|14 Sunday in Ordinary Time||
July 9, 2000
The rough draft should be finished and published by Friday afternoon.
Where is your hometown-- the place you grew up, the city, town, or suburb where you outgrew your childhood and became a teenager? Did it have a shopping malls strategically positioned at key intersections or did it have a town center with one department store and a few specialty shops. When did you get your first MacDonalds? Maybe you remember cruising the avenue and driving by the Studebacker dealership and watching the big searchlight scan the night sky.
Do you remember the house in which you were raised, the street on which you first learned to ride your bike? Can you recall the playground that became a fantasy land of magic princes and princess, dragons and giants, or battlefields where your reacted the great conflicts of history? How about the store where you would take your pennies and buy some tasty morsels of candy, when you thought your mother was not looking?
Who were the people that shaped your life--the teachers who taught you to read, the SS teachers that retold stories from the Bible? Do you remember that one grouchy neighbor who was always yelling at you because your ball always seemed to end up in his yard? Do you remember the people who thought you were wonderful or the ones who thought you would do something great with your life?
Hometowns are great places. They shaped our lives. They allowed us to dream. They gave us our identity. They allowed us to grow and mature, to discover the world and who we are in that world.
Hometowns are also wonderful places, to be from. They are tough places to return to. People remember who we were and are reluctant to accept who we have become. Our friends insist that we fit into the old roles we once played. They want relationships to return to past. People have a difficult time accepting how we have changed and developed and grown.
So why would Jesus want to return to Nazareth? Why would he want to return to the town where he grew up? According to Luke, they had already rejected him once. After his wanderings in the wilderness, Jesus returned to Nazareth, undoubtedly to rest and recover from his physical ordeal. After he had regained his strength, he went into the synagogue to worship. The Scripture reading that Sabbath was Isaiah 61.
61 The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
At first, everything went well. After he read the words, Luke records that people spoke well of him but then he got confrontational. He said things that challenged their values and doctrine. He questioned their view of the world and their beliefs about God. They took offense and drove him out of town. They threatened to kill him by throwing him over a cliff. Those affirming and supportive town fathers threatened to kill their favorite son, just as he began his ministerial career.
So, why would Jesus want to return? Why would he want to risk his life one more time? Why put up with the hostility, antagonism, and abrasiveness?
THE CONTROVERSIAL GOSPEL
The answer to these questions is found in the location of this passage in the book of Mark. The nephew of Peter positions this passage just before the commissioning and sending of the Twelve. Mark highlights this by wrapping the text. The passage begins with the words,
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.
By mentioning the disciples in verse one and then describing their commissioning in v 14, Mark has employed the ancient writing technique of blocking to highlight a point. He wants the reader to notice that Jesus is being intentional in his decision to return to Nazareth. He is not homesick. He is not hoping Mary will have some great home cooked dinner on the back burner. He is returning to the place of his childhood for the benefit of his disciples. He is trying to prepare them for their own ministry. He is getting them ready to face opposition and hostility. The message is clear. The disciples should expect conflict and controversy wherever they go, even in their hometown, even with the people they thought would be the most receptive.
Whenever the gospel is preached with a bold conviction opposition will arise. The gospel challenges our values. It reveals the selfish motives behind are seemingly sacrificial works. It exposes the greed, and envy and jealously in our decision on how we live, how we invest our money, the clothes we buy and the vacation we take. That is very uncomfortable. We like Adam and Eve after they had eaten the forbidden fruit feel naked and ashamed.
I would venture to say that this is one of the major sources of conflict between a pastor and congregation. Unfortunately, lay people have mastered the art of diversion. They have learned how to shift attention onto other issues, e.g. guitars in worship, office hours, or visitation. People are reluctant to admit that the minister's sermons are convicting them of sin. Feeling uncomfortable, they accuse the pastor of neglecting some aspect of his ministerial duties or argue with the pastor about a new program or ministry she would like to initiate. The conflict quickly becomes personal. Under a constant barrage of criticism, a minister becomes overstress and eventually losses his temper. The critics then feel justified in their complaints.
When your next pastor arrives, there should be conflict if he or she preaches the gospel. He may change the order of worship to try to awaken you to a new understanding of God. He may explain how the compassion of the prophets for the poor should affect your opinions about migrant housing. She may use harmonicas and fiddles in worship to create a new sense of freedom and joy. She may connect the sacredness of life to your attitudes toward capital punishment and abortion. He may even ask how a peacemaker can be such an adamant opponent of gun control. His purpose will be to apply the gospel to your daily lives not to reinforce your prejudices and biases. That message will convict. It will make you feel uncomfortable. He may not always be right but the issue will not be whether harmonicas should be used in worship or often she visits. This issue will be are you willing to listen to the voice of God speaking through her.
LISTENING TO OTHERS
The elders in Nazareth had a difficult time listening for the voice of God speak through Jesus that day. His wisdom impressed them. They knew he was not a schooled rabbi, but the authority of his words was undeniable. They were amazed by the profound depth of his thoughts. However, their astonishment quickly evaporated when they remembered who this guy really was. A veil of ordinariness quickly muffled their ears and shielded their eyes.
They asked a rhetorical question that was as sharp as a double edge razor, "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?" Their intent is clear. The words were spoken in a derogatory context. They were saying, "Is he not just a common worker. Is he not just someone who works with his hands? The additional question about his mother was a cheap shot. A polite person would never describe a man as the son of his mother. Even when she was a widow, a man's identity came from his father. They were calling his mother a whore and him an illegitimate child. "Jesus was the victim of what all too often is a law of human relationships: familiarity breeds contempt.
On a study leave to England a pastor and his wife took a taxi to travel across town the evening before the national elections. Their cabbie offered his unsolicited political commentary. He told the visiting Americans that he did not like Margaret Thatcher He told them, "I can't stand her middle-class accent," but he was going to vote for her because he respected her. The cabbie disdained the future Prime Minister because of her common accent. It betrayed her origin as a green grocer's daughter.
Some people refuse to listen to another person who is just one of them. They will not seek advice from a friend. They will not consider that an equal has any wisdom to share with them, and God would most certainly would not use just anyone to speak to them. Someone once told me that people's attentiveness is in direct proportion to how far the consultant traveled to speak to them. This makes it difficult for a congregation to listen to a pastor. After a few months she becomes part of the congregation, an equal and in doing so loses her authority to speak for God.
People want a pastor to be human, sometimes, to minimize his words. They can deflect the conviction of his sermons because they see his inconsistencies, foibles and contradictions. When this happens the result is often the same for those pastors and congregations as it was for Jesus-God could not do any miracles there.
NO MIRACLE TONIGHT
The gospel writers often mention when Jesus is caught off guard by people's reaction to him. Even our Lord was surprised by people's response, both positive and negative. He was amazed at the faith of the Gentile solider who believed that Jesus could heal his servant by just saying the word. Jesus did not need to go to his home only give the command.
Jesus was also amazed by people's lack of faith. When people would shut the door of their hearts and minds to the reality of God. They would use every defense, every excuse, every criticism to diminish, demoralize, disparage the activity of God in someone's life.
One Scottish preacher was asked to deliver the evening message to a congregation that had a reputation for being non responsive. Later the eminent Scottish preacher Alexander Whyte asked his colleague, "And how did you get on?" The other pastor replied that he had found the congregation very cold, to which Whyte cried, "Cold, cold, I preached there two years ago and I have not got the chill out of my bones yet.
Conflict, criticism, and complaining toward pastoral leadership is often a sign of unbelief. It robs a church of its power. God cannot because he chooses not to work miracles in such a group of people.
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