Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13,Luke 4:21-30
Preached by Fr. Peter Courtney
Local Boy makes Good
Several years ago I had a flurry of interviews for interim positions. I flew across the country 5 times in 6 weeks. One of the places I visited went all out on the hospitality. They placed a huge assortment of Chamber of Commerce wampum in my room. I was touched by their thoughtfulness.
Did I say I was flying? Did I mention Homeland Security? I left all but one small piece of memorabilia in the trash at the Travelodge. Eventually we both agreed that someone else should be their interim. Their new interim lived in the neighborhood. Institutions like individuals prefer the devil we know to the one we don't. I suspect the other candidate did not get a bag of goodies, nor did she arrive by air.
Last week in visiting with the vestry I got a brief introduction to Harlem, Georgia, where the locals erected a museum to Laurel and Hardy. No one is actually sure that Oliver Hardy was born in Harlem. He could have been born in Covington and one source lists his home town as Milledgeville. Even if he only slept for one night in Harlem, he is a local boy who made good and since there is no other town anxious to put up a museum to him and his partner . . .
We all want to know the local hero. When given a chance we will choose local over foreign every time, sometimes in the face of logic. The implicit assumption is that “one of our own” or “someone from around here” will take it easy on us locals least friends and family get offended or embarrassed. We want to raise the odds on happy outcomes by electing "one of our own" when given a chance.
I have just finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. The story is about the early days of the civil rights movement in Jackson, Mississippi told through the eyes of three women, one white, two black. They conspire to write a book which looks at life in Jackson through the lives of black women who work as maids. The authors are not carpetbagging Yankees from somewhere else. One of the prophets is an Ole Miss educated white woman. She received her B.A. but not her MRS. The other two voices are from the other side of the social divide.
They write the book anonymously because of significant danger to themselves if anyone finds out who wrote the book. The white woman risks social ostracism and estrangement from her family; the black women, violence and/or death.
The women know that most folks would prefer that this story not be told. No one outside of their group really believes that telling the truth about the social conditions of their time is either possible or even useful. The authors believe that because their witness and their voices are local their stories will carry weight. Wisely they include some extra embarrassing events which will insure that the most venomous villainess in town will be forced deny the book takes place in Jackson for fear that people figure out who she is in the story. There are several layers to this story. Delicious layers at that.
It may be true that “local is better” is a safer way to go in leadership. Except when it isn’t. If we are to take today's gospel story at its face, when local guys go off the rails, the storm that follows can be unprecedented and really scary.
When Jesus first appears in the synagogue and reads from the Prophet Isaiah, people loved him. He read from Torah. He announced that he and God were so close that he could say that God’s promises were coming true in his own life. This was good; this was real good. Well, pretty good. Well, maybe not as good as it seemed at first. After all, that boy has done well. He didn’t come from much. His daddy just had that little framin’ and dry wall business and little Yeshua was born kinda soon after the wedding. Now that I think of it don’t they live in that tacky single-wide in the wrong zip code. . .
If the bloom is off the rose as the locals think about who Jesus really is and who his people are, it is definitely winter kill time when he goes on to remind them that Elijah and Elisha, the greatest prophets in Israel, not only prophesied in favor of Yankees, but were persecuted by their own kin for doing so.
No wonder when God tells Jeremiah he is going to be a prophet he tries to convince God that some other line of work would be much more suitable: “I am only a boy” says Jeremiah, “I don’t know how to speak, never mind make any sense of the Word of God.”
“Before you were in the womb I formed you,” booms God. In other words, I have things for my people to hear and need voices so that they can hear them.
This is tough scriptural going. So where is the Good News? The Good News is that God is at work providing the leadership we need whether we like it or not. Here at St. Augustine’s we are in the midst of challenging times. As the transition period gets shorter there will be voices we would rather not listen to, voices from right in the midst of us, voices we hoped would hush up. After all, local can be good, except when we don't like it.
I invite you to join me in prayer that we will have the courage of Jeremiah, the straight-talking of Jesus and the humility of the characters in The Help. My role as your interim supply priest is to walk with you in these interesting times towards the future God has laid up for you.