Posts Tagged ‘ israelites ’

Breaking Boxes

Sermon for 4 Epiphany, Year C 2013
RCL Readings here.

tumblr_m9f7mwS6tG1rf06ano1_1280This week’s Gospel story picks up where we left off last week.  Jesus has returned to his hometown in Nazareth of the Galilee and is in his home church, the temple he grew up in, and he has just made a bold and brazen claim.  After reading from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus says to them that this prophecy has been fulfilled in him, that he is the anointed one, the christos, the meschiah they have been waiting for.

And the people gathered and listening to him have this momentary swelling of pride at this remarkable boy who is their own – bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, one of ours.

They remember him at seventeen, they remember him at twelve, they remember teaching him in Hebrew school when he was six.  And now he’s returned home.  And now he’s teaching them. But they are so caught up in their nostalgia and pride in him, it’s like they miss the significance of what he has just said.  “Oh sweet little Jesus, come back home…Joseph and Mary’s son…he’s grown up so much.”

Can you relate to Jesus here – do you have people back home that treat you like this?  That still think of you as a child?

Perhaps, dare I say it, even your parents?

Are there people that tell stories about you to other people in front of you that start with,
“I remember when she was a little girl…”
It’s almost like they seem to be stuck in that time period, still thinking you belong at the kids’ table.

I know this still happens to me, even at 33 years old.
About a year ago, I went to an ordination service in my hometown – I grew up about 160 miles south of here in Victoria, Texas, spending most of my Sundays with the community at St. Francis Episcopal Church and that congregation truly helped raise me, shape me, form me from my earliest moments. They were the village that it took to raise this child.
So when I returned there not so long ago for this ordination, I got to reminisce with some of the St. Francis folk, all of whom were curious about how my ministry was going.

One woman, who has been a member of St. Francis for all of its 52 years as a parish and who I’m quite certain must have taught me in Sunday School at some point, tapped on my collar and said, “The priests around here get younger and younger.”  Then she noticed my goatee, and pulled on it a little bit, and with a laugh asked, “What’s this for?  Are you trying to look older?”

Several Christmases ago, I even got to preach a sermon in the pulpit of that church that I grew up in. After the service, another one of the ladies who a youth group sponsor when I was in middle school came and gave me a hug.  “That was a good sermon, dear.” She said.  “Did you write it?”

Do you know that Cross Canadian Ragweed song, “You’re always seventeen in your hometown…?”

Meanwhile, back in Nazareth, Jesus, going through this infuriating experience that most of us have had, doesn’t just get fed up and leave.  In fact, he keeps teaching…and, as he continues teaching, things get really hairy, really quickly.

He re-tells them stories about their famous prophets, Elijah and Elisha…specific stories about how God ministered through them, first by feeding a widow in the land of Sidon even though there were many Israelite widows who were starving from a famine at the time, and how God healed a Syrian leper, even though there were many Israelite lepers who were not healed. Jesus is intentionally challenging them, provoking them even, by telling these stories of God’s presence NOT with the Jewish folk, not with those in the synagogue, not with the ones who went to church and were involved in the diocesan summer camp…but with outsiders, with people who didn’t believe the same things they believed, even with people they considered to be unclean heathen.

In no uncertain terms, Jesus is condemning the exclusivity of those who had known him since his birth, rebuking the self-righteousness of those who were most invested in how their church and culture operated.

“The Spirit of the LORD GOD is upon me,” he says.  “I am the Anointed One and I haven’t come only for you. I don’t belong to you.  I’m here for the very people you love to hate, your enemies, everyone you have ever excluded because they didn’t look like you, or think like you or didn’t worship like you.  God is present in me for them.”

As you can imagine, the people are no longer beaming with pride in Jesus.
Jesus has surprised them, has not acted in the ways they raised him to act, and it pisses them off.

“What are you saying? We are the faithful people of God, the chosen ones, we live our lives in relationship with God and you come into our church, telling us that God is with you and has come for those people?  Who do you think you are?”

As their anger builds, they kick him out of the synagogue, drive him out of his own town and are ready to throw him over the cliffs and kill him.

I know we can all relate with Jesus, the misunderstood boy in his hometown.

But I’m afraid, truth be told, that you and I are actually more often like these people in the synagogue. 

Like them, most of us have spent a good deal of time with Jesus.
Like them, we are the ones who go to church, who value the scriptures, who try to live our lives in relationship with God. We have seen Jesus, experienced him at work – in our lives, in our friends’ lives. We know him personally, we know him communally. We’ve felt his presence at camp, at a Happening or a Vocare, have known he was near when we’ve worshiped with just a few others, like here tonight, or with thousands of others at something like Breakaway.

And all of those experiences are valid, are important, are life-giving.

But sometimes, like those hometown faithful, we allow our experiences to become expectations.

Sometimes we let our previous experiences of God become a box that we try to fit God into.
“I know how God works.  I have experienced him in this way.
I know who this Jesus is. I have felt him in that way.”

Trouble is, when we can’t recreate those same exact experiences, we can feel like God is less present than He was back then, back at camp, during that retreat, in that really amazing time. Or, even worse, when we see or hear of others who are experiencing Jesus in ways that are very different, we think, “well, that’s not the same Jesus I know.”

If we keep trying to squeeze God into the same boxes we’ve grown up with, if we only look for God to move in ways that we’re familiar and comfortable with, then, like those in the synagogue, we are in danger of missing what Jesus is saying and doing right here in our midst.

Those in his hometown certainly weren’t expecting God to be alive in the 5 foot 4 carpenter they helped raise.  But that’s exactly what God was doing. That’s the incarnational nature of our God who surprises us constantly by showing up in places we don’t expect him.

And having a grown up faith in this God, rather than one that’s still relegated to the kids’ table, begins with taking a hard look at what expectations your faith is resting on. It is maybe the most difficult part of growing in our faith, of going deeper in our discipleship – naming and dismantling the boxes that we have created for God.

But if we can do that, if we can let go of God instead of trying to hold on to Him, if we can turn God loose instead of acting as if we own Him, if we can look for God incarnate in people and places and ways we don’t expect, then we become free to truly follow Jesus.