what we believe. In our gospel lesson for today, Jesus returned to Nazareth – his hometown. Yes, he was born in Bethlehem, but as a young boy he lived in Nazareth. The gospel appointed for the day really includes two stories – the first is about Jesus returning to his hometown and the second about Jesus’ sending his disciples out to preach repentance, heal the sick, and cast out demons.
It is good that these two stories are combined because otherwise we would be left with a very unhappy ending to Jesus’ visit to his hometown. In the first two verses, when Jesus first appears with his disciples, people marveled at how smart he was. He may have been giving a kind of lecture on the sabbath, and they wondered where he got his wisdom. “He is better than we thought”, they might have said. He was truly the hometown boy made good!
But then, everything changes. All of a sudden they are saying, “Who does he think he is?” That’s interesting because these townspeople thought they knew who Jesus was. They may have thought he was “crazy smart”, but now they think he may be just crazy. Remember that in the Mediterranean world in Jesus’ time, honor was highly valued. Also, a person’s place in life was determined by birth. If one was born into a humble, lowly family, then that person knew what life would be like. There were no expectations of rising above one’s circumstances.
Jesus is rejected by his own. They begin deriding him by saying that he is only a carpenter. And he is Mary’s boy – even suggesting that his father is unknown. They fail to recognize Jesus’ power and presence, and he is unable to do much more in that town although we are told that he does heal a few people.
You see, now that these people think they know who Jesus is, they say, “Who does he think he is?” Of course, this isn’t the first time the question of the identity of Jesus comes up. We find it throughout the book of Mark. The more important question for us today – here at Christ Lutheran – and for Christians throughout the world is – Who do we think we are?
When Jesus sent his disciples out, he told them to take nothing more with them than they needed to survive. They in themselves were the message – their words and deeds were from God. The spreading of God’s word did not depend on whether or not the message was received – that was up to God! When Jesus was rejected, he moved on to the next town.
We, too, are sent out – our hands are doing God’s work. We are the message of Jesus Christ. There may be some who will say about us – who do they think they are? They follow a humble carpenter and claim he is the savior of the world! They feed the hungry and shelter the homeless and expect nothing in return. Are they crazy?
We live in a world that is more and more characterized by unbelief. We are vulnerable as Christians and in some ways defenseless. All of us are sharing God’s word in a culture that values security, possessions, and status. But we are sent out with a message – just as the disciples were. We are asked to tell our stories of how Christ has changed our lives!! We are asked to tell the story and not worry about how it is received. Jesus called the disciples to the simple life – to extremes. In fact, he was really calling them to a kind of reckless faith! I am not sure many of us would manage with the few things Jesus asked them to take on the journey – although when my luggage was lost on my trip to Israel, I was amazed at how little I really needed of all that I had packed!
More important, however, is the reckless faith that God gives us as a gift that allows us to give as much time and energy as possible to so many ministries here at Christ Lutheran. But, of course, it is not just about what we do, it is about who we are. One of my joys so far here at Christ Lutheran has been listening to the stories you tell me of how God has touched your lives. Those stories are invaluable to so many, and I pray that those experiences will touch others and be part of your legacy here in Harrisburg.
Of course, it is not always difficult to tell our faith stories among ourselves. It is harder when we know people may not care. We are living in a kind of Nazareth-world. We live in a culture that is disinterested in our story! There may be times when we get their attention, but sometimes as hard as we try, the church doesn’t seem to have much of a voice.
So why bother? When you think that the disciples must have had more faith and they were walking with Jesus, remember this - we do have an edge that that the disciples did not - and it is crucial – we have experienced the faithfulness of God in Jesus crucified and risen.
We may bemoan the unbelief around us – even in our own community, but we are the message of Jesus Christ – and we go forth spreading God’s word and living our faith. In our first lesson we learned that Ezekiel had to eat the scroll. But think of this: As we worship together, we too eat God’s word and share his life’s grace in the eucharist. Thanks be to God! Amen.