Mark 1:1-6 - Heartstrings at First United Methodist Church
Sermons are preached. They are not writing. So, above is the sermon. Below is the sermon “plan”. (Unedited, all my mistakes kept!)

There are moments in my life when I am so taken up into the joy of returning home.

I grew up in the mountains of Colorado. To this day, when I jump drive through South Park, I can feel a pull towards home. An excitement that home is just around the bend. Driving over Trout Creek pass brings with it a sense of coming home. But that moment that Trout Creek pass opens up to the Arkansas Valley… oh that moment, I am home. Seeing Buena Vista laid out before me. My beautiful mountains, standing tall and permanent, still, right there were I left them. In that moment, I am taken up into this overwhelming experience of comfort, familiarity, safety… home.

That isn’t the only time in my life I experience the feeling of returning home. When I drive by grandma’s house, that familiar old Victorian home, set right on Main Street. The swing where we could sit for hours watching our friends drive by over and over and over again… Those old windows, with beveled glass at the top that reflect rainbows all over the house when the sun hits them just right. Just driving up the street, I am taken up into the feeling of home… Familiarity, safety, comfort. Taken up by memories.

Returning to in-person worship didn’t really feel that way. We were so concerned with safety, so afraid, so uncertain that it didn’t come with a sense of home. But you know when it did? It was when the mask mandates were lifted, El Paso County said lifted spacing requirements… we knew we still had to be cautious, careful, kind… but there’s this moment, Sunday morning, early, a little before 8:00. We had taped each pew one of three colors. One for each of the sanctuary services to keep people spaced appropriately, to do our best to keep the congregation safe…and that morning, after the restrictions were lifted, a couple of us started pulling off the tape that marked where people could sit for each service. And congregation members saw what we were doing and joined in. And someone ran up to the balcony to help, suddenly, sounds of tape tearing off the pews filled the entire sanctuary. It was almost all you could hear. This sound of hope. This sound of normalcy returning, the feeling that maybe, just maybe we were close to home…

But returning home, is never quite what we expect it to be… really, if you think about it, returning home is actually really messy:

Even for Jesus:

Hear these words from the Gospel of Mark 6:1-6

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 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! 3 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. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.    

May God bless the reading, hearing, and understanding of this word.

After that experience of seeing my home valley as I pull over Trout Creek pass… I pull into Buena Vista, the high school where I spent my teenage years is gone, a new building in its place. Tiny homes dot corners that used to be large lots. That restaurant that I used to spend late nights drinking coffee, where I discovered the cream in coffee is actually way better than I thought it would be, where I laughed with friends, talked for hours about the deep mysteries of life, where I cried tears of grief over lost loves… gone to the long, slow passage of time.

When I drive by grandma’s old house, those old bushes that separated the parking from the yard are gone, in their place a cute little fence, none of my cousins sitting on the porch excited to see me return, waiting to share stories and catch up. Grandma and Grandpa long gone, resting in their eternal home. The feeling of coming home over shadowed by the very real knowledge that home is not there any more.

And we all know that “returning” after CoVid, is not really “returning” at all. Removing tape didn’t remove the losses of the last 18 months. It didn’t return us home. Last week I preached at all 4 services, this one and 3 in the sanctuary. At the 11:00 service the choir and clergy process in during the opening hymn. It’s funny because last week, I went to the narthex to gather for the processional, and I didn’t know where to stand. It was such a tiny little thing. Where to stand, where to wait for service to begin, it was so unnerving, unsettling, something I’ve done for years, and I just did know… Week after week we look over a sanctuary, empty seats where long beloved members of our congregation used to be, having moved on, or passed away. The sound of returning home that came with removing tape, it just didn’t last.

I wonder about the emotions that Jesus felt as he returned home. Did he feel that deep sense of joy and expectation as his home town came into view. Did he wonder at the memories of his home church as the sanctuary rose up before him. Was he full of hope? A sense of safety and normalcy? Memories of a long life lived? Was it hard for him as he discovered things were not as they used to be? Of course his home town had changed: people passed away. Wedding vows were exchanged. The Messiah was raised in that town! But really, it was Jesus who came back changed. You can hear it in the way the congregation wonders about his identity. Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t this Mary’s son? Aren’t his brothers and sisters right here with us? Who does he think he is? He’s just the carpenter’s son.

But his time away from home had changed him. He had seen things, learned to lead a group of disciples, taught crowds of people, fed the hungry, performed miracles… he saw the depths of pain and despair, and hopelessness while he was away from home… and he learned that he could do something about it. He learned to see God’s work in places that he had not known was possible when he was still at home.

He changed while he was away from home. We have changed while we’ve been away from home too. The last 18 months have changed who we are as a church, a world, and as individuals. We have seen things we would not have seen had we never left the predictability of what used to be. We long to return home…wherever we found the comforts of home before… we long for that experience of safety and comfort… but, what we find is that time went on while we were away. And now, home is not the same… and really, neither are we.

The people in Jesus home town were so blinded to the passage of time, so blinded to change that he could do no deed of power there. God could not do the amazing beautiful transformative work in the very town the Messiah was raised in… The world changed from that place, history was written from within the walls of that city… and God could not do “deeds of power” there.  

And Jesus? Did you hear his response? Did you really listen? “He was amazed at their unbelief.” Their unbelieve made them blind to God’s presence, right there! Right there in their midst!

As hard as it is to return home and find that it isn’t really home anymore… can you see God’s power at work? Look, believe… you will see…

Like so many communities, faith communities and businesses, and entire industries, we are struggling to know what the next right step is. For us, that means trying to understand how to rebuild volunteer teams and multiple worship services… We’ve tried leaning on Facebook and YouTube, maybe we need to put our energy into keeping our online audience here with us, but after pouring ourselves and resources into that, you can just look around and see that didn’t help so much as people found themselves desiring in-person worship. So, we tried buying swag and handing out welcome bags. We’ve tried sermon reflection group to provide a place to build community and conversation, that is working for another of the services but not this one. I’ve tried asking for volunteers during announcement time, no one has stepped up to say, “I can help.” You know what did work? It is in another of our services, one person… one, has said she is willing to lead the building of that community. Every Sunday she introduces herself to visitors, invites them coffee, gets to know them. She organized a simple gathering with cookies and conversation… almost as many people attended that as the average attendance. She said it was wonderful to dream together, to get to know one another, to be with each other… and that congregation is starting to grow. Yes, it takes tons of people to make worship happen… but it was this one person willing to commit herself to this work that has made a real impact.

As hard as it is to return home and find that it isn’t really home anymore… can you see God’s power at work? Look, believe… you will see…

This week we had an all-staff meeting. We spent nearly an hour on introducing ourselves… we were sharing our stories, laughing and just being in awe of one another. When we were done with that we talked about the things we are struggling with, as a staff and as a church. We let our frustrations show and our grief shed its tears… It isn’t what it used to be… but God was so present in the building of that community.

What if we lived in such a way that Jesus in our midst, is not amazed by our unbelief, but instead finds himself amazed by how quick we are to see him right here, working so hard, right here in our midst. What if Jesus saw in us a community so ready to see that he can create with us the most amazing of all homes.


I know you're busy...but if you have a few moments to comment, I would love to hear from you....