Appreciated But Not Always Wanted

Golf fans among us might know the legend. God stood one day between Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, with an arm on each one’s shoulder. God said to Nicklaus, “You will go down in history as the greatest golfer ever.” Then God turned to Arnold Palmer and said, “But YOU will be the one the people love.” One of them was valued more greatly. The other was valued almost as highly and considerably more beloved.

Similarly, have you ever considered that it’s possible for someone like Jesus to have been greatly appreciated but not always wanted?

Jesus went home and taught. He was welcomed like a celebrity at first, so it seems. So proud were those who gathered to listen. He’s so grown up now, one probably said. Can this be Mary and Joseph’s little boy? another wondered. He must be successful; he has people following him around, you know! one proud neighbor probably observed. Yes, I heard he’s even done a miracle or two! someone no doubt said.

Then, he started teaching. The whispers continued.

I hear he has a book coming out soon! I’ll bet his website is phenomenal. And the Twitter followers, the Instagram followers… my goodness. I’m so proud.

Another said, That’s nothing. I dropped the words “water and wine” into my search engine and his was the first name that came up.

I heard he was going to have to buy a huge auditorium because he’s already out of space for worship. All those followers can’t be wrong, you know!

But then Jesus began to teach.

Yes, and I wonder how long it will be before he has his own television ministry? Surely, he’ll go global with his ministry soon. Wait a minute… did you hear what he just said?

Yeah, I was with him up until that last part. Seminary really messed him up. Made a liberal out of him!

How embarrassing. Insulting, even. How’s that for gratitude to the home crowd?

Apostasy! He can’t say that… that’s apostasy! Somebody’s got to stop this. Call security. Do we have security?

When this is over, his mother will never serve as president of our auxiliary again… they probably said. And, he passed right through them.

Mark’s gospel gives us the executive summary of a story that seems to be the same as the one John told in chapter 4 of his gospel. Think about it. If something made it into even two of the four gospels, then it must have been important. Because really, all of it’s important. Right? If you want to check the long form - and trust me you do want to read the long form - look at John’s version of this story.

I can’t speak for all pastors, of course. But I think if you got most of us honest enough for a minute, they would corroborate what I’m about to say. And, I know that we’re not Jesus. Stick with me, though.

We pastors occupy a weird place in most people’s lives. In our communities even. I have come to call it, “Appreciated but not always wanted.”

One in my line of work can eventually become what some in clergy circles refer to as “chaplain to the community.” We tend to get invited to lots of things:

…The local funeral home has a family there needing a burial, but they aren’t active in a local church. Suddenly, they need a minister.

…You’re having a 5K run or a mini-marathon and want an invocation? We’d probably get the call.

…You’re trying to get some divided factions together in a community? We’d be a logical call to see what we could do.

…Heaven forbid, a tragedy happens in the community and sometimes they’ll pull in ministers to support as counselors.

…Ribbon cuttings, pet blessings, weddings, civic clubs, baccalaureate addresses, someone has their program cancel at the last minute - it’s not at all unusual for folks to reach out to us. Because we are willing to speak publicly.

In those settings, we are appreciated for what we can do. If nothing else, it seems we are usually willing to pray ceremonially for our lunch.

Then there’s the other kind of thing that can happen to ministers.

…This is Independence Day. Unless someone wants clergy there to offer a blessing, we might not be the first people they think to invite over to the BBQ and Bar setup.

…Is someone getting up a crowd of the guys or girls to party a little and watch the big Triple Crown horse race? It’s quiet at my office. I’m probably not getting invited.

…Just got married and now the wedding reception that couldn’t be held in the church Fellowship Hall is about to start? They’ll say, “Well, thank you for doing the ceremony. I know you have an early day tomorrow.”

…Hosting a house full of people for a Casino Night fundraiser, complete with open bar? Phone’s sometimes not going to ring on my end.

And that’s the way it is for some of us with Jesus, too, you know. We appreciate him for the whole salvation thing, but he’s not always wanted in every moment of our lives.

Their reaction to his words at home - in Mark and in John - didn’t diminish the truth of what Jesus had said. He spoke as a prophet, but all they could see was the boy they had helped raise. Jesus spoke on behalf of God the Father, and all they could see was thirty years in the past when he was a toddler in the carpenter’s shop. He dared to associate himself as a fulfillment of God’s more celestial nature, and all they could think of was how well they knew his parents. He was appreciated as one of them, but he was not wanted for what he truly was.

Just in case you think Jesus was only having a bad day in today’s scripture, Mark gives another related story. One day Jesus was sending out the disciples two-by-two. He gave them the instructions you heard earlier. “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.”

Matthew seems to record this same episode, and in his account Jesus adds, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me.” Now, that sounds melodramatic. Except it’s from Jesus. And you know what? That turned out to be true.

Here’s where I need to be fair to the other people in our story, the ones who failed to fully recognize just what Jesus was. Because I can be a lot like them.

When I was a teenager, there was a booklet, really no larger than a pamphlet. It was entitled, My Heart, Christ’s Home. The metaphor was that our inner-selves were like a home into which Jesus had requested to be admitted. “Behold I stand at the door and knock…” You remember. It talked of how open we might be with Jesus as he stepped into the den. How we might even take him into the kitchen of our life and give him food to eat. Lay open to him our cabinets and pantries. We might even offer him a room in which to lodge.

But then the pamphlet made the uncomfortable acknowledgement that we all had that one figurative room in our spirits. Maybe just a closet, but that room was off limits to Jesus the visitor. Even we don’t like what’s in the closet of our heart. We know what’s in there, and parts of its contents scare even us. We’d be embarrassed to show Jesus that space. He’s welcomed into the house, but there are limits according to what we keep for ourselves.

That always stuck with me, because I know I can be like that. Maybe you can, too.

I can tell Jesus he’s wanted, but what I really mean sometimes is that he’s appreciated. He might well be the Savior, but the interest of the moment - the vexing problem of the season… the hobby or passion of the month… the prejudice or bias that has been with me all my life… a popular opinion that I hold but that won’t square with my faith…those things I actually end up giving my time to and spending my money on - they can be the ones I seem to actually want.

Mark Eddington says, especially of the rejection of Jesus at the synagogue in this text, that the questions the crowd has of Jesus about his deeds and powers spring from their inability to reach the conclusion that seems so easy for the story’s narrator: these are the works of a King!

Instead of being able to see that, they have disbelief. Their reactions are the natural stance that springs from disbelief.

I wonder how we wrestle with disbelief in our faith?

…When we hear Jesus say something that we’re not ready to hear

…When we hear a teaching that sounds right but that would push us out of our comfort zones and into places where we would feel awkward - or worse

…When we see Jesus do something that we don’t think we’d like to be asked to do

…When a truth comes bursting into our lives whose timing is so bad, so inconvenient that we just don’t want it to be so…

…then we wrestle with our own disbelief. We wrestle within the gap between hearing, or even speaking, the word versus actually doing the word.

Michael Lindvall tells a compelling story from an Emory University graduation a few years ago. The usual things were happening. Honor graduates were being recognized. Honorary degrees were being handed out. Recipients were making brief remarks. As is so often the case at commencements, the students were chatting among themselves and few were actually paying attention. That is probably until the least educated person sitting on the stage began to speak. And then, they listened.

Hugh Thompson did not finish college. He chose instead to enlist in the Army where he became a helicopter pilot. On March 16, 1968 he was flying a routine patrol in Vietnam when he happened to fly over the village of My Lai just as American troops were seen slaughtering dozens of unarmed villagers - old men and women and children. Thompson set his helicopter down between the troops and the remaining civilians. He ordered his tail-gunner to train the helicopter guns on the American soldiers, and he ordered the gunmen to stop killing the villagers.

Hugh Thompson’s actions saved dozens of lives, although he was almost court-martialed. It was thirty years before the Army awarded him the Soldier’s Medal. What he did was greatly appreciated by some, but not at all wanted by others.

As he stood at the podium microphone, the rowdy student body grew still. Then, Thompson talked about his faith. Simple words. Speaking of what his parents taught him as a child, Thompson said, “They taught me ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’” The students were amazed at these words of Jesus, words from Sunday School, words from worship, words of Christian testimony. They leapt to their feet and gave him a standing ovation!

Lindvall goes on to say, “Thompson’s words about his faith had weight because the man had obviously walked the talk. In the same way, the church will only be heard if what we do as Christians is congruous with what we say about our faith.”

We feel about Jesus the way we do sometimes because he does this:

…He takes our lives the way we have them set up. The way we wanted them.

…Then, he nudges us and speaks to us.

…Before you know it, he has us doing things and saying things we would have never seen ourselves being a part of.

…He also tends to take us places ahead of our schedule if we’d been left to ourselves.

That’s just it. Jesus won’t leave us to ourselves. He meets us where we are but, thanks be to God, he never leaves us where he found us. It’s one of the reasons why Jesus is appreciated by plenty. But just not always wanted.