Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Hometown Boy

Sermon for July 8, 2018 

Read :  Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Mark 6:1-13             

When you think about it, Jesus was just a hometown boy. 

Our Lord never even left Nazareth until he was close to thirty. While we can’t be sure, why, one convincing argument is because his father had died young and he was needed to support his mother and his brothers and sisters. That would be why the people in the passage today call Jesus Mary’s son instead of Joseph’s son. As the oldest child, all that Joseph had would have passed to him and he would have been responsible not just for his siblings, but also for his mother, because Mary wouldn’t have been able to inherit at the time. 

 It was only when his siblings were all old enough to fend for themselves that Jesus felt free to leave. Even God’s mission had to wait for Jesus to take care of his family. There is something comforting in Jesus’ actions here, in the idea of God being there in the ordinary in every respect, even taking up family duties.

So in our text for today, Jesus was coming back to where people knew him as an infant. They knew him as a small child. They saw him grow up, working as a carpenter just like Joseph, The people there  thought they knew who Jesu was. After all, he had spent most of his life with them. How could they not know him?

When Jesus started saying things that didn't make sense, that didn't fit into their view of who he was in their world, the people there didn't listen. And some of those who sort of listened, grew offended. "Who does this guy think he is? I knew him when he was just a child. How could he possibly think he can tell me what to do?"

Because Jesus had lived in this little place for so long, and because he was so well-known, when he finally returned to his hometown, the people there couldn’t believe he was anything more than the child they had know. Jesus was rejected not for being too different, but for being too well known. The theologian William Barclay writes: "Sometimes we are too near people to see their greatness."

How often do we dismiss what we are told, just because we think we know something about the person saying it? How often do we tune out what others are saying because we have heard it all before? 

Too often we go through our days only half listening to what others are saying to us. And we can be the most guilty with this when it comes to the people we are the closest to. Spouses and siblings and children all get less than our full attention because we know them. Because they are familiar. Because we think we already know everything they have to say.

Jesus has this problem in his hometown. In his passage, Ezekiel is dismissed as being the crazy, ranting prophet. How many times has God tried to speak to us in our lives and we haven't listened? How many times have we gone "Mmhmm.. That's nice" and continued thinking our own thoughts,  when God is using a loved one to speak?

One morning a man in Washington D.C. stood on a subway platform. By most measures, he was nondescript; a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled  to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.  It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by.  No one knew it, but this was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made.

In the three-quarters of an hour that Joshua Bell played, seven people stopped what they were doing to hang around and take in the performance, at least for a minute. Twenty-seven gave money, most of them on the run,  for a total of $32 and change. That leaves the 1,070 people who hurried by, oblivious, many only three feet away, few even turning to look.

Most rushed by, ignoring the man with the violin, giving a concert for whatever change the crowd might give, when only days before the very same man's concert tickets brought in hundreds of dollars a piece for the cheap seats. 

 How often do we fail to hear what is happening around us?  Male and female, young and old, wealthy and working class, each demographic walked past this wonder  in equal measure.  All demographics that is except one.  "Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch.  And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away."  The children didn’t know enough not to listen. 

If we truly believe that God can work through anyone, that God is present in every moment, we cannot tune anyone out. We cannot nod and smile politely while waiting for our turn to speak. We cannot dismiss the child who wants to share her day with us. We cannot rush through the streets without looking around and seeing who else is present.

We are called to listen in our daily lives, to listen for God speaking through the mundane and familiar. Some days we will be better than others, but we have to try. 

Now if we manage that, if we hear when God is speaking to us, we are only halfway there. Because we are then called to follow that message.

After all, there is a second part to this passage. The flip side of listening for the Word is going forth and sharing the Word ourselves. Once we have heard God we must speak in turn. Listening comes first, but then we must speak. We must work towards the will of God in the world.

This isn’t always the easiest thing to do. In the second part of the passage this morning, Jesus tells his disciples, and therefore us, to go forth and preach to the world.  He told the disciples to teach and to heal and to care for people.  And he warned the disciples of what might happen. 

Sometimes? No one will listen to you even though what you have to say matters. Rather than getting hurt or upset, or trying to force the message upon them anyway, Jesus tells us to move on and offer the message to someone else. Don't take the reactions personally. Just go and find someone who will listen to you.

Jesus tells his disciples, and us, that if we are unwanted shake the dust from our feet and move on. Now, all of us will find some time in our life where we are not wanted. No one is liked and accepted by everyone. No message is either. 

That is the delicate line of evangelism. We cannot force belief on anyone. We can offer up our belief and others can chose to respond to it or not. If they don't, we are called not to lash out, but instead, to seek out someone who will listen. Too often Christian groups try to badger people into belief, but that attitude usually drives people farther from Christ. 

At the end of the day, Christ himself isn't always listened to. Why do we assume we will be?

Most of the time, we aren’t comfortable with this. We don’t like saying things that others reject. After all, who likes being rejected? Coming out and speaking the truth makes us vulnerable and puts us at risk, which is always hard to take. 

 And  more than that, it’s hard to let it go when people ignore us or ridicule us. We want to fight back, to defend ourselves. But that’s not what Christ is asking us to do. We are called like Ezekiel to speak. To offer up our faith. And then to let it go. What God does with it afterwards is out of our hands. The important thing is that having heard the Word, we go out and speak.

 Jesus says if we are rejected move on.  But if we move on don’t think all is lost or we have failed.  If we move on without rancor, resentment, animosity or malice, but with love and self-possession we will leave behind a message from God. When we respond to anger with anger, we don’t show Christ as being any different. When we lash out and fight back we don’t carry that message of love to others. 

Because God is at work in the world around us. God is at work whether we see it or do not see it. Whether we listen or don’t. God is at work outside the walls of our churches and outside of our communities. By speaking we participate in the incredible work of God in our world. But it begins with listening, even to those we know so very well. Every day it begins with hearing God.

So as we go out this week, listen. Listen to all those around us. Listen to the familiar and the strange. Listen with open hearts and discerning minds to all that you hear. We never know where the Word may come from.

And when you hear the Word, follow it’s call. Amen.