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                             By Rev. Jonathan A. Malone
                          Preached at the First Baptist Church
                        Sunday, July 5, 2009; East Greenwich, RI
                                         Mark 6:1-13
                             “And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

                                    Movement 1 – Identity
         Jesus was coming to town. Somehow all the local clergy had heard about it. They
were made aware of Jesus’ visit, either through a dream, vision, or maybe everyone had
all received the same e-mail. All the clergy knew that Jesus was coming to town and they
had to get ready. Each pastor decided to make sure that the service would be the best one
ever, that it would be a true and good depiction of their particular worshipping
community. The Episcopalians polished their pews, and prepared some of the best liturgy
that they ever could offer. The whole Methodist congregation learned the hymns of the
Wesley brothers so they could sing them with such a voice that Jesus would be amazed.
They also put together a pot-luck. The Baptist choir prepared a musical number with
singing and swaying, instruments and a small dance routine. The Baptist preacher
prepared a two hour long sermon ending with such a pyrotechnic show that would be
amazing. They also put together a pot-luck. The non-denominational church gathered up
the equivalent of five praise bands, rented the biggest screens they could find and wrote a
whole new praise choruses complete with repeating verse for Jesus’ visit. The Catholics
made sure to invite the Bishop to this particular service and decided to go to the liturgical
max. Each church, each movement of Christianity all dove into their community and
prepared to present themselves in the best possible way.
         Jesus was coming and each group wanted to greet Jesus in such a way that would
exemplify who they were. It is always interesting to see how people view themselves. It
is always interesting when you ask people to describe themselves to hear what they have
to offer. Maybe you see yourself as someone who is funny and outgoing. Maybe you see
yourself as a bookish, reader. Maybe you see yourself as someone who is “of the earth,”
or as someone who is more urbane. The modern practice of “speed dating” is a practice in
self-awareness and self-identity. How do you see yourself and how can you sell yourself
in 5 to 8 minutes?
         It seems that sports events gives people permission to show of who they are. We
adorn ourselves with decorations and decals boasting our favorite team, shouting down
our rival team. We wear the hat, the jacket, the shirt, the bag, and anything else we can
find. We are Red Sox fans. We are Philly fans. We are Giants fans. (any Yankee fans?)
         In Israel the people knew who they were, their identity came from their
community and communities differed. People from Jericho were different from people
from Bethlehem who were different from people from Nazareth. They were all different
from the Samaritans. Different towns had different economies, different trades and
customs. People spoke differently depending on what town they hailed from. The food
varied from town to town. There was an identity that was attached with the town, an
identity that was embraced by the majority of the folks from that town. This was an
identity that the people knew and embraced. This could be said of Jesus’ hometown.
Remember Jesus came from a rural town, a small town where everyone knew everyone
else. It was a town where the children grew up learning the trade of their father and

stayed put practicing the father’s trade. It was a town that embraced it’s identity as
simple, quiet and unassuming. This was the identity of Jesus’ hometown. So we should
assume that Jesus would embrace his town’s identity. We should assume that Jesus would
also try to be simple, quiet and unassuming.
        We look in a mirror and we see, to a large part, what we want to see. We have an
image of who we are, what our identity should be and we embrace it. Think of Freud’s
idea of the id, ego and super-ego. The id is the stuff that makes up who we are – it is the
nebulas, unorganized building blocks of our identity. We focus on the ego – our
realization of our id, and our super-ego – the moral and critical aspect of our selves. We
look in the mirror and see who we are, we see our ego and super-ego and understand our
identity. Who do you want people to see? As Christians we have a certain image that we
would like people to see. We have an understanding of ourselves that we would invite
others to embrace. We are kind, compassionate and slow to anger. Perhaps this is how
you see yourself as a Christian. What is your identity?

                              Movement 2 – Projected Identity
        Remember the pastors preparing for Christ’s visit? While they were busy working
during the week a local news crew went around to ask each pastor about all of the
excitement. As they went from church to church they asked one driving question, “what
kind of person do you expect Jesus to be?” They asked each pastor what they expected to
see, how they expected Jesus to dress, worship and act when he visited their local
congregation. The Episcopalians expected Jesus to come well dressed and groomed (i.e. a
well trimmed beard) respectable and proper, the Baptists expected Jesus to come well
dressed but a little more relaxed than the Episcopalians and ready to sing some good
Gospel songs and eat some good pot-luck food. The Lutherans expected Jesus to come
with a stein of beer (to which the Baptists called for grape juice) in a Lutheresque
argumentative style and the non-denominational folks were expecting someone in blue
jeans and a tee shirt with a guitar and a praise chorus ready to sing. The Catholics
expected Jesus to bring the Pope with him, assuring all of them that they were right. Each
group, each denomination had a picture, an assumption of who Jesus was supposed to be.
Each group was projecting onto Jesus, creating an expectation of who Jesus was
supposed to be, how he was supposed to look and act.
        Jesus returns to his hometown and faces a barrage of projections. He goes to the
synagogue to teach, as he has done in many, many towns and as has happened in the
other towns the people are amazed, but they are also shocked with Jesus’ teachings. The
knowledge, the wisdom, and the power that Jesus commands is not what they expected to
see. They were not used to hearing someone with such a command of scripture and such
an air of authority concerning the interpretation of scripture. They have seen Jesus grow
they knew his parents and his siblings and knew that this person teaching in the
synagogue did not match the image that they had expected to encounter in the person of
Jesus. He did not come from an extraordinary family, he was not of a well bred stock or
of a groomed pedigree, and yet Jesus is shining as an individual. This was not what they
expected. The townspeople had a projection, an expectation and an assumption of who
Jesus was supposed to be and how Jesus would act. Jesus came from the same place as
the rest of them, and should fit in and act like the rest of them. This outlandish action, this

demand for attention was offensive, or scandalous for the people. It was not appropriate,
it was not proper. The projection of the people did not meet the person of Jesus Christ.
         We have images of ourselves, but we encounter images or projections of others
daily. We may see ourselves as funny but others see us as annoying. We may think we
look inviting, but the skull and crossbones we pinned on our lapel seem to scare people
off. We live with projections, we encounter projections in our lives daily. If we dress
smartly, shower and present ourselves as someone who is on their way to a white collar
job we will be treated a certain way. If we were jeans with holes in them, avoid showers
for days and days and reek of alcohol then we will be treated in a different way. Tell
people you are a lawyer, tell people you are a mechanic, tell people you are a gym
teacher and you will face projections. We deal with projections. The danger with
projections is that they often lead to disappointment. People are placed in boxes, in
categories with projections, and when someone doesn’t live up to such a category than
others are surprised, disappointed or worse.
         As Christians we live with projections. Have you ever let it slip out that you are a
Christian and then experienced the projection. You did not want your friends to know
about your secret life, your silent faith, and your weekend activities, but somehow people
found out that you are a follower of Jesus Christ. Now you have to live with the
projections. Now you have to live with the assumption that you will be self-righteous,
pious, perfect and void of any cursing or swearing or anything beyond a PG rating.
Maybe this is the kind of person you are, but probably these projections do not fit, and
you struggle to show you are someone different. You struggle to show that you do not fit
in the box.
         We throw out the projections just as quickly as we receive them – judging people
based on where they are from, where they go to church and what they do.
         We live with projections. We live with assumptions of how people are supposed
to act, how people are supposed to behave and believe. When Christ entered his
hometown he encountered projections that challenged the basic identity that Christ had
embraced. Here was the Son of God who was supposed to act like a rural townsperson.
Christ is placed in a projection.

                                    Movement 3 – Controlling Jesus
        Projections are a fact of life. We have to learn to deal with the projections of
others and on the other hand to temper our own projections that we might have.
Projections are a fact of life, but when the image we have of ourselves does not match
with the image others have of us there is some tension. Projections get dangerous when
they do not match reality, and they especially get dangerous when they are thrust upon
        This is what causes so much tension in Jesus hometown – that the identity of
Jesus does not match with the projections of the people. The people expected to
encounter a home grown, local town individual and were not open to the idea that this
local person might be someone who could preach, teach, heal and cast out demons. They
could not see Jesus as someone who could be the Messiah and could not see and believe
the amazing things that Jesus could do. They tried to put Jesus in a box, and their
projections, their lack of faith, their unbelief closed them to the power and presence of
the Son of God.

        Today we look at the townspeople and we scoff, confidant that we would not fall
into such a trap. We look down at Jesus’ hometown folks assuming that if Jesus did visit
we would be ready for his amazing actions and powerful presence. Yet we need to be
careful not to be to smug. We need to be wary of our confidence, because today it is still
easy to project upon Jesus. It is still easy to project what we want Jesus to do and be and
then to take our images of who Jesus might be into our faith community. We want a Jesus
to be the advocate of the poor and we make Jesus an advocate of the poor. Our heart goes
out for peace and we make Jesus against war. We want justice, no matter what cost, and
so we see Christ as someone who is just, even if it means condemning others. Ludwig
Feuerbach once wrote about humanity’s projection upon God, claiming that everything
we said about God was coming from our own needs and desires. It is very easy to fall
into such a prescribing trap with Jesus. It is very ease to find ourselves shaping and
molding Jesus into the person we want him to be, projecting our own needs and desires
upon him. Nations have prescribed images of Christ to make them applicable to the
image of the nation as blessed by God. Groups of people, Christians have projected and
prescribed so many different pictures of Jesus that we may wonder if the real Jesus is still
in the movement. We try to control Jesus.
        Think of many of the movies about Jesus that have come out. From Gibson’s The
Passion of Christ to Scorsese’ The Last Temptation of Christ all are showing us a picture
of who we think Christ is supposed to be. Do you remember the movie, Prince of Peace?
This was an Easter classic that has embedded a picture of Jesus in many of our minds.
Many us may expect Jesus to walk with a halo around his head, speaking in a holy,
hushed tone and always having a divine aura about him. This is a projection of Jesus.
        The film industry has made a niche around projections of Jesus. I recently saw on
a website (The Wittenburg Door) a list of some of the worst Jesus movies ever made –
take note of many of these projections of Jesus:
Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter
Jesus the mini-series
Zombie Jesus!
In Search of Historic Jesus
This is just a taste of some of the brilliant cinema depicting the person and life of Jesus
which is out there. Projections of Jesus as a superhero, as a Vampire Hunter or even as a
zombie and many, many more.
        Here is the thing we need to think about, have we become Jesus’ home town? If
Jesus were to visit today, what would we expect to happen? If Jesus were to come and
speak would we accept his message or would we reject what he would have to say? What
do we project upon Christ? What do we expect from Christ? Do we want Christ to be a
peaceful, gentle person with no sense of justice or indignation or anger? Do we want
Christ to be the strong, just and righteousness person who will throw out all the weak and
sinful people who are pulling down the church? What do we expect of Jesus? What is our
projection of Jesus? How are we trying to control Jesus?

                         Movement 4 – A Disappointed Christ
       Remember the clergy expecting Christ’s visit? Remember how they were
preparing and preparing and preparing? Well the big day finally came. It was the

weekend when Christ was supposed to visit and all the churches were full. Everyone was
sure that Christ would attend their place of worship. Everyone was sure that Jesus would
want to be with them. Nine o’clock passed and no sign of Jesus. Ten, eleven, no sign of
Jesus and people were starting to get nervous. The choirs started singing, the pastors
started to preach even though there was still no sign of Jesus. The hours continued to
pass, the food was starting to grow cold and one by one the members of the community
continued with their worship, witnessed the fine music, the fine preaching and the fine
food and then in the evening went home. There was no sign of Jesus at any of the places
of worship. The next Monday morning the clergy all gathered and all shared stories of
disappointment. They all shared their hurt and broken expectation because Christ did not
show. No one could understand what had happened. Christ had promised that he would
be there this weekend. They all knew Christ was going to appear, so what happened?
About twenty minutes into the meeting the local Rabbi showed up, apologized for being
late and then began to say, “We had the most interesting person visit us at the synagogue
this weekend…”
        Christ does not stay within our expectations. Christ does not conform to our
projections but breaks out and stays true to who God has called him to be. Christ does not
conform but stays true, and we lose. We lose because all the time we spend preparing and
waiting for the Jesus we expect to see is time lost that we could have spent at the
synagogue with Jesus. We lose because when we want Jesus to stand for justice no matter
what and we miss the mercy that Christ brings. We lose because when we see only the
forgiveness and acceptance of Jesus we do not hear him calling us to be better, to do
better and we stay in our own broken place. We lose when we try to force Jesus to be
someone we want him to be rather than being the person he calls us to be.
        In Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, there is a section when Christ
returns to the earth and performs miracles. He is arrested, locked in prison and sentenced
to death by the Grand Inquisitor who tells Jesus that he and the church no longer need
him to be around. The Inquisitor has decided that what people need is a message of
prosperity, of enjoying life and not denying it. The decisions that Christ made are not the
decisions that Christians must make so Christ was no longer needed. Such a stance and
such a position led to a distance from the grace and the love of Christ. And Christ
eventually leaves, the town, the church and the world. The decision to ignore and reject
one view and version of Christ led to the absence of Christ.
        The people in Jesus’ home town could not see the amazing works of Christ
because they were closed to the possibility that Christ might be the Messiah. We miss the
glory of our Lord when we force our own projections upon Christ because our eyes our
closed to anything else but what we expect. William Campbell tried to minister in the
South in the 1960s to both white supremacists and black civil rights workers. Neither
would have him because both distrusted him. They could not see Christ as a reconciler
but only as someone who condemned the other. Both communities missed the
opportunity for grace.
        When we force Christ, when we try to make Christ into the kind of person that we
want we end up distancing ourselves from Christ. It is at that point that Christ grieves,
that Christ weeps and Christ is amazed. I remember remarking once how I could not
understand how some Christians could embrace a message of hate. I read the bible and
was amazed at many of the things I was hearing from them. Christ is amazed at the

reaction many are having at him. He is amazed at people’s blindness. He is amazed at the
hardness of their hearts. He is amazed that people would not see and receive his love,
grace and healing touch. When we control Jesus we miss out on the Christ.

                             Movement 5 – Standing with Christ
        Stay with Jesus. Not the Jesus we want but the Christ we need. Not the Jesus we
expect but the Christ who is the savior, the Son of God who walked amongst us, who
lived with us, died for us and rose again. Stay with the Jesus who ascended to heaven and
is now at the right hand of God. Stay with Jesus whom we know through the scriptures.
Stay with the real Jesus, the living Christ, not with the projection of what we expected
and want from Christ.
        When the disciples first met Jesus many of them had projections of who Christ
was and what he was about. Remember when Nathanael heard about Jesus? “Can
anything good come out of Nazareth?” This was Nathanael’s response to the person of
Jesus. This was a projection upon Jesus. Yet Nathanael met Jesus, heard Jesus talk, heard
Jesus teach, got to know the person Jesus and stayed with Jesus. Disciple after disciple
stayed with Jesus. Yes they tried again and again to shape Jesus’ message and ministry to
something they would like, but overall they stayed true to the person and the message of
Jesus without their own projections. Follow Jesus just as the disciples followed Jesus.
Keep listening to Jesus through the scriptures. Keep learning about Christ through prayer.
Keep learning and growing to know Jesus so that your own projections call fall away and
you will not reject the person of Christ in favor of an ideal in your own mind. Stay true to
Jesus. Stay with Jesus
        Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon have written in their work Resident
Aliens that the church has been co-opted by the culture and is not true to the person of
Christ. They claim that the projections of society have taken the place of the expectations
of Christ. The arguments of faith, the priorities of the church have been shaped and
influenced by scripture. Politicians assume that Christians will side with one issue just
because they are Christians. We are facing projections, and when we reject the
projections we run the risk of being rejected ourselves. Stay true to Christ. Hauerwas and
Willimon urge Christians to respond to Christ, to stay true to Christ. They urge churches
to carve out a space for the church to exist uninfluenced by society. They urge churches
to create a way to follow Jesus that is true to following Jesus. Let go of the expectations
and projections and stay true to Christ.
        Stay open to who Christ is and how Christ is calling you. Some of the tensions in
the church come out of different projections of Christ. Think of the generational tension.
Some of the older generations have a specific understanding of how to follow and
worship Jesus. Some of the younger generations have different understandings. Often the
two will clash and one will leave. Arguments about worship are arguments that aren’t
about Christ. Neither are listening to Christ, for Christ calls us together, brings us
together and leads us to worship in a way that builds unity across many different lines.
Stay true to Christ.
        Don’t reject our Lord. Don’t reject our Savior, but stay true to the real, authentic
and honest form of Christ. Stay true to Christ!

                           Movement 6 – Continuing the Work

         Stay true, trust and go as you are sent. Let’s be honest, to follow Jesus, to really
follow Jesus can be a scary thing. To really follow Jesus may mean going into the world
without much. It may mean going into the world without any jacket, without any money,
without any food. This is risky and scary and this is how we are sent. We want to cover
ourselves with clothes, personas, and ideas that are acceptable to society. We want to take
with us the image of Christianity that others expect and desire, yet we are sent with very
little. We are sent without our preconceived notions and ideas of how to live. We are sent
in our theological nakedness, in our spiritual vulnerability into the world where we will
be rejected just as Christ was rejected. We will be rebuked just as Christ was rebuked.
We will be ignored and forced into one box or another, but we are to continue to go into
the world and share the good news of the love of Christ. We are to continue to go into the
world and share the good news of the forgiveness of Christ. We are to go into the world
and share the good news of the life of Christ. Without much, taking hospitality where we
can find it and enjoying grace where it is given we go into the world following Christ.
         Christ sent out the twelve and Christ sends out us. Will you follow Christ? Not
our picture of Christ? Not our buddy Christ, but Jesus the Christ. The one who came to
speak truth to power is the one that we follow. The one who came to bring hope to the
poor is the one who we follow. The one who showed love and shined light into the world
is the one who we follow.
         We have what we need. Can we follow Christ as he is, into the rejection of the
world and into his glory?


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