Sermon for 6th Pentecost -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
If I say R-E-S-P-E-C-T many of you will go right to Aretha Franklin and her recording of this song from 1967.
Actually, the song was written as sort of an afterthought one day in the recording studio by blues legend Otis Redding. It was 1965 and he was frustrated by the racial inequities he experienced as an African American musician. The recording was mildly successful within the blues community, but it wasn't
until two years later that the song really took off.
Aretha Franklin heard about Otis Redding's song, “through the grapevine,” and decided it expressed her very deep frustrations about being a woman in the 1960s. She took it to the recording studio and made up most of the lyrics as she went, but the song has become an all-time classic, the call of the
feminist movement in the 1960s—give us a little respect—just a little bit!
Now, you may be wondering what this song has to do with today’s Gospel lesson? (And here I am indebted to Pastor Amy Butler of the Riverside Church in New York City for her sermon ideas).
You see, if the disciples had to pick a theme song by the 6th chapter in the book of Mark, well, this would very likely have made their top ten list. They were riding the wave of popularity that Jesus had stirred up by going around healing people: the paralytic, the demon possessed man, the woman with
the issue of blood, Jairus' daughter. Jesus had even managed to convince them, his closest friends and colleagues, that he was divine—remember his calming of the storm?
It was about time, they figured, that the tide of their luck was about to change, that their decision to follow this man Jesus would finally pay off. Finally they could go home to their wives and families, holding their heads up high, ready to be complimented for their shrewd career moves, finally the recipients
of just a little respect. And they that they deserved it.
After all, they were followers of the man who could still the Sea of Galilee, heal everyone from the lowest outcast in society to a member of the richest and most powerful family in town. His message was a little strange, it was true, but they were ready for something different. And now it seemed that
everyone else was catching on—the whole of the Galilean countryside was ready for a change, too, especially if that change included healings, feedings and celebrities mingling with the common folk.
They could see it coming on the horizon, just like Aretha and the leaders of the Feminist Movement in 1967—just give us what we know we deserve—you know it's about time—we deserve a little respect. R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
And now they were poised to get it. We've read all about what was going on, and with the specter of his recent miracles hovering over the disciples as they made their way through Galilee, we'd not be unreasonable to assume that when they arrived at their next destination, Jesus' home town of Nazareth,
there'd be a ticker-tape parade . . . at least! Hometown boy makes good, coming back to show the homefolks what he could do, followed by his trusty disciples—those men who followed him when no one else thought he was worth anything—make way for the celebrities! This is no longer the carpenter's
boy; no, let's give him a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Just a little respect! That's what the disciples were anticipating as they followed Jesus, Mark tells us, right into his hometown.
And Jesus wowed them in the synagogue. He preached like nobody's business and when he was done everyone in the crowd looked at each other in disbelief. The disciples were about to jump up and start into a rendition of RESPECT, just to celebrate the exciting homecoming.
But, then something else happened: Not only did the people in the synagogue not even clear a pathway for Jesus or run out to get him a cool drink, they started talking with each other in disbelief! "Is this Joseph the carpenter’s son? You have got to be kidding!"
It wasn't respect they gave him . . . it was derision. "Who does he think he is, prancing around up there in the front of the synagogue? We know who he is! We know his parents! Who is he to think he can get up there and speak with such authority?"
Our gospel lesson says they took offense at him. And the text says that Jesus “was amazed” at their unbelief, as he pointed out to his disciples: a prophet gets no honor in his hometown; there's no respect here for someone who dares to speak words of truth and challenge.
What did you expect, disciples?
By taking the disciples back to his hometown after such a run of dramatic and amazingly miraculous healings, and even then to be received with such negative attention, Jesus was indicating to his disciples that the word to define their lives of following him was not going to fit Aretha's song at all.
You see, Jesus was making it clear that you don't become a follower of Christ because you want the respect of other people! If you do that, you have it backwards.
Jesus had to take them all the way home - all the way back to the place that should have held a town assembly in his honor, to the people who should have welcomed him with warm pride and open arms. Those people of all people - the disciples expected them to be first on the bandwagon, pressed up
close to the front lines, cheering loudest of all. And even though Jesus knew the words he preached were hard and the way he was leading difficult, even Jesus marveled at their disbelief.
And that was just the backdrop for Jesus' big send-off of his disciples. After treating them to the crazy reception he got in his hometown (of all places) Jesus went on to other villages and then sent his disciples out with that very dramatic lesson learned: a prophet, a truth-teller, never gets the respect he
deserves until after it's all over.
Why? Because the prophet's words, if they're words from God, are often hard words to hear—none of this "give the masses what they want to lull them into complacency and in the process insure mass popularity" as the disciples had hoped.
No, the Gospel Jesus was proclaiming and the disciples would proclaim, as soon as they caught on, that is, was a Gospel full of hard things, things like welcoming the stranger and loving those who are unlovable, of living your life as if you really believe that God's kingdom is coming to be here on this
So don't go around singing karaoke to Aretha's "Respect" as the theme song to your new jobs as proclaimers of my message, Jesus told his disciples, because you aren't likely to get it.
Not even in your hometown.
Instead, be about the message, no matter the reception, if you're really serious about being my followers.
In fact, when you come to a new place, Jesus told them, be sure to remember why you are there. You're not there to flirt with the girls or experience the local culture. You are there to proclaim my message. So, stay on task, be sure about what you are doing, and remember who you are. It’s likely that folks
will not take too kindly to your message; it's a hard one to hear, one that flies in the face of popular culture. But you know it is a message of hope. Of new life. And it's worth remembering, worth even giving up the respect you might have earned with a more culturally acceptable profession, with a nicer,
calmer, less invasive, less life-changing message.
Then, Jesus sent them out. And he sent them with nothing in their possession. Just what they wore on their backs and the message they had been given to proclaim. Go boldly into new places, Jesus told them. Go even into old places, where they knew you before. And tell them what I've taught you
about making peace with God and learning to live a new life. And don't expect a brass band lined up along the side of the road to welcome you in.
Don't be looking for respect, because if you're preaching my message of reconciliation with God and love for the whole world, I'm sorry to say that popular is the last thing you are going to be. So, remember who you are and remember what you are there to do. Don't look for respect from anyone except
God, and when the message has been proclaimed, don't stick around to see if they'll elect you president of the PTA. Move on, because it's not about the respect and adulation of other people; it's about remembering who you are, what you believe and why you are there.
The disciples wanted their theme song to go something like Aretha Franklin's song Respect, but if they'd listened closely enough to Jesus' directions, they would have known that a medley of Hit the Road, Jack and Ain't Too Proud to Beg might have been a little more appropriate. Jesus just wanted them
to know that the life of faith is not a life of instant acclaim and automatic comfort. He wanted them to know that they'd hit the dusty roads of Palestine with not a nickel to their names, expecting to be welcomed in with open arms—especially in their hometowns—but that the Gospel message was a hard
message to preach and a hard message to hear—not popular, not easy, not automatically garnering respect. And not even at home.
And what makes us think that it would be any different for any of us? Jesus knew what his disciples did not - that at the end of their road lay, not political acclaim and hometown hero status, but a cross. And Jesus knew that those disciples were going to have to decide then, and then again, and again,
and again, if proclaiming the Gospel of peace was worth the price. And in the end, most of them decided it was. And they paid for that decision, with their lives.
Is this message, is this way of life so important to you that you'll live it and proclaim it no matter what? Because chances are, if you're preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ you are going to make a few people squirm with discomfort. The way of Jesus is the way of the cross, and it's not a pathway strewn
with roses and acclaim. If you want that, it might be better to spend your life and your energy promoting a message that's easier on the ears, that doesn't require as much as your whole entire life.
See, Jesus invited his disciples, not to a life of respect, but to a life of remembering - who they were, what they believed, and what they'd learned about what really mattered in life: true relationship with God, whether it won them the respect of their hometown neighbors or not.
"Respect" is seven letters and "remember" is eight, so the chances that we might be able to rewrite Aretha's song to fit the life of following Jesus are rather slim. And that's too bad, because we really could have snapped our fingers to that one as we head out this week into our Palestinian countryside, this
city of Santa Monica, hoping not for the respect of those around us as much as to remember who we are, what we believe and to have the guts to proclaim it, no matter what.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Sermon for 6th Pentecost
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
July 4 / 5, 2015
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California