I realize I have been remiss in updating Ye Olde Blogge here. Truthfully, St. John’s is blessed to have two licensed lay preachers, and they ably preach from time to time, so there are times I don’t actually have a sermon to post.
Other times, the week has been so busy that I don’t have an actual manuscript, so much as a bullet list of thoughts that hopefully sound coherent from the pulpit. (My sermon on the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism was this last one.)
In the Good News category, the wonderful folks of my parish are working out a way to record my sermons, and then podcast them. So whether or not I think my notes make sense outside my head, you’ll be able to hear my sermon. We’re in the testing phase now, but it should launch soon.
Meanwhile, here’s what I said that time Jesus goes to his hometown and gets nearly thrown off a cliff.
Rev Megan L Castellan
February 3, 2019
Epiphany 4, Year C
Did you have particular movies that you loved as a kid? Or music? Or TV shows? I loved Miss Piggy, for a variety of reasons, and I was delighted this past week to watch a Muppet movie and discover that it really held up pretty well. My childhood recollection of the joy to be found there matched what I found as an adult. Not everything holds up that well, as I’m sure you know. Most 1980s kid pop culture loses its shine once you reach a certain age. It joins things like snow days, summer vacations, and junk food in the category of Things that Were Awesome as A Kid, But as An Adult You Realize Will be Complicated and A Hassle.
But that’s the way of things. We grow up, our worldview changes, and what seemed amazing and exciting to us as younger people no longer seems that way. And this dynamic is not caused by some specific naïveté of childhood either. All of us discover as we move through life that certain things we liked at one point, no longer quite fit. As we grow and change, our outlook changes too. The conception of the world we had at age 10 is not the one we had at age 20 and is not the one we have at age 30. Nor should it be. We grow and change, and our faith needs to grow and change with us. As we mature and deepen, our faith needs to as well.
Therein lies the rub. This week’s gospel is the action-packed sequel to last week’s gospel, where Jesus is preaching his very first sermon! In his hometown of Nazareth. And if you recall, last week, everything was going great. Jesus stood up, found Isaiah in the scroll, and read that great stuff about proclaiming the good news to the poor, sight to the blind, release to the captives, and announcing the year of the Lord’s favor. Solid material.
Then, he tells everyone “and this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Everyone is so excited! Look at little Jesus, all grown up! He’s doing so well! Not a single stumble!
Then, it might be hard to tell what happens next. Jesus says some things that sound innocuous enough, and then the crowd tries to throw him off a cliff. which seems very strange since everything had been going so well!
But when Jesus hears how happy they are with him, and how they are saying “Can this be Joseph’s son?” He reminds them that they probably won’t always be happy with him. Doubtless you’ll say to me, prophet, heal yourself! And you will say Do also here in your hometown the things we have heard you did in Capernaum.”
Ok, so far so good. But, then he continues. But the truth is, he tells them, God always sends prophets out and away, not back. When God sent Elijah he sent him to Sidon, not to anyone in Israel. And when God sent Elisha, he sent him to help a Syrian, not an Israelite.
This is what flips the crowd. For one thing, they don’t like the implication that they won’t get miracles and that it’s greedy to ask. For another, for the devoutly Jewish folk of Nazareth who had just been believing that God had sent Jesus to proclaim the day of jubilee to them, they are not pleased at all when Jesus reminds them that the greatest prophets in history did the greatest miracles for non-Jews. They want the miracles, darn it. Non-believers don’t deserve them! So they get angry.
Aside from their homicidal moment, it’s not hard to see the hometown crowd’s point. They feel possessive of Jesus; he’s theirs! They watched him grow up, and they rightly feel proud of who he’s become. But as Jesus points out, the problem is that the crowd would have him stay there forever. They want him in a sense to stay that young man forever, within their control, within their reach.
Jesus’ call, meanwhile, is to the whole world. To the whole of humanity. He cannot stay in his hometown just doing miracles for his neighbors-his call is much bigger and wider than that.
But to embrace that call requires change, and leaving home. His walk with God means going forward and not back.
Over our lives, God constantly calls us into deeper relationship. If we follow faithfully, our faith grows and deepens. And frequently, that can frighten us. It’s not always comfortable to begin to question the easy answers we were handed as small children. That the Bible stories are all literally true, that praying correctly wins you rewards, like asking nicely from a genie. That good people receive good things, and bad people are punished. That everything happens for a reason, and the way things are is the way they were meant to be. The answers we get as kids aren’t always satisfying, but they are comforting for a while.
As we grow, the Spirit slowly leads us into more and more complexity. Our walk in faith takes us deeper and deeper. It’s like learning a new language— first you learn the basics of communication. Then you learn the nuances of verb tenses, and then you learn the connotations of words that don’t exist in English, and communication becomes at once something more complex and infinitely richer and more rewarding.
And we might miss that clarity we had as children, the easy sense of surety, but our faith doesn’t allow us to go back. We don’t get to go back to our childhood Nazareths . Instead, we move forward, knowing that the God who brought us this far will lead us further still, into a richer experience of God’s truth. We need never fear our struggles or questioning in our walk with Christ. to quote the French philosopher Simone Weil, “It seemed to me certain, and I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.”
Let us all be bold enough to walk and even struggle, with Christ, and not be confined to Nazareth.