Worship Service, July 4, 2021 – Allowing for the Both And
Join Holy Trinity church members for worship on Sunday, July 4, 2021 in person or via YouTube and hear Pastor Erik’s message, “Allowing for the Both And”
You are welcome to join us in person for Indoor Worship, inside the sanctuary at 9:30 and 11:00 and also during HTLC Virtual Worship Service on Sunday morning.
Mark 6:1-13 “Allowing for the Both And”
A pastor tells of a time when he was a young man and was travelling with a singing group one summer. They would go from town to town visiting different churches putting on music programs with a Gospel message. While they were mostly received in a positive manner, not everyone appreciated their style of presentation. In fact, at the first church they visited they learned there was a man who had said before they came that, “if any of those kids has a guitar or a beard, then I’m leaving.” The pastor said at the time he did have a beard and he played the guitar in the traveling band. Sure enough, true to his word the man had left. The group was saddened to learn of this. Because the man could not accept the messengers, he missed out on the message. The man seems to have fallen prey to either/or thinking. He had a pre-conceived notion of what he thought a Christian should look like and the person had to either look like that or he wasn’t going to listen to them.
Jesus falls prey to this kind of either/or thinking in today’s Gospel reading from Mark. He has been away from Nazareth for a while. He had left the town where he had grown up, to go and join John the Baptist in the wilderness. He had traveled from town to town across the Galilean countryside healing people, performing miracles, and preaching about the coming kingdom of God. Now he has returned to his hometown. I can imagine he was eager to see his family and friends. But Jesus does not quite get the reception he may have been expecting. Instead, the local folks don’t seem to want to listen to him and they doubt he really has the authority or credentials to be teaching the way he is. The Bible tells us that Jesus could do no deed of power in his hometown… And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Why didn’t the folks in Jesus own hometown seem to respect him? Why is it that they did not seem to listen to him? One reason could be that his own people thought they knew him too well to believe what he was saying. As we hear them declare, “Is not this the carpenter, and are not his (relatives) here with us?” It apparently was inconceivable to them that God could be at work in someone that they saw as just a simple commoner like themselves.
The commentator Ben Witherington (The Gospel of Mark) expounds more on this thought as he writes: Notice that the local folks are just dumbfounded that this could come from a hometown boy like Jesus. More than just a matter of familiarity breeding contempt, their shock comes from the ancient mentality that geographical and heredity origins determine who a person is and what his capacities will always be. They see Jesus as someone who is not merely exceeding expectations but rather is overreaching. [p. 192]
In other words, Jesus had a certain station in life. He was a carpenter. The local folks maybe just couldn’t get past the fact that this Jesus was the same kid they had known growing up in their neighborhood. To them, either a teacher had the proper training, and a prophet came from somewhere else, or they couldn’t possibly be a real teacher, or a real prophet. Because his hometown could not allow for the possibility that Jesus could be both from their simple village and a prophet of God, or that he could not be both a humble carpenter and a dynamic teacher, they missed out on the life-giving miracles and preaching that Jesus had done in other towns.
Are there times when we miss out on a life-giving message because we have already pre-judged the messenger? Do we ever fall prey to either / or thinking which causes us to miss the humanity or the gifts of another person? Do we ever discount people or make assumptions about them based on what they wear or how they look? Do we categorize people based on where they are from, what skin color they might have or whether or not they have a certain job, a criminal record, or different physical or mental capacities? Is there more we could see and learn from other people if we were allowing for more both/ and thinking as opposed to either/ or thinking?
One thing I like about the Lutheran take on the Christian faith is its emphasis on allowing for the “both/and”, within people, as well as the “both/and” in how we talk about God and belief. One of the theological concepts that Lutheran developed was the idea that we are both saint and sinners. In other words, there is good and bad mixed up within everyone. Through baptism, we are made saints wholly and blameless before God, but at the same time we are not perfect. We continue to make mistakes and have our shortcomings. I really appreciate this honest approach to the human experience. It shows that we all have sins from our past, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot bring a message of love or witness of peace into our present situation. It means that we can be people who both strive for the ideal values of faith and still fall short of who God calls us to be.
Just as people can be both saints and sinners, this can also be true for groups of people like tribes or countries. In the first reading, we heard God sending the prophet Ezekiel to speak to the people and God tells the prophet, “I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day.”
But just because Israel is rebellious at times does not mean that God has not worked through them or will not continue to work through them. As God says to Abram when God is looking to establish the nation of Israel, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” Israel can be both a blessing and rebellious. They fall short, yet God calls them to continue to be a witness to the other nations.
On this fourth of July I was thinking about this concept in regard to our own nation. Sometimes, as various issues are debated on the national stage we can fall into either/ or thinking that causes conflict or a heightened sense of division which is not really helpful for finding solutions to our problems. We get into making prejudgments about people that categorize them as this way or that way in a manner that does not allow for us to hear each other and work towards a greater unity of purpose.
As part of my research for the sermon this week, I was looking at various patriotic hymns or songs that have come to have significance for our country. One of the songs I was reading through was “America the Beautiful.” The lyrics to the song were originally a poem written by Katherine Lee Bates, who was an English professor at Wellesley College. In 1893 she was a visiting professor at Colorado College to teach summer school. On her journey across the country, Bates witnessed firsthand the vast “amber waves” of wheat in American’s Great Plains. She also admired images of futuristic gleaming white cities in the Chicago World’s Fair.
At one point that summer she took a trip up the 14,000-foot mountain called Pike’s Peak where she was deeply stirred by a vision of America’s beauties. The thrilling experience of being surrounded by ”purple mountain majesties” with “fruited plains” stretching far into the distance below inspired Bates to write “America the Beautiful,” a poem originally titled “Pike’s Peak.”
Katherine Lee Bates’ words stir us with a vision of a land graced by abundant natural beauty. But more than the physical beauties celebrated in the poem, Bates speaks to beautiful American ideals, such as freedom, and community, and self-sacrifice. She evokes the dreams of pilgrims and patriots and all those “who more than self their country loved, And mercy more than life!”
John Tanner, who is a university president and a person of faith, says this about the song: … Bates recognizes that America, however blessed with natural beauties, lofty ideals, and patriot dreams, is also a work in progress — a flawed and imperfect republic. Bates repeatedly acknowledges that America needs God’s grace to mend its flaws and refine its gold; that its successes need to be rooted in nobleness; that its gains must be not merely material but divine; and that our much-vaunted liberty must be grounded in self-control and law.
If America needed these reminders in the late 19th century, then we need them today as well. I suppose every generation needs to be reminded to embrace what Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.” This is an ongoing struggle, but it is one that can be approached from the both/ and point view where the ideals and values of the nation can be lifted up while at the same time being honest about when we have come up short on those ideals and the work that still needs to be done.
During the first three hundred years or so of Christianity there was a lot of debate about the history of Jesus Christ and who he was. The debate was about Jesus as the ideal son of God, versus the Jesus who enters the fragility and flaws of human life. There were some Christian communities who believed that Jesus was only human but not divine. There were other communities who believed Jesus was never fully human but only divine. There were still others who said he wasn’t always God but rather became like God part way through his life.
These debates got quite heated at times and in some ways, that even continues today. But at one point, a council was called in the city of Nicea where many Bishops and early church leaders came together in order to bring more unity among the churches. It was here that the Nicaean Creed was developed which brought many churches together by moving things from an either/ or debate to a both/ and proposition by putting together the two main notions from the discussion and saying that Jesus was both human and divine—that he both suffered and died, and also was raised and came alive again. This became a crucial belief for Christians as it allows us to connect with the Jesus who knows our joys and sorrows and what it feels like to be human, but also brings us comfort knowing there is power bigger than our own who has conquered the forces of sin and death.
Let us remember, then, that we are both Saints and sinners and give each other an extra measure of forgiveness and understanding. Let us remember that because Jesus was both human and divine, he not only rises above the world in order to save it, but also enters into the world to embrace it, even with all its fragility and messiness. This means that we not only have the hope of a future heaven, but we have the promise of Christ’s presence in the here and now. This means we can trust that even though we are not perfect and may stumble along the way, with God by our side we will be stumbling towards grace.