Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
8 July 2018
In this week’s gospel passage Jesus goes home to Nazareth.
This is another episode in Mark’s series as he sketches a Jesus who confronts, annoys, excites and irritates both his opponents and his supporters.
This time it is the hometown crowd, and there is no tougher gig.
Luke will develop this simple story from Mark 6 into a classic scene of confrontation, culminating with an attempt to murder Jesus by throwing him off a cliff. Like the non-existent cliff above which Luke imagines Nazareth to sit like an oriental Athens, that scene is a figment of Luke’s imagination, but he was working with the seed of a memory preserved in the opening paragraph of Mark 6.
As a historian this is one of my favourite passages. It offers a glimpse behind the public success of Jesus, and it hints at a private tragedy. The people who knew him best did not find him all that awesome.
Think about that for a moment.
Jesus failed at home.
His own village people were not supportive of his mission. Not even his family as we saw a few weeks ago in Mark 3.
In this fascinating episode we find Jesus reflecting on the dynamics of the hometown crowd:
Prophets are not without honor:
except in their hometown,
and among their own kin,
and in their own house …
Not just the village, but the wider family and the folks at home. Nobody gets it!
This saying is attested across all the early gospels, and it reflects a truth known to Jesus, to his first followers and to us as well.
What was true of Jesus is true of us as a faith community, indeed a Cathedral, here in this city.
The biggest challenge for us may be to get local people here in our community to take us seriously.
They think they know us so well and they expect we have nothing special to say to them.
They know our failures and our scandals.
Some of them are people we have hurt, or ignored, or turned away when they reached out to us. Maybe we sold their family church to pay a compensation claim, or to raise funds to pay our bills?
The surprising thing may be that so many of them still feel so positively about us, even if they see little need to join us for worship on Sunday morning.
So how do we sing the Lord’s song in the ‘strange land’ of our own village?
Let me offer three suggestions, very briefly, that we can explore and unpack in the weeks and months ahead:
In one sense this is my mission strategy for the next few years that I am privileged to be here as your priest. Let me take just the first of those three suggestions and unpack it a little now. I can come back to the others at a later time.
As Anglicans and as a Cathedral we have a tendency to wrap our ideas up in fancy talk.
Over the past 2,000 years we have developed a special language for talking about faith and the things that matter most to us. In some cases those terms were fashioned in moments of great controversy and we have persecuted, exiled, imprisoned, and murdered each other over their proper meaning.
Our God-talk and our church-talk do not make much sense to people outside the inner circles of the church, and we see this very clearly when we have visitors here for a baptism or some other special event.
What we do and how we talk about it simply makes less and less sense to more and more people.
As much as we can, the words we use in church need to state clearly, directly and simply what we are doing and why we are doing it.
Please have a look at the front page of this week’s bulletin. There you will see one example of me trying to find fresh and direct words to describe why we are in here this morning:
In worship we acknowledge the divine love which brought our universe into being and came among us in the historical person of Jesus. We seek spiritual wisdom to be a generous faith community centred around the person and teachings of Jesus, open to new insights from the natural and social sciences, and engaged with the wider community in compassionate action for the common good.
Those are the reasons I got out of bed and came here this morning. Those are the reasons I choose not to take my pension cheque last year and retire to play with my coin research.
What about you?
How do you explain being here to your partner, or your children?
What does what we do here mean to you, and how do we express that to the people we care about most?
How do we share our faith with the people who know us best?
We do not have to get it right, and we mostly won’t.
But Jesus could not find the words to explain himself to his own people either.
All the same, notice that Jesus mostly ignored traditional religious talk and religious practices. As we have seen repeatedly in these past few weeks as we read through Mark’s Gospel, Jesus broke the rules, upset the religious people, and spoke to people in fresh ways that started in everyday life rather than in the Bible or with some ritual.
Most importantly, he had a vision of God actively engaged in everyday life (he called it the kingdom of God) and he was especially concerned for the people at the edges of his community: the homeless, the broken ones, the sick, the hungry, and the poor.
We cannot and will not bring everyone with us, but we can resolve to talk about God in plain language, to affirm that in Jesus we find the wisdom God wants us to have for authentic lives, and a focus on sharing that spiritual wisdom with the people who already see their need for ‘something more’ in their lives.
May God help us to do exactly that.