Cowboy Jesus?

A Sermon for Proper 9; 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Psalm 48, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys

(Listen to at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RePtDvh4Yq4)

Cowboys ain’t easy to love and they’re harder to hold
They’d rather give you a song then diamonds or gold
Lonestar belt buckles and old faded Levi’s
and each night begins a new day
If you don’t understand him and he don’t die young
He’ll probably just ride away

Mamas’ don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
Don’t let ’em pick guitars or drive them old trucks
Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such
Mamas’ don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
‘Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone
Even with someone they love

Cowboys like smokey old pool rooms and clear mountain mornin’s
Little warm puppies and children and girls of the night
Them that don’t know him won’t like him
And them that do sometimes won’t know how to take him
He ain’t wrong he’s just different
But his pride won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right

Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
Don’t let ’em pick guitars and drive them old trucks
Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such
Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
‘Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone
Even with someone they love
Mamas’ don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
Don’t let ’em pick guitars and drive them old trucks
Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such


I have heard Willie Nelson sing Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys for almost as I can remember caring about music. But because I had a hard time hearing them, I never could understand many words other than the chorus line. So, it wasn’t a surprise when the divine muse whispered that song title when I read this morning’s gospel. But, when I looked up the lyrics it was a surprise how relevant they are. And no, I’m not saying Jesus was a cowboy, but still, there are few lines that are worthy of thought.

Our first line is

 ‘Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone Even with someone they love.

We don’t think much about children growing up, leaving home and making their way into the world. Of the five of us

  • one lives in the same county,
  • a second lives in metro Atlanta,
  • a third lives in the state,
  • I live 3 to 5 states away, depending on how you drive and
  • another lives half a country away.

We are not unusual. In Jesus day it was unusual to leave your village. It happened, there was a large Jewish population who lived across the world; however, the expectation was you stayed in the village where you were born. Jesus’ village is so convinced of his ordinariness that it is hard for them to believe in his amazing teaching (Harrelson). They know him as a carpenter, a local craftsman, not an educated person. For him to attempt to rise above his established social position creates resentment (Perkins). Like the cowboy, Jesus never stays home.

Jesus is also often alone, even with the people he loves, and who love him. He is alone in his hometown; his family and friends can still love him even when they are resentful. And how often is Jesus alone as his disciples, his twelve chosen followers, completely miss the point. How lonely is he when they fall asleep in the garden? How lonely is he when one by one all twelve desert him?

A second line that caught my eye is

Them that don’t know him won’t like him. And them that do sometimes won’t know how to take him.

It is true that many who don’t know Jesus don’t like him. Almost all the Jewish leaders don’t like him. There are those people who approach him, but most of them have some need they believe he can help them with, I wonder how that translates to like? And as we hear this morning, even those that do know him don’t always know how to take him.

A final line to explore is

He ain’t wrong he’s just different. But his pride won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right.

Jesus is different. Being sometimes known as The Son of God makes you different. Jesus’ deeds of power make him different in a visible way. However, it is his teachings that make him different in ways that disturb people. His teachings are counter to long-held values and they challenge values that give people some privilege. People don’t like to have their privileges challenged. So yes, Jesus is different.

We need to make a little adjustment with the next bit because it is not Jesus’ pride, but his dedication to God’s ministry that

 won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right.

But I’m caught by the phrase “you think.” The cowboy’s family and friends want him to change. Jesus family and friends want him to change. I’m not at all sure we don’t want Jesus to change. However, we’ve all got it backward, it is us who need to change. I can’t speak to the cowboy’s ways, but I know for certain, that Jesus’ ways, as uncomfortable as they make us, are right.

As I am writing, or perhaps in the midst of a somewhat unusual listening to the muse session, I’m beginning to hear

Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be evangelist, disciples, or ministers

I’m not quite sure what to do with picking guitars, but at least around here old trucks still fit. I’m wondering why we value doctors and lawyers and such over cowboys, and prophets and such. I suspect it has to do with part 2 to this morning’s gospel story. Jesus and his crew leave Nazareth. He sends them out in groups of two. In part for safety, travel was dangerous in those days; but also, because it takes two to be a credible witness (Deut. 17:6; 19:15) (Keener and Walton; Perkins). Jesus sends them out to heal, to testify to the truth of God’s love and to call out evil (Peters).

Now as mamas and papas, we would be proud of our babies who grow up to be doctors or other healing professional. As mommas and papas, we would be proud of our of babies who grow up to be lawyers or other professionals that value truth and justice. As mamas and papas, we might be proud of our babies who grow up to call out evil; but we would certainly be leery because we all know calling out evil is a dangerous business. We don’t understand it, in part because it is never done from a place of power (Peters). Naming evil is an act of faith. We cannot control God’s power, so calling out evil is ultimately an act of trust that God is present will protect (Epperly). It requires us, as Paul says, to accept God’s grace as sufficient, and that divine power is perfected in what everyone else sees as weakness.

Most of us might be willing to trust God, and grace with ourselves. But I’ll confess the hardest thing I have ever done is to trust God with my kids. I know grace is sufficient, but it is invisible, it is mystical, it is ultimately unknowable, and therefore unjudgable, by any human standards. To trust those we love the most to the internal and mystical runs absolutely counter to all we learn from our perceptible and visible world, it is just different, it is hard to accept, it brings us to the very edge of our relationship with God.

And now I find myself with another unexpected realization. I can’t recall any bible stories about smokies pool rooms or puppies, but Jesus does like clear mountain mornings, children, and ladies of the night. I’m wondering if there is more cowboy to Jesus than I at first expected. And that has me thinking that if we seek to raise our children to be like Jesus, perhaps we should let them grow up to be cowboys and cowgirls. They may not be understood, they may wander far from home, they may know lonely times, they may be different, their dedication may make them hard-headed. On the other hand, they may sing a new song; they may sing to the Lord, to all the earth, a song that: is a blessing the Lord’s name; tells of salvation, declares God’s his glory to the nations, and God’s marvelous works among all the peoples. (Psalms 96:1-3) as they heal the sick, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit those in prison (Matt 25:35), and proclaim the love of God revealed in the Gospel (Mark 16:15). Who knows they may even cast out demons, as with prophetic voices, speaking hard truth, they call out evil.

I am beginning to wonder how to tell my mama I’m off to find my own inner cowboy. You are welcome to come along for the ride.


References

Bruce, Ed and Patsy Bruce. “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys lyrics ©.” Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, n.d.

David, W. Peters. “Hometown, Pentecost 7 (B).” 8 7 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 8 7 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings. “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” By Ed and Patty Bruce. n.d. You Tube. 8 7 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RePtDvh4Yq4 >.