Wednesday, July 18, 2012

6 Pentecost, Year B, July 8, 2012

2 Samuel 5: 1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12: 2-10; St. Mark 6:1-13
Preached by Rev. Lou Scales

During the broadcast of the final round of the FedEx/St. Jude Golf Classic from Memphis on the 25th of June 2000, an interesting bit of conversation took place among the commentators during particular shots of one Loren Roberts (who, by the way, finished 8th and in the money that year). During Loren Roberts’s setup of a difficult birdie putt, the conversation turned to the observation that Roberts’ hometown is Memphis, and he wanted to do well before the hometown crowd. After all, doing well is what Loren Roberts’ fellow townspeople would expect.

In dealing with Mark’s Gospel for today from a slightly different and more extreme context, John Claypool relates the following story, credited to the works of Soren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard tells of a traveling circus that moved from town to town in his native Denmark. One afternoon they had set up on the outskirts of a village. About 45 minutes before the performance was to begin, the circus tent caught fire. It so happened that the clown was the only one in the entire circus troop who was fully dressed, and so he was dispatched into the village to get help.

He did his job extraordinarily well. He apprized everyone he encountered of the emergency, and implored their assistance. However, the problem was that this one was dressed as a clown, and across the years people had developed certain expectations of this sort of person. Therefore, they heard him in light of how they saw him. They concluded that all these wild antics and talk of fire were simply a new way of drumming up a crowd. It was not until they looked on the horizon and saw the ominous red glow that they realized that at this moment, this one was not doing a clown act at all, but was a human being, bearing an extremely urgent message.

One has to wonder if the upstanding citizens of Nazareth had, over the years, seen much too much carpenter behavior out of Jesus. After all, he and his father Joseph had probably built cradles for their children, tables for taking their meals, perhaps even remodeled some of their houses as their family constellations, and therefore, their accommodation needs had changed over the years. This was Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, the son of a carpenter; one who had grown up here, learned his father’s trade, and was a familiar part of the landscape of Nazareth.

Therefore, when they heard the words of a teacher, or a prophet, talking about things carpenters in those days didn’t discuss with much facility – it isn’t too surprising that they either sold him way short, ignored him completely, or worse, took exceeding offense that he should pretend to speak as someone other than a carpenter. Jesus was a familiar face, from a familiar family, and was expected to do and say familiar things. The past intruded upon the present in such a way that the words of the hometown hero fell on not only deaf, but probably hostile ears.

You and I have the capability to see what is before us in terms we understand from our history. And that capability is stronger and more certain than the possibility of hearing a new and relevant message from one of our own who may just be bringing the Saving Word.

But, for better or worse, that is who we are. That is how we learn. We learn from our experience. We learn from what we see, what we hear, what we observe. Then we translate those learnings into the rules by which we learn other things. But the danger in learning from experience is that it may keep us from the newest revelation from God, if that revelation is delivered by someone or something that is familiar to us. At its best, this is called familiarity – at its worst, it is called stereotyping or prejudice. I would suggest to you that ONE operational definition of prejudice and stereotyping is the inability to hear or experience something new and revealing from an all too familiar source. It is not only possible, but likely, that we resist insight if it comes from people we know, or people we have already written off.

A six year old lad came home with a note from his teacher in which it was suggested that he be taken out of school. He was, in the words of his teacher’s note, “Too stupid to learn. That boy was Thomas Alva Edison.

Benjamin Franklin’s mother-in-law to be, hesitated at letting her daughter marry a printer. There were already two printing presses in the United States, and she feared the country might not be able to support a third.

When Jesus came to Nazareth, talking differently, and about different things, he was rejected. What Jesus said, and how he said it, did not fit with what the people of Nazareth expected to hear from a carpenter, and a carpenter’s son (especially not the son of Mary and Joseph!) All Jesus was able to do then was set up a health clinic. In the words of Mark’s Gospel, “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”

In some sense, no one wants to be the bearer of unwelcome news. Particularly if that news challenges the very fiber of the being, the very existence of that community, and the closely held cultural assumptions upon which communities build heritage, honor, and the deeply held belief that they are doing God’s will and following God’s commandments just as faithfully as their forebears did. If you happen to be the person bearing that news, you know full well the danger you encounter. Lots of folk, sometimes you and me included, upon hearing news we don’t want to hear, do the only reasonable and rational thing available to us – we shoot the messenger - right? After all, by shooting the messenger, the unwelcome and uncomfortable revelation will be made to go away, right?

Like you and me, if the Nazarenes could discredit the messenger, then that invalidates the message. And once the message is invalidated, we can ignore it, RIGHT? It is, then, as though we never heard it.

I want to give you two scenarios, diametrically opposed, that illustrate how we see the reality of God’s activity in human history as it sometimes crashes in upon us.

One is the report of the priest who gave Martin Luther his catechetical instruction. It seems that as he entered the room of his catechecism class, he always took off his hat and bowed to these children of coal miners. When asked why he did this, the priest replied, “Who knows who might be sitting in that group. One of these lads might well change the world”.

The other is an episode that took place out from Hodgensville, Kentucky in February of 1809. A rural mail carrier was making his rounds and encountered a backwoodsman who eagerly asked him about what was happening in the larger world. The mail carrier told him about brewing hostility between the United States and Great Britain, about the possibility of a National Bank, and then he turned the question around, and said, “Tell me, what of significance is happening in these parts?” The backwoodsman replied, “Aw, shucks, mister, nothing happens in these parts. Last night Nancy Hanks and Tom Lincoln had a baby, but, shucks, mister, nothin’ ever happens back here.”

Jesus experienced the complete rejection of the people of Nazareth – those people who knew him best. Now if that could happen to Jesus, the Son of God, then what about those of us who listen to God’s call, and in our faithful response to that call make the effort to change our lives and our behavior so that our lives become living witnesses to the Gospel? What about those who hear the message of the goodness of faith and want desperately to share it? If Jesus couldn’t get to first base in his own hometown, then I don’t have a chance!

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth talks about his own doubts and fears for his weakness, and his earthly shackles that could keep him from proclaiming the gospel that had changed his life forever. Paul tells the Corinthians, very honestly, about weakness, about uncertainty, about fear of rejection and ridicule.

God’s answer to Paul is God’s response to us. “My Grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

In the midst of our weakness, in the midst of the familiarity that leaves us questioning God’s power in our lives, the grace of our God is enough. In our weakness, our God gives us strength.

Richard Fairchild reminds us of the power of God to transform our lives and our world with the words from a poem by a Confederate soldier near the end of the Civil War:

I asked for health that I might do greater things,

I was given infirmity that I do better things.

I asked for riches that I might be happy,

I was given poverty that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men,

I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God…

I asked for all things that I might enjoy life,

I was given life that I might enjoy all things…

I got nothing that I asked for, but everything that I hoped for.

Almost despite myself my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all men, most richly blessed.”

God’s grace was enough to see Our Lord through the withering experience of trying to teach and save the people of Nazareth. God’s grace was enough to both challenge and comfort Saint Paul in his weakness. God’s grace was enough to make Saint Paul understand that the Gospel gives us strength that our own weakness will never overcome. That being the case, I would submit to you that the Great God Almighty, the One who created the whole universe, the One who lives among us now, the One who raised Our Lord from the dead so we might know life eternal, That same Great God Almighty has enough grace to bless our lives, our calling to ministry, our struggles and our joys today, and all our tomorrows.

You and I may, and probably will, know frustration, failure and disappointment. So did our Lord Christ, especially among his own people. You and I will know weakness that will try to convince us it is fruitless to go on. So did Saint Paul. But the message comes to us again and again – God’s grace is enough to overcome all our doubts, our fears, our failures, our weakness. And God’s grace, dear friends, is enough to see us through.

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