Hometown, Pentecost 7 (B) – July 8, 2018

Proper 9

Pentecost 7 Episcopal Sermon


[RCL]: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

Several years ago, a diocese was celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary. At the time, the diocese had produced a beautiful coffee table book that contained short histories of each of their parishes, along with a generous helping of pictures. At the diocesan convention that year, the book was being sold everywhere and anywhere, between legislative sessions, in the exhibition hall, you name it. There had even been a table set up in the narthex of the church where the convention Eucharist was being held. The book was being sold to folks as they walked in.

When the diocese’s retired bishop took to the pulpit for the sermon, he began with saying, “I’m sorry if you heard the commotion a few moments ago, there was a homeless, long-haired man that got into the church. He was shouting something about his father’s house and he turned over the tables where we are selling our book. Don’t worry, we got rid of him.”

Don’t worry, we got rid of him. Of course, he was kidding, there was no commotion, no long-haired, homeless man. But the bishop also wasn’t really kidding. He was leveling a clear criticism using the story of the clearing of the Temple to critique the diocese’s overzealousness in selling the book. The bishop was afraid that the zeal for the book was getting more energy than the mission of the church.

Don’t worry, we got rid of him.

Where is Jesus to be found? Where do we encounter the Holy? Is it at church? Is it only at church?

Can Jesus be found at church, or do we get rid of him?

Let’s dive into the gospel story to see if there are any hints as to where Jesus can most reliably be found.

The story opens in his hometown, and his disciples follow him. It’s an interesting detail. Jesus is from Nazareth and his disciples are from Galilee. They have walked with him back home. It is an interesting and significant detail; Jesus is returning home, but he’s different in several ways now, not the least of which is that he has followers.

The ones in the synagogue who hear Jesus preaching are astounded. They are into it. They are in awe.

Then the analysis comes on: “Don’t we know this guy; didn’t he install your cabinets?” “That’s right! I know his brothers and sisters, I just saw them at the falafel stand on Wednesday.” Something like that.

After all this wondering and recognition, the next sentence the gospel uses is: “And they took offense at him.” Why do you suppose that was? They were astounded, but when they saw that he was “one of them,” all of a sudden, he is offensive. Jesus then demonstrates a masterful use of the double negative, “Prophets are not without dishonor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And the narrator tells us that Jesus couldn’t do any deeds of power except a few healings. Indeed, Jesus is amazed at their unbelief and it seems that there is some connection between trusting Jesus and Jesus being able to work. This matter of Jesus not being able to work is not the same as praying harder, by the way, but there is a connection between Jesus working and the offense the people feel at his presence and teaching.

Jesus and his followers then leave Nazareth. They leave Jesus’ hometown and enter the villages that presumably surrounded the big city. And then something interesting happens. You would think that given the cold reception Jesus received in his hometown that Jesus would then give them the old razzle-dazzle, he would heal and work miracles. Instead, Jesus heals and then pairs off his followers and sends them out with special instructions. They are to travel light. They do, they preach repentance, they heal, and they call out evil when encountered.

Jesus doesn’t give them the razzle-dazzle, he doesn’t do a deed of power to embarrass the old home locals; he instead authorizes others to go out in his name to heal, testify to God’s love, to call out evil. This is very instructive about how our God operates generally. Never a braggadocious moment, never a moment of old-fashioned power like lightning from above—instead, it’s a new-fashioned power that points away from itself and pours into others.

This is how God operates, and it is something for us to remember as we move through this season after Pentecost: the Holy Spirit is God’s sharing of God’s-self with us: God’s empowering of us for the work of establishing God’s Kingdom, God’s way of living, right here in our own communities.

Besides all this, we see something in the story that is as troubling as it is interesting. Jesus is unrecognized in his hometown. He is recognized of course, but he is not accepted as one who is deeply connected with God. Indeed, once they do begin to recognize him, they are offended by him. And it’s in this offense and un-trust, this unbelief, that Jesus cannot work as powerfully as he would have normally.

This should concern all of us who claim to know who and what Jesus is. The church is the hometown of Jesus, as it were. Are we offended by him? Do we allow Jesus to be Jesus or have we domesticated him into a mere kindly carpenter? The church has, at times, carefully kept Jesus in a safe and contained box, but Jesus keeps leaving the familiar, keeps empowering others, and most importantly keeps showing up in strange places that are not his hometown.

That’s where we will most reliably find Jesus, outside of the hometown. Of course, we meet in this space each week. We come for solace and strength. We certainly believe that Jesus is present with us, especially in the Holy Eucharist; but Jesus is also found outside, in the villages, in the world. Don’t you know that we disciples are always playing catch-up to the Risen Lord? Ever since that day when the women found an empty tomb, ever since then, we have been going to where Jesus has gone ahead of us, into Galilee, into the villages, into our neighborhoods. And once we go there, seeking him in the face our neighbors, he will be revealed, and we just might be empowered to do his work: healing wounds, preaching God’s love, and calling out evil.

Let us go from here, into the villages following Jesus where he has already gone—and not simply following him, but being empowered by him to do his work of love and healing which the world so desperately needs.

Amen.

Joshua Bowron is the rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte NC where he lives with his wife Brittany who is a Jedi-level catechist in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atria. 1,2,3,4: They have 1 dog, 2 cats, three children, and 4 chickens.

Download the sermon for Pentecost 7 (B).

Goliath Moments – Proper 9 (B) – 2015

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10Psalm 482 Corinthians 12:2-10Mark 6:1-13

God is with us, as God is with all nations and peoples of the earth. The choice remains ours, however, whether we will offer God Uriah moments to judge, or Goliath moments to bless. Goliath moments: when strength arises out of weakness, despair gives way to hope, weariness is replaced by solidarity, and fear dissolves in the face of acceptance and welcome. There are Goliath moments still to come in our nation’s future.

Click here to read the sermon.

Click here to download the sermon for Proper 9(B).

Today’s sermon is written by The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and writer. He is the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals” (Cowley Publications, 2003).

Goliath moments, 6 Pentecost, Proper 9 (B) – July 8, 2012

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

“David was 30 years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for forty years. … David occupied the stronghold, and named it the City of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inward. And David became greater and greater, for the Lord of hosts was with him.”

There is something strong and imperial and complete about these words from today’s Old Testament reading from Second Samuel. They constitute a summary about the reign of King David. They claim a divine sanction for David’s success. But they leave out much more than they contain. The story of David, which stretches through many chapters of scripture, is far more human and horrible and glorious than this scrap of royal chronicle.

At the Palmer Art Museum in University Park, Pennsylvania, there is an oil painting from 17th century Italy that depicts David with the head of Goliath.

The artist, Forabosco, shows us David, not as a king, but as a shepherd, a teenager, the youngest of all the sons of Jesse. He has killed the giant warrior Goliath with a slingshot, cut off his head, and now carries that monstrously huge head on one shoulder, holding it in place with both hands as though it were a watermelon.

Here David embodies the unconscious grace of youth. In contrast, the head of Goliath, eyes closed, shows the tinctures of death, with a great red bruise on the forehead marking the spot hit by David’s fatal stone.

What is most notable about this painting, however, is the expression on young David’s face. He does not display the exuberant triumph of, for example, a football player who has just won a championship game. No, young David appears lost in thought; apparently he is aware that this remarkable success has brought to an end his simple existence. The life that awaits him – many more heroics, 40 years as king – will be heavy with complexities.

This young David did what Saul’s entire army did not. He killed the monstrous enemy champion, Goliath of Gath. He did not rely on the finest armor and weapons, but killed the giant with a stone from a slingshot. The Philistine looked powerful, but proved to be weak. David the shepherd boy looked weak, but proved to be powerful. And scripture all but shouts at us that God is at work in the powerful weakness of young David.

David gained power of a more conventional kind. His record as king turns out to be decidedly mixed. Sometimes he discerned and did what is right; at other times he abused his power and committed heinous crimes. Perhaps the worst episode involves committing adultery with Bathsheba and then setting up the murder of Uriah, one of his loyal soldiers. If God was with David, as today’s reading claims, then at times God must have been present with him in judgment.

The saga of David is one of the great stories in biblical literature. He is a character who haunts western culture. But let’s go a step further. David, shepherd boy and king, also haunts western politics. As we celebrate our national independence, we would do well to remember that over the last two centuries and more, our country has had its Goliath moments and its Uriah moments.

Sometimes our weakness has been revealed as strength. And sometimes our strength has been revealed as weakness. If we ask God to bless our nation, then we must remember that this blessing comes as both mercy and judgment. The living God is nobody’s national mascot, but demands that we do justice, and love mercy, and walk before him in humility.

Our country has had its Uriah moments when out of the arrogance and blindness of power, we have betrayed trust and squandered opportunity and offended God who has sent his prophets to speak truth against lies.

Our country has had its Goliath moments when, out of weakness that refuses to be afraid, we have toppled giants and beheaded them so that, however momentarily, God’s reign has been tangible.

And because our country is no monolith, but a combination of persons and factions, often the Goliath moment and the Uriah moment have been the same moment. We the people have shown simultaneously both the worst that is in us, and the best. Together we behave as David did.

And so there is reason if our national countenance, like Forabosco’s portrait of David, looks perplexed even at a moment of victory, for our national life is full of perplexities. We killed one Goliath at the time of the Revolution, when thousands of young Davids encamped at places like Valley Forge, and it has been, perhaps inevitably, a mottled saga ever since.

Let’s not focus on the Uriah moments except as background for when one more Goliath or another has been slain. But for a sad and scholarly accounting of many Uriah moments in our national life, turn to Howard Zinn’s extraordinary work, “A People’s History of the United States.” Its accounting of sorrows is relentless.

Let’s consider, instead, three moments out of countless others that have been Goliath moments in our national story, occasions when, out of weakness, Americans have found strength to slay some threatening giant.

Sometimes Goliath is despair and David hurls a stone of hope to kill him. The year was 1850, the place, Faniel Hall in Boston. The great Frederick Douglass was speaking. In the course of his address, he grew more and more agitated, more and more despairing, finally saying that he saw no possibility of justice for people of African descent outside of violence and bloodshed.

Douglass sat down, and the audience fell into a tense hush. Sitting in the very first row was Sojourner Truth, a woman who knew the evils of slavery from personal experience, having been sold four times. She rose, and her deep and commanding voice spoke a sentence heard throughout the auditorium. “Frederick, is God dead?”

Sometimes Goliath is weariness in well doing and David hurls a stone of solidarity to kill him. An unfinished chapter in American history concerns the labor movement and its struggles against oppressive conditions. A most unlikely David arose in the person of a poor Irish widow named Mother Jones. Some spoke her name with contempt, but she was a mother to the great masses who labored in the dark coal mines or worked 65 hours every week in the mills.

In the 1890s, she served as an agitator for the United Mine Workers where her fiery speeches would move men and women to tears and compel them to action. In Colorado, she approached a machine gun poised to open fire on a line of demonstrators; she placed her hand on the barrel, turned it to the ground, and then walked on by.

She once told a congressional committee, “My address is wherever there is a fight against oppression.”

Sometimes Goliath is a fear of strangers and David hurls a stone of acceptance, a stone of welcome, to kill him. It was a great day when these words of invitation composed by Emma Lazarus were first displayed on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor for all the world to see:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Word of welcome to the weak and rejected. An invitation for them to grow strong in a commonwealth whose only nobility is to be a nobility of character.

Whether our families came here on slave ships or jumbo jets, this invitation is meant for us and our children, and we are to offer it as well to others. Each new arrival is not a threat, but comes bearing gifts meant to build up our common life.

Our nation has had Uriah moments, reasons for honest repentance. We have had Goliath moments as well, causes for celebration. Our country is designed not to be an empire, and not to be a church, but to be a commonwealth, an experiment in democracy.

God is with us, as God is with all nations and peoples of the earth. The choice remains ours, however, whether we will offer God Uriah moments to judge, or Goliath moments to bless. Goliath moments: when strength arises out of weakness, despair gives way to hope, weariness is replaced by solidarity, and fear dissolves in the face of acceptance and welcome. There are Goliath moments still to come in our nation’s future.

“Frederick, is God dead?”

“My address is wherever there is a fight against oppression.”

“Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

 

— The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and writer. He is the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals” (Cowley Publications, 2003).

 

When God’s power is allowed to shine through us, Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 9 (B) – July 5, 2009

(RCL) 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 and Psalm 48; or Ezekiel 2:1-5 and Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

“If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”

Today’s gospel reading describes Jesus going to the temple to pray on the Sabbath. He stands up and begins to read the words of Isaiah, and before you know it, his people are whispering and questioning not only his authority but also his wisdom.

He does not argue with them but instead makes a statement that we can all identify with. Those closest to us are usually the ones who have the most difficulty seeing beyond our person, our relationships, or our status; it is those who barely know us who tend to be struck by what they hear or see in us. Sometimes those closest to us can only see the box they have painted us into, while those who see only what they actually see in that moment see so much more – they are able to see God’s power working in us and through us.

Our lives are filled with people telling us what we should think and who we should listen to. In many cases we are misled by individuals who cannot wait to tell us about their own importance. They would have us believe that humility is a sign of weakness, and weakness is not usually something we strive toward.

Strength, on the other hand, is associated with power, and power is not only desired but sought after in this world of ours. There is power in our ability to pay our mortgage or rent, to pay our utility bills and buy groceries. There is power in the language we speak as we communicate our thoughts and ideas to others.

Power might also be perceived in the boastful claims of those who would say that only they have insight into what God intends in our lives. And sometimes power can distort our vision and convince us that we know best who exercises power most profitably and for the best end.

The gospel subverts power and challenges those perceptions. The power that God gave to Jesus was invisible to his own people. And yet, Jesus did not become boastful and lay out for them all the miracles he had performed. Instead, he shook the dust off of his feet and moved on.

Here are some key characteristics of Jesus’ ministry:
• He kept it simple, being fully dependent on God to provide.
• He survived on goodwill, not expecting to be recognized and not profiting from his efforts.
• He showed humility.
• He disassociated from rejection.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus was not looking for attention. He was simply observing the Sabbath in the tradition of his hometown. He was not healing the great multitudes as he had been; he only laid his hands on a few, curing them. And he was amazed at their lack of belief. He made a very powerful statement, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometowns.”

Paul experienced a similar reaction from the people in Corinth. He became aware that they were not only questioning his leadership but also his motives. Paul does not shy away from their charge, but meets it head on, questioning his own motives and leadership publicly in this very straight-forward and transparent letter. He admits that he has been weak, but he points out that there is power in weakness and improving the work of a disciple of Christ.

In both cases the communities remain unwilling to receive anything Jesus or Paul might offer. The communities are so busy judging the package that they miss the most essential part, that which could bring them closer to God.

Paul tells us that he was given a thorn in his side to keep him from being too elated or too boastful. He explains that this thorn keeps him from claiming the gifts of the Holy Spirit as his own creation or making him seem too important.

Have you ever had a thorn? You can’t ignore it. It is always there until it works itself out or until you take it out. In Paul’s life, a thorn kept him humble. Whatever your thorn is, maybe it is a gift that keeps you humble and opens up a space where God’s power can shine through.

Power, God’s power, is seen through our humility when boastfulness has not filled up the space. When God’s power is allowed to shine through us, all can see and experience it. We know those moments. We have experienced them in our lives. Humility is the secret ingredient in this wonderful recipe of living as our Creator intended. It is that simple.

It is a radical idea to see humility as the source of true strength and power. This kind of strength and power is exemplified in the person and life of Christ, and it gives us a new perspective on how we might envision ourselves and our ministry in the church.

This week the Episcopal Church’s seventy-sixth General Convention begins in Anaheim, California. We will have another opportunity to see God at work in the world. We will have many opportunities to hear about how God has transformed people, communities, and the church through simple acts of humility and compassion. We might even see God in action in our lives as the assembly focuses on the mission of the church.

And there will be equal opportunities for boastfulness and for those with agendas seeking power, not for the good of the whole but for a few.

We will also have opportunities to serve God in and through each other. We will consider our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals with a focus on poverty, and just as importantly, we will consider our commitment to alleviating the poverty right here in our own neighborhoods, our own communities, counties, and states.

For this important work, let us pray that the voices bringing forth the work of God will be heard at General Convention and will be supported so that they will not find themselves dusting the sand off their feet as a testimony to our lack of belief or our fear of the power that comes from God.

Here is a Franciscan Benediction to keep in mind as we strive to end domestic poverty.

May God bless us with discomfort
at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that we may work for economic justice for all people.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer
from pain, hunger, homelessness and rejection,
so that we may reach out our hand to comfort them
and to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness
to believe that we can make a difference in the world
so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

 

— The Rev. Debbie Royals is a regional missioner for Native Ministry Development, based in the Diocese of Los Angeles. She is the Province VIII Indigenous People’s Network chair and a CREDO health faculty member.

 

But life in Christ is life in truth, Fifth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 9 (B) – July 9, 2006

(RCL) Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 48 or 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13

The prophet Ezekiel was active, scholars think, from about 593 BCE to 571 BCE. This period encompasses the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon in 587 BCE. It was a time of great turmoil for Israel. The reading for today comes from the second chapter of the book of Ezekiel, and tells the story of God’s commission to Ezekiel as prophet to the people of Israel.

Ezekiel has an amazing vision of fire, winged creatures, and a chariot, and something that seemed like a human form seated on a throne. When he saw this, which he said was “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord,” he fell on his face. And then he heard the voice of the Lord.

The voice said it was sending him to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels. “You shall speak my words to them,” the Lord said, “whether they hear or refuse to hear.” And then the Lord told Ezekiel not to be afraid or dismayed.

This is pretty standard stuff, in terms of what we know of the Old Testament prophets: they are sent by God to the people of Israel to call them back to the covenant, they are ignored, forgotten, berated, mistreated, tortured, killed. And nobody listens to them. This plays out over and over again.

Then we move forward 400 years or so to Jesus. As Christians, we have a different view of Jesus; it’s hard for us to understand that to most of the people of his time he was just another prophet. And his experience was no different. In today’s Gospel reading he is in his hometown, teaching in the synagogue, and no one is very happy with what he has to say. These are the people he grew up with, who know him and his family. And how do they respond? They are scandalized. “Hey, isn’t this Joseph and Mary’s boy? What does he know? Who does he think he is?”

“Who do you think you are?” is one of the most enduring phrases from childhood. We use it to put people down, to rein people in when we think they are starting to think to highly of themselves, when they start getting “too big for their britches.” Everyone thought Ezekiel and the other prophets had a lot of nerve saying they spoke for God. And the people of Jesus’ hometown knew for certain that he was getting too big for his britches, coming home and preaching to them that way.

We have not changed much over the centuries. Human nature being what it is, we don’t care much for people who think they have a corner on the truth, or that they know “God’s will.” Very often our suspicion and skepticism is important. There are just too many instances of people being led astray by self-proclaimed experts and zealots, usually with very bad results. We’re right to be careful, to be skeptical. It can be dangerous not to be.

But then how do we determine who is speaking the truth? How do we discern the real prophets from the fakes? It can be very difficult. We let our prejudices get in the way; we expect people to fit a certain mold, to look and sound a certain way, to be of a certain social status. But all through the Bible we read of God using the least expected people to do His work, and very often the people involved weren’t too happy about it. Moses said he was not eloquent, that he was slow of speech: “Oh My Lord, please send someone else.” Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” Nobody with any sense wants this job! But God says again and again, “Don’t be afraid. I’ll tell you what to say.”

So who is telling us what we want to hear, or what they want us to hear, and who is telling us the truth? In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul says he will not boast of what he has seen and heard “so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me.” Paul wants people to see and hear Christ in him, not Paul. This is one way of determining if someone is telling the truth: if it is for self-aggrandizement, for gathering power and attention, for promoting personal beliefs, then it is best to be skeptical.

Very often the truth comes from the sources we least expect. Very often the truth is inconvenient. In our culture, the truth has become less important than what sells, than sound bites and twisted rhetoric used to push a certain point of view. We are not certain who to believe. Remember the fable of The Emperor’s New Clothes? Something was happening, and the truth was not part of it – and the least likely person saw through the scam.

The truth disrupts our carefully design constructs, our carefully guarded prejudices, our convenient belief systems. No wonder we cry, “Who do you think you are?” The truth can threaten the very foundations upon which we have built our assumptions about other people, about systems of governance, about everything. We all have prejudices and assumptions that get us through the day. Look at our world: here we are in the twenty-first century, and human beings are still fighting wars and practicing genocide across the world, and allowing corporations to make billions of dollars in profits by keeping people in economic slavery.

But life in Christ is life in truth. Who is speaking the truth to you today? And how are you called to speak the truth? When and what do we hear or refuse to hear, speak or refuse to speak? We often confuse speaking the truth with judging others – Paul’s phrase “speak the truth in love” has been sadly misused over the centuries, used by people to say anything they want under the guise of “truth.” But what if speaking the truth starts with telling the truth to ourselves, with heeding the still, small voice in our own hearts? We may not all be called as prophets to the nations, but we are called to discern the truth, to listen to the truth, to speak the truth. It starts with deconstructing our own carefully built walls of convenient assumptions and half-truths. Once we begin to tell the truth to ourselves, we will be better able to hear the word of the Lord all around us.

 

— The Rev. Kathleen L. Wakefield is associate rector at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Juneau, Alaska, a spiritual director and retreat leader, and a wife and mother.