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Homily: Be Open to Change

Preached at the Seminary Summer Eucharist in the VTS’ Lettie Pate Evan Interim Chapel on July 11, 2012.

6th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9/Year B (RCL): Ezekial 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I want to focus on the first part of Mark’s Gospel today, Chapter 6: 1-6.  When Jesus came to Nazareth, he put himself to a very severe test.  He was coming back to his home town, and there can be no more severe critics of any one of us than when we return to those who have known us long and probably know us best.  

For Jesus, this was never meant to be a private visit, simply to see his old home and his family and friends.  He came with an entourage - his disciples.  And he came as a Rabbi.  A teacher.  Rabbis moved about the country accompanied by their circle of disciples, and it was as a teacher, with his disciples, that Jesus returned to Nazareth.

Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach.  His teaching was not greeted with wonder, but rather with contempt.  “They took offense at him.”  People were scandalized that this Jesus, who came from such humble beginnings as a carpenter, would now come to say and do the things he did.  Familiarity had bred a mistaken contempt.

It seems the people refused to hear or accept what Jesus had to say for two reasons:

First they said, “Is not this the carpenter?”  A worker in wood, a craftsman?  Jesus built furniture for your home.  He could raise walls, mend a roof, repair a gate.  He was good with his hands and used tools well.  That’s the Jesus they remember.  But the point is that the Nazarene community despised Jesus not because he was a worker - a man of the people, a layperson, a simple man - they despised him for coming forth, for being so audacious to sit in the synagogue and to teach them from the scrolls.  ‘Where did this man get all of this wisdom?’ 

They added, “Is not this Mary’s son? Do we not know his brothers and his sisters?”  For them to address Jesus as “Mary’s son” suggests that Joseph is now dead.  So I wonder: If Jesus was thirty-three at his crucifixion, and did not leave Nazareth until he was thirty: So why the huge gap between his birth foretold and his active ministry begun?  Perhaps it was because Joseph died young and Jesus remained to support his mother and sisters and brothers.  Only when they could do for themselves did he go forth.  Jesus had been faithful in a little, and in the end, God gave him so much more to do.

The challenge in all this is to permit someone we already know to be new to us again - and to be open to the possibility of change.

I certainly know about change.  Six and half years ago, my gainful employment was firmly set in the secular world, and my church work was to serve as a layperson.  Over time, restlessness set in and the Holy Spirit, ... well, she began to dance with me!  Soon thereafter, my life was moving in a radical new direction toward mission, ministry, call and vocation.  

This summer, some of you are serving as chaplains in hospitals and community homes, or are experiencing church leadership from the other side of the altar rail, being mentored by clergy about what full-time parish ministry looks and feels like.  Your growing edges are there and your learning and formation continues... I’m reading Facebook and your blogs ... my friends, that process will never end.

As I read this portion of the Gospel, I am fully aware that I am a longtime Alexandrian who is changing parishes.  I have taken my leave from my home parish and am now setting down tent pegs at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill.  Next week, Chrissie and I will move from our home for the last twenty-three years on Davis Avenue to a new place on Seminary Road at ICOH.  There are some at Immanuel who have known me long and know me well - just not as ordained clergy!  I can hear the admonition that Barney Hawkins shares in his book: “Everyone here will love you: Some because you came, others while you’re here, and the rest when you leave.”  

The result of all this for Jesus was that he could not do mighty works in Nazareth.  The atmosphere was all wrong!  There are some things which cannot be done unless the climate is just right.  There can be no preaching, no peacemaking, no healing unless the environment is conducive to such things.  

There can be no good word proclaimed or received in the wrong atmosphere.  Our churches would be different places if congregations only considered that they often preach more than half the sermon themselves.  In an environment of expectancy, the poorest effort can catch fire.  In an atmosphere of critical coldness or bland indifference, the most Spirit-packed utterance can fall lifeless to the ground.  Be open.

Peacemaking is hard.  If a community comes together in hate, they will hate.  If they refuse to understand, they will misunderstand.  If people gather to see or hear no other point of view but their own, they will not see nor hear any other.  Yet if we come together, loving Christ and seeking to love one another as Christ loved us, even those most widely separated from one another can come together in Christ.  Be open.

No one can be healed if they are not open to healing.  Whether it be shyness, a need for privacy, a sense of unworthiness, or doubt or fear, if the ailing ones do not seek it for themselves, healing may not happen.  Some call it ‘faith,’ others might call it ‘the will to live’; but few survive without a sense of seeking healing.  Be open.

I hope you’ve seen the VTS ad in the latest Living Church magazine:

“We believe in one God.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.

We believe in the Holy Spirit.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.

We believe in the whole Church, not just some of the Church.

Not just the left or the right sides of the Church.

The whole Church.

No one is excluded.

We need each other.”

What is now laid before us every day is the tremendous responsibility to either assist in the work of Jesus Christ - or to hinder it.  We can open wide our doors to him - or we can shut the door in his face. Be open.  Amen. 


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 25th, 2012 03:38 pm (UTC)
David - I have just read your sermon from last night at VTS. Once again I am impressed with what you have learned since you listened to God's call to you to take a new role in responding to his call - especially your quote from Barney Hawkins. There will be days when you will wonder just where you are and who is loving you and from which position.

I am so proud and pleased that you have taken the road you have in becoming a member of the clergy. As you look back on your journey I am sure you will see God leading you all the way.

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )