True confession time: I love the reality show The Amazing Race. I know, I know, it’s not necessarily deep, intellectually stimulating and a bit voyeuristic of other people’s relationships but it intrigues me on a lot of levels. One, is that I love to travel and they go to some pretty cool places that are on my bucket list. Another is that they travel in pairs, competing against other paired teams of people for prizes. In the early seasons, they were given no money and they had to figure out how to get money to travel, eat, etc. They travel light with just a backpack of essentials. What’s more, because of all the exotic places they go, they never speak the language of the country that they are in. They have to rely on strangers who might have limited knowledge of English to help translate, to help get them going in the correct direction and keep them safe. I was astounded at the number of people who would help with transportation or money for the teams. It kind of bothered me, actually, that these teams just expected people to help them-felt like free loading a bit. But time and again, complete strangers with the barriers of language and culture are willing to help them. And the people helped them joyfully, happy to be hospitable in their country. Many of the people loved being invited to share in the journey with the team.
The teams also have to rely on each other-every so often the teams are given tasks that they have to complete in order to get their next clue of where to go and what to do. The team members sometimes work together but sometimes have to pick which one of them will complete the task before even knowing what it is. For example, the task could be to climb something and the person who is terribly afraid of heights will have to complete the climb.
It’s interesting to watch the teams navigate the tasks and the challenges together at each step determining who has what skills, knowledge and which of their gifts is needed in that moment. And yes, some arguing ensues. The teams always get to a point in the race where the façade drops and the vulnerability is revealed. People have to admit that they don’t think they can make the climb, walk the tightrope, eat weird food, run the distance or whatever uncomfortable situation they encounter. The teams that do the best learn to give up on control and focus on encouraging each other, comforting the other and finding a way together when it seems impossible. Even when it doesn’t work out and they are eliminated from the race, I have never seen a team leave the show fighting with each other or ending the relationship. They walk away with a deeper understanding of themselves, others, the world and the gift of community from having to be vulnerable.
Vulnerability is at the heart of our Mark reading today on so many levels. Jesus comes to his home town and preaches, shares with those who know him what he’s been up to and it doesn’t go that well. One would think that Jesus’ return home would garner a good old fashioned potluck picnic celebration; a little Galilean hospitality– some pita, olives, hummus and the like. But hospitality is not exactly what happens here. Jesus unabashedly is vulnerable with the people he grew up with, he doesn’t hide any part of his identity or what he knows about God and the crowd questions his abilities, as well as his legitimacy. Naming Jesus as Mary’s son and not Joseph’s son calls his birth into question. This carpenter’s kid teaching like a rabbi offended the people and they reject him. The writer of Mark is showing us Jesus in his full human vulnerability; Jesus is astounded at their rejection and doesn’t have much he can do about it. He had to admit that he couldn’t even do all of the healing that he had done other places. One could call this trip a failure for Jesus.
So what does Jesus do? Well, he calls and sends his disciples to go and do what he just failed at. Huh. Much like the Amazing Race, Jesus pairs the disciples off and tells them to go and take nothing with them. The disciples had to wonder about the wisdom of this, particularly in light of what had just happened to Jesus with people who actually KNEW him. How is this going to go with strangers? Jesus had removed any speck of self reliance from the disciples. When one enters a house as a guest, one steps completely into the world of someone else. You eat their weird food, you accept their customs, you sleep in a strange place, you smell weird smells, and you delve into their worldview. It’s uncomfortable at best; disconcerting and stressful at most. It reveals the things that you’re good at, not so good at and even afraid of. As a recipient of hospitality at this level, you give up all of your control and you are left utterly vulnerable and it may not go well.
We, too, are sent, we are vulnerable and we just don’t like to talk about it. We, as the 21st century church, like to think that programs, buildings, pastors, staff, chairs, flowers, robes, candles and the like will guarantee proclamation the word of God and will share the love of God with the world. We believe that those things will help us to control and legitimate our ministry, that we are the self sufficient resource- the host in the community of the community and we will give the community whatever they need. It’s much easier to be the host than the guest. There’s less at risk.
Jesus knows that left to our own devices, we will hide behind extra tunics and bags of money to cover our vulnerability, mitigate the risk of rejection and use them as barriers to protect ourselves from needing other people, so that we can go on believing that we can control our lives and the lives of those around us. We don’t need their hospitality but they need ours. And our culture of self reliance and autonomy backs us up. It’s not socially acceptable to be a “free loader” even if we come bearing this life giving message of life forever and being created in the image of the One who is pure love, grace, mercy and hope. We forget that God was first vulnerable with us, emptying Godself to be fully human, to risk and to know what it is to be rejected, scared, and alone. Jesus vulnerably called friends who were less than perfect and would eventually scatter when times got hard and fully loved them anyway. Jesus wasn’t afraid of his vulnerability but embraced it as part of being with God’s people.
Jesus calls us to remove those barriers and brings us back to the reality that who we are as messy, imperfect, and broken humans is exactly who we need to be to proclaim God’ love. When we are able to be authentic, drop our façade and admit our brokenness is when we are most able to connect to one another and share what God has given us so freely. God has already equipped us with what we need for the journey: Jesus and each other, including the stranger, and this grace is sufficient. Our imperfection and vulnerability means that we have to invite others to journey with us because we need them as well. We need those who make us uncomfortable, push our boundaries, will walk with us in pain, wrestle with us in justice for all people and remind us that Jesus gathers us all to God. This isn’t a gospel of “go it alone” self sufficiency but one of radical inclusion where all people with their differing points of view and gifts are not just tolerated but needed for the proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God.
God declares that we are never alone and we are already uniquely equipped by God to do whatever God calls us to do-we are enough just the way that we are, even when we are weary, afraid and rejected. Proclaiming the gospel only requires the willingness to vulnerably speak the truth about how the good news of Jesus Christ turned your world upside down with the promise of being made new each and every day, with the promise of unconditional love and forgiveness no matter what, that promise of God’s community, that the promise of eternal life, the reality of abundant life through Jesus, that is available not just someday but today. It’s proclaiming the good news that death is never the final word in God’s kingdom, that the meal of bread and wine we share is a not a pious ritual but the love of Jesus actually going in your ears, your mouth and your heart, and not just yours but your neighbor’s too. And this promise is for all people, in all places even if it’s risky. Amen.