Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Mark 6:1-4
At home they have to take you in, but they don’t have to like it. You’re always welcome at God’s house.
On the front of our bulletin today, there’s a line from a poem. “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.” It was written in about 1905 as part of a story about a farm laborer who had abandoned his job with one farmer at the busiest time of the year to go to work for someone else who could “pay him a little better.” The original employer had felt betrayed, and he promised himself that this laborer would never trick him again. But in the story he opens the door one winter night and finds that his wife has let the man into the kitchen, where he’s asleep by the stove.
The poem is the conversation between farmer and wife. She saw a man who was in need of warmth and shelter. The farmer saw only a man who had betrayed him. The laborer himself, he was asleep. By the end of the poem he died. He had seen the farmhouse as the place where he could die. He knew that they would take him in. They “had to”, because it was “home”. “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.”
Home can have a great attraction to us. But it’s not always a place where we may want to go. Sometime in the early 1980s I met a man who was at the height of his career. He was a pastor, Rev. James something-or-other, and he directed a student ministries center at a State university in the USA. I was just getting started in university student ministry at that time, so asked him about “career path” stuff. He told me that a few years previously, the church where he had grown up, in a middle- sized city, was looking for a pastor. In their search, they invited him to come and preach to them. He considered how it might be very nice to “go home again” and be their pastor. On the appointed day he arrived early, and as he walked along one hall in the church building he met an elderly woman who had been his Sunday school teacher when he was a child. “Oh Jimmy,” she said, “I’m so glad to see you, and I hope that you’ll come back here to be our pastor.” He said that hearing her speak in that way helped him to decide NOT to go there, because though he had grown up and become an adult to most of the people whom he served, he would always be a little boy in that community.
I Ezekiel going to his own
Ezekiel didn’t have a choice. He was sent to be the prophet to people whom he didn’t choose. These people were the “nobles and high officials” of Judah, Ezekiel’s nation, who had been taken away from home to Babylon after their nation was defeated. They had been “in charge” during their nation’s decline, and they were taken away by the emperor of the conquering empire, in part, to keep them from leading a revolt.
Ezekiel was a priest. His inclusion in those who were carried away to Babylon is natural. His appointment by God to be a prophet is special. Priests and prophets, in that national history, did not necessarily get along. As a priest without a temple in which to do his “priestly work”, he was unemployed. As a prophet, who was to speak God’s word to everyone, his own people and the nations, he had a role. And his role was to speak. We read that in verse 4, God said, “I am sending you to tell them what I, the Sovereign Lord, am saying to them.”
So, he did it. He was sent to tell, but, as we read in verse 5, whether anyone listened, believed or acted on what he said was not his business. Success was not his assignment, speaking was. If the people would know nothing else, they would know that they had been visited by God’s prophet.
The fact that the “book of Ezekiel” exists at all is evidence that some became his disciples and preserved his teachings, but beyond their being preserved and then included in the Bible by later people, not much resulted from his work.
This is not an unusual kind of story in the Bible, that someone comes to a place where he or she might expect welcome and find, instead, indifference or rejection. It even happened to Jesus.
II Jesus in Nazareth
We found Jesus going home, to that place where they had to take him in. Here at Tainan International Community Church over the past few months we’ve read a lot of stories from Mark’s gospel, and they have brought us to this point. Jesus has been doing his “teacher and healer” thing in other towns not far from where he grew up, and now he has come home.
He went first to the synagogue where, as an adult male, it was his privilege to speak. I imagine that it was like that campus minister whom I met in the 1980s. The hometown boy who had done well in other places and now has returned. At first people were happy to listen for anything he might say, or to be astonished for things he might do.
But then, like that “Rev. James Something-or-other” who was still “Jimmy” at his home church, the people reduced “Jesus” to “little Joshie”, and they began to take him down. First, they challenged his knowledge, because he certainly hadn’t spoken the kinds of things that were taught by THEIR Rabbi. Then they got after him for other reasons. He was “the carpenter” (not a craftsman, but merely a “tekton”, a technician who got his hands dirty). He was “Mary’s son” (implying that he was not doing his job to support his widowed mother). His brothers were there (doing what HE should be doing) and his sisters (unmarried women for whom he was supposed to find and provide husbands) were still among them.
Jesus came to people who “had to take him in”, but they didn’t have to like it. His own comment was that, a prophet is honored except at home and among his family. (do you notice that he has taken on the role of prophet?) If we were to read on a verse or two, we’d find that he could do little there because nobody had the faith to accept him for who he was.
We’ve all got homes, don’t we? Will we be welcomed there? That is yet to be seen, isn’t it.
III We’ll either go home again, or visit there from time to time.
Between 1945 and 1950 tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers were relocated to Taiwan involuntarily. Communication between Taiwan and China was governed by a system of “NO” for almost 40 years. In the late 1980s things began to loosen up a little, and eventually travel to China was permitted to anyone who could afford the ticket. In the early 90s, many of the “old soldiers” who were brought here, remained single here, and had no place to call home were wanting to go back.
When the Kaohsiung Fine Arts Museum opened in 1994, among its missions was “to collect and display local art.” In those early years there was on display a set of three life size wood sculptures entitled, “dreaming of home”. The figures were three old men dressed simply and holding or standing next to some simple luggage. Friends who had seen these sculptures remarked, as I did, “I’ve seen guys like that.” These were the old mainlanders who wanted to go home again. Many did, but many came back. The villages of China where some of them expected to find “home” again were no longer the places they had left in the 1940s. They discovered that their origins were there but beyond the money they carried, they weren’t necessarily valued among the relatives that they met. “Home” was in Taiwan now.
It used to be that schools in England offered many short technical and commercial training courses for students from commonwealth nations. It was not uncommon for someone from Pakistan or India to travel to the UK for a few months and come back with a certificate. When they tried to introduce or implement what they had learned, though, they often met remarks like, “Oh, that’s just something that you did on your course. We’re not doing it that way here.”
In many places around the world, women have been moving into the leadership of educational, commercial, governmental and industrial organizations. But what often happens is that though they are respected and powerful at work, they are still the ones who manage the household and see to their children’s education and nurturing needs. When it comes time for either a woman or her husband to leave professional life because a parent is aged and needs care, it’s more often the woman who has to quit.
Ezekiel was sent to his people as nothing less than the voice of God. It didn’t matter to those people. He didn’t tell them what they wanted to hear, so they didn’t listen to him. Jesus came home with the reputation of a healer, miracle worker and brilliant preacher behind him. It didn’t matter. He wasn’t doing what “a nice boy from our little town” was supposed to do. They had no faith in him.
Sisters and brothers, we all come from homes, and many of us look forward to the day when we can return there and find the comfort we once knew along with the respect we hope that we have earned while away. We may get both. We may not. We may need to carve out for ourselves an “alternative home” where we will ALWAYS be welcomed. That “home” may be physical, but it MUST be spiritual
Char and I have received Taiwan citizenship, and our passports will be posted to us sometime in the coming week. If things don’t work out where we’re headed next, we have an alternative physical home. But that’s relatively unimportant compared to the need, that all of us have, of a home for our spirits, which is what God offers us.
There’s a church song that I learned as a child, “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus”. It’s not about this “home for the spirit”, but does have one line that applies, “The arm of flesh will fail you, you dare not trust your own.” Whatever “homes” we build for ourselves are only temporary. God invites us every day to put our trust in him, and make our spiritual homes with him eternally. If you’d like to do that, I’d love to talk with you. Any time, any place. Let’s make a date.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN