The Hometown Disadvantage – A Sermon On Mark 6:1-13

Nazareth as depicted on Byzantine mosaic. Photograph by Meister der Kahriye-Cami-Kirche in Istanbul. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 9, Year B – Mark 6:1-13

“Jesus came to his hometown.” He’s left that place where he healed Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging women and has returned to Nazareth. It’s the place where he grew up and spent the first thirty years of his life. He’s come home.

Some of you know that my dad was a career army officer. One of the things that meant for my family and me is that we moved every one to three years. Until I went to college three years was the longest I had ever lived in one place. 

Growing up I wondered what it would be like to be from just one place and to put down roots, to have the same friends year after year after year, to graduate high school with kids I had known since elementary school. I wondered what it was like to live in the same town where your parents and grandparents and maybe your great-grandparents lived. Sometimes I wanted to belong to and be claimed by a particular place that I knew and that knew me, the kind of place where you can tell the same old stories over and over, and everyone has already heard them but no one minds hearing them again. I’m talking about a hometown kind of place, like Nazareth or Uvalde.  

I know I will never be a Uvaldean but in some ways Uvalde has become a hometown for me. I know it’s true because Facebook says Uvalde is where I’m from. I’ve now been here sixteen years. That’s longer than any other I place I have lived. I’ve experienced hometown life here and I’m grateful.

I wonder what your hometown experience has been like. What are some of the best things about a hometown? It’s where we know everyone and everyone knows us. There’s a closeness. We have a history. The hometown is familiar, comfortable, and predictable. There is consistency and routine. We know what to expect. There is stability and security. Not much changes. It’s why we often say, “There’s no place like home.”

Now let me ask you this. What are some of the most troublesome things about a hometown? It’s where we know everyone and everyone knows us. There’s a closeness. We have a history. The hometown is familiar, comfortable, and predictable. There is consistency and routine. We know what to expect. There is stability and security. Not much changes. It’s why we often say, “You can never go home again.”

When I talk about the hometown I am talking about more than Nazareth, Uvalde, or a geographical location. Our hometown isn’t something outside of us, it’s within us. It’s not a place, but a way of being. It’s our routines and habits, attitudes, beliefs, opinions, prejudices, assumptions, values. It’s the hardened patterns of how we’ve always done things and what we’ve always thought. The hometown is a lens through which we see the world, one another, and ourselves. The hometown shapes who we are and how we live. And regardless of how often we have moved, we all have a hometown, and usually more than one.

What are the hometowns that shape and form your life today? Maybe it’s your faith and the church, politics, national or cultural identity. Maybe it’s your family, what they told or taught you, or the family way of doing things. Maybe it’s your work, reputation, social status. Maybe it’s an idealized memory, nostalgia for the way things used to be, an image or persona that you project. The hometown is rarely just one thing. 

Most of us, I suspect, like to believe that we have the hometown advantage. We think that playing the game on our home field gives us an edge, an advantage. But what about the hometown disadvantage? Here’s what I mean by that.

In the hometown it’s easy to know about another but to not really know him or her. The hometown often has a way of convincing us that the hometown way is the right way, the best way, the only way. Sometimes our vision of the world and life extends only as far as the city limits sign. We value our closeness but risk becoming closed to someone or something new. Excessive familiarity often keeps us from recognizing, valuing, and appreciating what is right in front of us. 

I remember coming home from law school one afternoon. As I walked toward my apartment I saw a very attractive young women sitting by the pool. I didn’t recognize her and I hurried up the steps to tell my roommate. He ran to the window, looked out, and said, “Oh,” and as he turned away he said, “That’s just Suzy.” Suzy was his girlfriend. 

The people of Nazareth could just as well have said, “Oh, that’s just Jesus.” They were astounded by the wisdom in his teaching and they knew about the deeds of power he had done. It made no difference, however. “That’s just Jesus, the hometown kid.” That’s the carpenter; the son of Mary; the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon; the one whose sisters are right here with us. 

They knew all about him “and they took offense at him.” I think that’s the hometown disadvantage. It happens whenever 

  • We become stuck in the status quo and defend our hometown against change and growth;
  • We settle for what we know rather than opening our hearts and minds to what we don’t know;
  • We take for granted and refuse to see or listen to those we love most and are closest to;
  • We let familiarity blind us to something new, breed contempt, and make our world small; 
  • We choose being content and comfortable over being challenged;
  • We believe “that which is holiest and closest to God cannot coincide with that which is most familiar and closest to us” (Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the World, vol. 2, 333); and 
  • We miss the presence of God in our life, world, and prayers because it didn’t come “with the pomp and circumstance [we] think [we] deserve” (Ibid., 336).

I wonder if the hometown disadvantage is at work in your life and my life today. And if so, in what ways? I wonder if it’s preventing deeds of power from being done in our lives. I wonder if it’s preventing you and me from doing deeds of power. I wonder how the hometown disadvantage might be diminishing our lives and impoverishing our world. And I wonder what you and I are willing to do about that? 

Maybe we need to expand our city limits. Maybe we need to write a new town charter. Or maybe we just need to shake off the dust, move on, and leave our hometown. 

I wonder what might be waiting for us beyond our hometown’s city limits?  


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