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What Went Wrong in Nazareth?

July 10, 2018

WHAT WENT WRONG IN NAZARETH?
AND HOW TO DO IT RIGHT!

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary during an outdoor worship service at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 8, 2018

 Psalm 146          Mark 6:1-13

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In our Gospel reading today,
part of our continuous reading
of the Gospel According to Mark,
Jesus visits his hometown of Nazareth,
walking there all the way from the Sea of Galilee.

This journey is exactly the opposite
of the one I took back in the spring of this year,
walking from Nazareth back toward the waters.

But our questions today
will be about Jesus’ journey
and his experience of failure
in Nazareth
where he is treated
like a stranger in his own home –
after which he will send his disciples out
to the homes of strangers
instructing them to bring the good news of God’s kingdom
elsewhere
and accept the hospitality of strangers
or none at all.

How did we get here
in Nazareth
at this point in Jesus’ public life?
Let’s make a quick review…

At the same time his mentor,
John the Baptist,
was arrested,
Jesus appeared
out of the wilderness
proclaiming the kingdom of God
    the reign of God
    a way of life that acknowledges God alone
and not Roman Authority,
    with it legions and legates
or the Imperial Temple-State
    with its scribes, priests, and religious reformers
but God alone:
    as sovereign
    good shepherd,
    judge and justice and the ultimate joy
    of God’s people.
God alone.

To the poor and the peasant
(which was nearly everyone)
Jesus announced,
and offered,
and proffered
the good news:
    this kingdom is at hand
    this realm is here
    this reign is now
Trust
Believe
Taste and see
Be healed
Be whole
Be free.

Trusting this God
whose realm they could touch
entailed
renewing the ancient practices
and ways of life
handed down from generation to generation
practices of hospitality, generosity
mutual care and Jubilee justice
not only with commitments to family and village
but with new ‘tribal’ associations
of village with village
and community with community
that renewed the WHOLE people
and not just individual people
and not just Israel, but ALL people
all nations
(a bridge too far for some).

And Jesus began to cast out the spirits
the principalities and powers
    that occupied the peoples’ hearts and minds
    with idols and lies
that wracked their lives
    with fear and with violence,
and burdened their bodies,
    with pain and distress.

He healed their bodies
of the common afflictions
    of occupation
and the ordinary ailments
    of oppression.

He fed the poor
    overtaxed and overworked
    and exhausted from their efforts
    to make ends meet
with five loaves and two fish
or with seven loaves that were on hand
with whatever number was available for daily bread
he made do.

He forgave not only sin but also debt
insisting that the authority to forgive sin
and the right to release another’s debt
was NOT God’s alone,
nor was it the proprietary practice
    of God’s representatives in Jerusalem
but was the responsibility of each human being
toward another –
grace as a way of life.

He demonstrated that Sabbath rest
is an opportunity to do good,
rather than a restrictive rule calling for conformity.

And he taught the people in parables
that these actions were not
    his alone
    but could be performed by everyone;
they were not miracles to amaze
but the simple result of trusting God,
    God’s present rule, God’s coming realm
and acting on that trust
for one’s self
one’s neighbor
and one’s neighborhood.

“Your trust has made you well,” he said
but we translate this trust as faith,
which makes it sound
like something peculiarly religious
when what Jesus asks
what the kingdom requires
    of us
    to be effective
what Jesus actually says
is simply trust –
something more akin to
the way we entrust
our hearts to those we love
our bodies to those able to care for them
our loved ones to God’s love
and our future to grace.

Or maybe simply the way we trust our friends
to catch us
when we fall backward
off a picnic table
in one of those inevitable youth group
group building activities.

It takes two
or three
or four
or more
to make trust effective
because it is about relating
it is about relationships
and new ways of relating
new relationships, in fact,
for a new kind of people
made God’s people
through mutual trust
and ultimate trust
in God’s sovereignty.

All these things Jesus did
in Capernaum on the shores
    of Lake Tiberius
and in the other fishing towns
    beside the sea
and in all the villages of Galilee.

Everywhere he went
he met this hope
for God’s compelling, coming reign –
producing trust enough
that he could act,

to heal, and liberate
and to engender further trust.

And all were amazed!
not at the wonders, which were common enough,
but at the rebirth
and resurrection
of God’s people
which meant
indeed
the kingdom of God
was at hand.

[Pause]

Immediately after a woman is healed
by this kind of trust
    from a twelve-year hemorrhage
    by the shore of the sea,
and after Jesus asks a little girl to rise up,
    as if from death
    in a coastal down
    and have something to eat
Jesus decides to visit his hometown
    for the first time
    since going out to join John at the Jordan.

It was a forty-mile journey
a leisurely three days walk
longer if he wanted to visit other villages
    along the way
    as he was wont to do,
or as little as two days
    if he were determined to make it home
    in time for dinner.

Ancient Nazareth.
Jesus’ hometown.
In the first century,
the entire population
of between 400 and 500 souls,
would have fit within our sanctuary
comfortably.
Or there may have been as few as 150,
archaeologists are not sure,
nearly all of them related to Jesus
in one way or another.
They knew him
    this carpenter’s son
They had grown up with him,
    or had watched him grow up,
aunts, uncles,
cousins, all of them
And mom.[i]

But the intense trust in God’s reign
that Jesus had catalyzed among God’s people
elsewhere
did not catch on
in Nazareth.
The healing did not take
and the demonic spirits
    of limited vision
    and cramped expectation
    and apathetic accommodation
    to the way things are, and have always been
simply would not leave
and though Jesus did still heal a few
    individuals
and liberate a few
    souls
no one understood his larger purpose
or perceived the reign of God
the renewal of God’s people
this new way, and new future,
which he offered
to his family, his friends and neighbors.

Who is this guy?
Is he the same one
who left
not long ago?
He has come back different
he is changed.
and we do not recognize him.

Once,
you may remember,
out of compassion,
(or was it concern)
his mother
and his brothers and his sisters
went to Capernaum to bring him home
worried about the direction
of his ministry
and the danger
he was courting.
But we are told they did not enter the house
where he was preaching
    to hear him
    to understand him
    or even to try
but instead sent messengers inside
to bring him out
as if he were the captive
and they the ones who came to set free
and they waited outside
to waylay him and bring him home.

Inside the house,
the messengers said to him,
“Your family is outside,”
but he replied
“Who is my family?
Only those who understand and act
on the will of God?”
“And who is a true neighbor,”
he asked another,
on another occasion,
“but the one who
trusts God enough
to bind up wounds
and raise up the dead, or half-dead, or left for dead,
which is all the same thing,
and to commit oneself to another
for the long haul
until both are healed;
And if one has more than one needs,
to divest oneself of possessions
and give to the poor.
That one is a true neighbor.”
he said.[ii]

Such faith, such trust,
such hopeful action
on behalf of another
is merely human –
a new kind of human, perhaps –
but merely the act of a good human
not a miracle
without other explanation.
But it does look like the kingdom of God
if one has eyes to see.

But they did not see
not in Nazareth
not that day
instead
they only saw a kid they knew
full of big ideas
the son of a carpenter
whose family were right here
nothing special
a young man
grown up to become
a dangerous visionary
like that would-be prophet
Judah the Galilean
from nearby Sepphoris
not three miles away

(or was it four)
whose religious ideas
and political leadership
about the same year Jesus was born
had caught the eyes of the Judeans and the Romans
the same way Jesus’ ideas and leadership
were beginning to catch the eyes of the Judeans and Romans.
But back then

the attention of the Judeans and the Romans
led to the arrest and execution of Judah
and the punishment of the entire population of Sepphoris
just three miles away
(or was it four):
all able-bodied men crucified
bearing their crosses
and every other man, the woman and children
sold as slaves
into foreign lands.
Parents separated from children, forever,
In the ultimate expression of state power[iii]
and the city of Sepphoris

reduced to rubble
not a stone left upon stone.
all
gone
yes
that’s what comes when prophets promote big ideas
and young men have visions
old men dream dangerous dreams.[iv]

No, nope no!
We (the good citizens of Nazareth)
we see only a neighbor
we only want to see
a hometown boy
a young man
a harmless …
(oh God please let him be harmless)
wonder-worker
but certainly not
    an agent of God’s realm
    a catalyst for renewed trust
    that God has heard our cry
    and has come to save us
for then we would have to believe
that God
has come
    to work something new
    and that those made whole
    and put back in their right mind
    are but the first fruits
    of a greater hope.
Such a dangerous vision.

No. Nazareth says no!
So this time
instead of the crowds
like those in Galilee
who were ready to respond
to such good news
who always stood amazed
at what could happen in their midst
    when they trusted God –
it is Jesus’ turn to be amazed:
amazed at the unbelief
or refusal to acknowledge
the unwillingness to trust
in the face of great fear
and obvious danger
the inability to accept
God’s reign
which they said
they hoped and prayed for.

[Pause]

I have said before
my friends
citing Saint Paul
that faith, hope, and love
are a matter of perception
of having the eyes to see
and ears to hear
and minds to comprehend
what is the height and depth
and length and breadth
of God’s love
for us
and the ability to see this
being made manifest
all around us
you, me, friend, stranger
even enemy
as God’s beloved.
Wayward? Yes.
Often lost? Yes.
But called, claimed, beloved
the subjects and objects
of God’s great hope for our world
the next ones
the NOW ones
to make real God’s kingdom
on earth as it is in heaven.

Can you hear
the voice of creation
groaning for the arrival of
the children of God?
waiting for us to take our rightful place
in creation
to heal
and make whole
and restore to life
that which has been damaged
or destroyed
or been taking captive
by lust, or greed
and other demonic powers?[v]

Can you comprehend
can you even take in
that this whole world
    of rocks and trees
    and skies and seas
the nature that around us sings
is but a theater of God’s glory,
displaying wonder upon wonder
so that,
seeing, hearing and understanding
filled with gratitude
and with cups running over
we can turn around
and be saved?[vi]

Today we baptize a child
Thomas —
son of — and —
who has grown up around us
and among us
as one of us.
with his older sisters as mentors
    in church school and youth group
    and at the Emmaus table
and this community as models
    of Christ-like care
he is learning, will be learning
in worship
the sounds of praise
and the expressions of love
and experiencing the passing of that deep peace
    that passes understanding
    but is resilient in the face of tough times,
he is learning
and will be learning
here
how to
trust God.

His parents will make promises
of course
to help him learn
and keep him connected
with the church
so that he can grow
in trust.
You, his sponsors and congregation,
you will make promises
to love him
and care for him
no matter what,
important promises.
I will pray
and splash water on his head.
and invoke the promises of God.
Human actions
of human beings,
it is true,
    caring human beings
    expressing our deepest hopes,
    if we are generous
But God is here
as well
if we but have eyes to see
and we but trust what we say.
God is here
today
calling, claiming, and loving Thomas
into a kingdom
a reign and realm
of love and of light
of peace and of promise
of healing
and wholeness
and ultimate joy.

Not a miracle
or magic
just the realm of God
come close
as close to us as the air we breathe
invisible but for the eyes of faith
trusting eyes
that can claim a kingdom
and a dangerous vision
and our deepest hopes
for a better future.
for Thomas and for all.

Can you see it?

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[i] Richard Horsley, Archeology, History and Society in Galilee: The Social Context of Jesus and the Rabbis. (T&T Clark, 1996.)

[ii] Mark 3:20, 31-35; also Mark 10:17-22 (which Luke expands into the Parable of the Good Samaritan).

[iii]What Mandela Lost: The South African freedom fighter’s letters from prison remind us that the separation of families is the ultimate expression of state power.” New York Times, Sunday, July 8, 2018.

[iv] On a realistic fear and caution of where movements like Jesus’ could lead, with the events of Sepphoris in mind, see the speech of Rabbi Gamaliel in Acts 7:33-39. See also the work of Richard Horsley, Particularly Richard Horsley and John S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus. (HarperCollins, 1985).

[v] Romans 8:19-25.

[vi] The phrase ‘theater of God’s glory” is John Calvin’s. See Belden L. Lane, Ravished by Beauty: The Surprising Legacy of Reformed Spirituality. (Oxford, 2011).

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