On Breaking the Mold
July 4, 2021
To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.
Mark 6: 1-13
He left that place and 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.
This week we receive the third scripture reading in a set of three that provide insight into the nature of Jesus of Nazareth, both human and divine. In previous weeks we were reminded of the depths of his faith as Jesus calmed the storm, healed the sick, and restored life. This week the scriptures take us to a place where Jesus is limited by the doubts and fears who think they know who he is. Today’s sermon is titled On Breaking the Mold.
Before we jump thousands of years back in history to Jesus’s time, I’d like to go back to the mid 1700’s, 1751 to be exact. 1751 was the year that Isaac Norris, then the Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, wrote a letter to the Whitechapel Foundry in London, England. In this letter, Norris ordered a bell to be cast. In the specifications, Norris asked for the following scripture from the book of Leviticus (25:10) to be cast around the top of the bell: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all inhabitants thereof.”
From the time the bell was ordered, it would be another 24 years before the Revolutionary war between the American colonies and England would begin, but radical new ideas were already taking shape in the colonies. Immigrants from many lands were experiencing new found freedom in the new world but they longed for more; they wanted representation in the English parliament so they would have a say over their own governance. King George and the landed gentry of England did not want to give seats in Parliament to colonial representatives for fear that the peasants in England would get a taste for democracy and demand representation, too. The American colonists grew more and more agitated at being controlled from afar by the motherland and talk of revolution began to spread.
Revolution and the prospect of war was a hard sell for many colonists who valued the security of being in the good graces of the King. In addition, the revenue for the crown from colonial imports of tobacco, cotton, rice, and sugar made the colonies indispensable. A fight for independence and democratic rule became the only tenable option for the colonies. “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land…” Those raised letters on the bell in the Pennsylvania Assembly belfry took on new significance as popular opinion shifted radically towards democracy. The colonists were willing to risk life and limb for the chance of self-governance and the promise of equal treatment under the law. Still, it was difficult to break out of the mold.
In both of our scripture readings for today we find the same kind of tensions; we find the new pushing up and against and through what was, making way for what will be. In Psalm 123 the psalmist is looking to God for mercy, crying “we have had more than enough of contempt… more than [our] fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, [and] the contempt of the proud.” The psalmist is giving words to the Hebrew’s struggle as captives in Babylon as they longed for independence, for justice, for liberty. It is not easy to break out of the mold. It would require a war to grant Hebrews freedom to return to their homeland after the Persians defeated the Babylonians.
500 years later, Jesus was waging a different kind of campaign for liberation. Jesus was calling for his people to live into the spirit of the law. Jesus was calling for his people to care for one another, especially the sick, the poor, the imprisoned, and the hungry. Jesus was calling for the leaders to care for the people instead of being so worried about holding on to their own personal power in the twisted alliance between the temple and the Roman government. It is written in the scriptures, “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 they took offense at him.” It is not easy to break out of the mold.
These people thought they knew Jesus. I don’t think these people were spiteful or mean or ignorant; I think they were unsettled by what they witnessed. What they heard from Jesus and what they saw as he healed the sick did not align with their memories of Jesus. Jesus no longer fit the mold. In the account of the same story in the book of Luke, chapter 4, Jesus is forced out of the synagogue in his hometown and chased to the edge of a cliff by people with stones in their hands. It is not easy to break out of the mold. And it is not easy to let someone break out of the mold we fashion for them, either.
It is basic human nature to assess one another and to make judgements. I will speak for myself here when I say that I am quick to assign labels to people. I make judgements based on physical appearance, behavior, and even bumper stickers. I decide just what kind of person the “other” is and I am most at ease if they act according to my expectations, no surprises and certainly no breaking out of the mold.
We see the same dynamic at play between groups of people, too. We segregate ourselves along various lines of economic, educational, ethnic, and ideological differences. We see this play out in our nation’s capital all the time; most politicians would rather tow the party line instead of take an unpopular stand. It’s risky to break out of the mold.
Friends, if we aim to follow the example of Jesus then we should be looking for opportunities to break out and go beyond what others expect of us. If we aim to follow the example of Jesus then we should not be holding others back by reminding them of their mistakes and their shortcomings, tempting as that may be. If we aim to follow the example of Jesus then we are called to speak out against any and all injustice in our world. I hope we will remember the ancient Hebrew words from the book of Leviticus that were chosen to be cast on the top of what came to be known as the liberty bell: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all inhabitants thereof.” I hope that on this day, as we celebrate the sacred intentions included in our Declaration of Independence, we can see clearly how far we have come and just as clearly in what direction we need to go, individually and collectively, to insure that we are living and loving and teaching and voting as if “all…are created equal.”
In closing, I am mindful that today we will soon share in Communion. We will remember him who spoke truth to power and gave his life to prove that love is greater than fear and death. We will remember how some of the people who thought they knew him the best simply could not see beyond their memories and preconceived notions of who Jesus was. Because of their own limitations Jesus could not help them very much and he could not teach them very much. As we share in Communion today, may we be ever mindful of our tendencies to limit ourselves and limit others. May we seek liberation from the limitations that hold us back so that we may be a source of God’s love and light in our world. So be it. Amen.
Infinite Spirit we call God, I thank you for our pasts and all the experiences that have made us who we are, in this moment. May our lives be a testament to all we have learned along our life journey and may we be ever mindful to respect the chosen paths of our brothers and sisters, so that we not stand in judgement, but rather uphold each other in kindness and encouragement. Help us, Lord, to be kind and encouraging with ourselves, as well, and remember that all change begins with us. May we radiate your love in all we think, say and do. May we all be ministers to those who are in need, giving of ourselves however we can. I pray for our nation this morning, Lord. May we grow ever more deeply into our democratic ideals and become a beacon of light for the world. This we pray in the name of Jesus, who gave us this prayer…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you now with the following preamble from our Declaration of Independence, signed on July 2nd and ratified 240 years ago today, in the year 1776:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”