Sermon

 

The Rector’s sermon for July 8, 2018  


                                                                                                                                    

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



 

Today’s message is about perception and respect.  Respect…or lack thereof…makes me think of comedian Rodney Dangerfield.  He was famous for saying, “I don’t get no respect.”  He would have audiences roaring with laughter as he listed all the people—neighbors, coworkers, strangers and even his wife—who made fun of him, disregarded his feelings and treated him badly.  Dangerfield could make people laugh at this seemingly unfunny experience because most people can relate to the feeling of being overlooked or under-appreciated. Almost everyone has had the experience of feeling invisible, as if our very existence was not a matter of importance. Sometimes even the people who know us best do not treat us with love or respect…and one way of dealing with this experience is by laughing at it together.

 

Jesus experiences this lack of respect when he returns to his hometown of Nazareth with his disciples. He had just performed an astonishing miracle.  We heard the story last week, that Jesus had been summoned to the bedside of a little girl who was near death. Her father had begged Jesus, “Come and lay your hands on my daughter and make her well again.” By the time Jesus arrives, however, the little girl had died.  Jesus tells the onlookers that she is not dead, only sleeping. But the people gathered at the bedside laugh at him.  They show no respect for who he is and what he can do.  Jesus ignores them, touches the little girl’s hand and helps her get up, fully renewed and very much alive!  He transforms the family’s life by reversing their tragedy.  And the disrespect of the onlookers has no impact on the healing work of this compassionate Jesus.

           

Now following this miracle, just the opposite happens when he enters Nazareth.  He leaves a miraculous moment where everyone’s disrespect had changed, and, Scripture says, “they were overcome with amazement.”  But when he arrives in his hometown, he is greeted by snide remarks and humiliation.  Apparently, the news of the raising of the little girl did not travel as far as Nazareth and since no one had posted Jesus’ accomplishment to Facebook, people didn’t know what he had done in the name of love.

 

It’s hard for us to grasp in our “instant media” society, but there was a time when news traveled slowly. People were unaware of events that happened in a neighboring village.  What’s more, for the people of Nazareth, Jesus…in effect…was frozen in time. They knew him only as the child of the carpenter Joseph and his wife, Mary. A nice kid growing up, played well with the other boys, a nice enough guy when he left home.  But, all in all, no one special.  The people of Nazareth had not kept up with the news.  They didn’t realize that their hometown boy had “made good.” They thought of him as they had always known him: a kid from the neighborhood, with no special expectation.

           

You know, this happens in families today.  Siblings can fall into old patterns of treating one another as they did when they were growing up.  Despite now being adults, they can still view one another as “the baby,” the “big sister” or the annoying “little brother.”  And it sometimes happens before we can stop it.  It requires a certain amount of mature grace to get through those childhood roles and discover a new way of relating to one another.   When my daughter Lisa was thirteen, my stepdaughter Meredith moved in with us…and into Lisa’s room…and they didn’t get along very well.  They were two completely different kids.  But  today…at 49 and 50…they couldn’t be any closer.  They figured it out!

 

We send our kids off to college or they move away to pursue a particular job interest.  And they change.   When they come home for the holidays, they sometimes experience that uncomfortable sensation of being treated as the children they once were.  And it makes no difference what they have accomplished or how they have grown and matured.  For the family members being visited, they may not recognize them as independent, mature adults.  I remember that feeling when I visited my home church in Rhode Island some years after my ordination.  None of them had changed…but I had.  I don’t know what I expected of them, but I do know I felt small and unrecognized.   Now if I felt that way, imagine how Jesus must have felt!

 

The villagers in Nazareth were not prepared to look at Jesus from a fresh perspective.  Now Jesus, of course, knows who he is and has a clear sense of his mission.  He enters the synagogue, probably the same place where he had spent hours learning about the prophets, the psalms and God’s laws and love. But instead of sitting with the congregation where he had grown up, Jesus begins to teach. The student is now a master, and the his hometown people… are not ready to receive it.  Instead, they are “astounded.” Their assumptions about him block them from receiving what he offers. They’re unable to discover anything new because they believe they already know all that’s important. They knew him as a child and a young man.  They are incapable of seeing what he has become. And it’s clearly impossible for them to imagine that he might be sent by God to teach and enlighten them, let alone…that he might Himself be God!

 

This kind of prejudging is widespread, isn’t it?  You have probably experienced it, and maybe even done it, yourself.  It happens when someone looks at a person and only sees what is on the outside. We get labeled as “old” or “not physically able” or “too young.” It’s not a good feeling to be discounted because of biased judgments.  And this is how bullying starts.  It can be tempting to categorize people because they look different or act different or don’t fit into our category of mainstream.  Soon those who don’t quite fit in are ostracized or our actions tell them that they have no value.  We make a judgment and and it would take a lot of effort to set aside our opinion, ask questions and really listen.

           

The story in today’s Gospel should make us wonder who we might be missing or who we might be overlooking because of our assumptions.  Instead of listening to Jesus, the townspeople spend their time whispering among themselves: “Where did this man get all this?  What is this wisdom that has been given to him?” The Son of God is standing right in front of them, but their hearts and minds are closed. What an opportunity they miss!  

           

This is the power that human beings have; this is the power God allows us to have.  We can say no to God. With generosity and love, God offers grace and blessings, but God will never force us to accept his blessings. We can turn away from God any time and refuse to receive or recognize God’s presence.  This is how much God loves us — enough to give us free will.  God offers love, forgiveness and new life over and over again.  Yet we must be willing to recognize our need for God’s gifts and be willing to receive them.

           

We might miss the gifts God offers because they appear in a form we were not expecting.  Jesus, this passage tells us, “could do no deed of power” in his hometown because of the unbelief of the listeners. So Jesus left the village. He went to other villages and other people, who gladly accepted his gifts, and they welcomed him.  Just think how much the people of Nazareth missed out on!  It is a story with a caution for each one of us. We might want to ask ourselves:

·       Which child of God am I ignoring because that person doesn’t fit the description of “God’s beloved” that I have in mind?

·       How often do I walk by a miracle because it looks too ordinary?

·       What assumptions do I make about people I have known for a long time?  Am I prepared to give them a second chance — and a second look?

 

Let us not turn away from the “ordinary.”  Instead, let’s remember that our Savior, from an ordinary hometown, may enter our lives in surprising ways.  So, be ready to welcome him.