Sermon July 5, 2009 – Proper 9B

July 5, 2009 at 6:50 am Leave a comment

‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ – so the saying goes. To become a United States citizen, that is, if you are not born a citizen – you must pass a test on U.S. history and civics which would scare most of us. For many people who become citizens of this nation, the proudest moment of their lives is when they walk into a voting booth and cast a ballot –for president, for congressperson, for local official, doesn’t matter. Just that they are counted among those who are free to choose who will represent them in government. Now if, like me, you have grown up as an American citizen, if you have never known another way to live, it may not be as meaningful for you to walk into the voting booth. You may be more focused upon complaining about the candidates or the lack of choice rather than thinking about the positive. Perhaps you need another experience – to impress upon you the miracle that is democracy – to make the familiar and everyday strange and new again.

I find the same thing with Lutherans. It is usually those who are new to the Lutheran church – or even who are new Christians – who ask the most questions – who want to know what it means to be a Christian or a Lutheran rather than some other kind of Christian – what sets us apart? Those of us who have attended a Lutheran church our whole lives, we may think we know exactly what it means to be Lutheran, and we’re not necessarily very interested in our past, or our teachings. We know, you see. We’ve been to confirmation. Familiarity breeds contempt. Or at least disinterest.

When Jesus went around Galilee, he would usually teach in the synagogues, and what we often call a “miracle” would follow. Perhaps demonic exorcism, perhaps healing of disease. This happened across the lake also – in Gentile territory. As we heard last week Jesus heals a woman with a long-standing hemmorhage, and raises the little daughter of a synagogue official. Then he comes home, to his hometown, the place where he grew up, and he can do nothing.

Now what is going on here? It is not that Jesus is in a slump, that he suddenly has lost the healing touch, that he is off his game somehow and needs a rest. Rather, it is the same old story. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt.’ It is one of the wiliest tricks the Evil One ever played upon humanity, the one where he convinces us that we know this and what we know about can’t possibly be worth knowing about – that we have seen everything that there is to see and that there is nothing more to be said. And moreover, that those things which we see every day we despise, we criticize, we hold in contempt.

Jesus had grown up in Nazareth, his familiy was still part of Nazareth life. The people know what kind of people come from Nazareth, and perhaps they wondered just who the hell Jesus thought he was coming back and putting on airs. Maybe you’ve experienced it. A kid goes away to university, gets a degree in something or other, and all of a sudden he or she comes back and you’d think they dropped from the sky with their knowledge and wisdom. Isn’t this the kid whose snot you wiped, whose diapers you’ve changed, the neighbor kid who was always tagging around after your daughter or feeding quarters to the pinball machine?

But, you know, maybe you’ve experienced it the other way too. Maybe you’re the kid who has come back home, having seen the world – and you are distressed because there is the same old same old around here, people are so provincial, so unenlightened, if they only knew what I knew, it would be a lot different. Nothing to see here, nothing but the humdrum rhythms of life in the valley, the same neighborhood, the same family, the same friends, the same job, the same church – and you take offense. Just like the good folks of Nazareth did with Jesus, you take offense. And you cannot receive what is abundantly available to be shared.

It is one of the wiliest tricks of the Evil One to tempt us to pride – the pride that says, “I have seen all there is to see, I have learned all there is to learn.” “I went through confirmation, I know all that stuff.” “I know that person, she’s the one who did this and said this once…” And we close ourselves off to what God might be doing, what deeds of power God might have in store.

The Son of God became a human being, to come close to us, and perhaps this is why we have such a strong reaction. He is like us, and yet unlike us. He not only shows us who he is, but who we are, and who we might be. And that is profoundly exciting and threatening at the same time. A man from Nazareth, like them, and yet unlike them,
the wisdom of God flowing from his lips, the power of God emanating from him, it’s like an indictment, an offensive statement about who they were. If Jesus was a man like them, they had no excuse to be the men and women they were. And so it goes. Much easier to deny that anything new is going on here than open oneself to the possibility of transformation.

There are only two choices available to each of us – deny Jesus, or deny ourselves. Acknowledge ourselves in need, or stubbornly insist that we are full of light, even in our darkness; rich, even in our poverty, strong, even when we are weak. St. Paul knew the irony – first a super-Pharisee, then a super-Christian, and it was important for him to let the wandering Corinthian church know that he had the power and wisdom given by the Holy Spirit, and that they should listen to his words and teachings. But as soon as he acknowledged the power and wisdom as his, as soon as he said it was his, God’s power and wisdom had departed from him, would slip from his grasp. And so he gloried in his weakness and his poverty, so that Christ could be everything – so that what was important was not that Paul was something, but that God was something. So that Paul and the Corinthians together could receive what God had to give.

My sisters and brothers, in opposition to pride, humility is the key to receiving what God has to offer. Neither to blindly accept everything that is new, or to focus upon the exciting, nor to hold fast to things because it’s not been done that way before. Neither to affirm all about the hometown, nor the home country, nor to despise it. Neither to affirm everything about every person nor to write them off. But in deep humility and poverty of spirit to assume that hidden inside each holy Word of God and each human being that he has created there is a treasure, there is a gift, that remains undiscovered, and to pray and watch and listen until God by his Spirit reveals Christ in the Word, reveals Christ in us.

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