Vicar's Sermon - 8th July 2018
‘Wowser’. It was Mr Minnikin at Montalbo school who introduced me to this word. ‘Wowser’ has found its way into English dictionaries as an exclamation of surprise and appreciation. ‘That’s wowser’ means that something is great. It’s amazing. But you wouldn’t use the word wowser for something that was amazing but negative. ‘Amazing’ is usually attached to positive experiences or events but in today’s gospel Jesus is amazed by the unbelief of those who lived in his home. Their response to him was not ‘wowser’. You’ll remember that just a few weeks ago we read of Jesus healing a man on the sabbath day and being furious at the opposition he felt in the synagogue that day: Here he meets determined unbelief and he is thrown by it, it doesn’t make sense, he is confused, staggered by the people’s response to him….unfortunately he will have to get used to this feeling!
Think on in the gospel story. Recall the parable of the vineyard: that story of the man who entrusted his vineyard to tenants who then abused his messengers and refused to pay him his due. ‘What shall I do? said the man. He was rocked by his tenant’s rejection, he had never come across actions such as theirs. ‘I know, I’ll send my son…’ Well here he is, Jesus, and the rejection was total. ‘He came to His own and His own received Him not.’ He preaches and teaches as one with authority. He heals the sick, he returns home from a journey that has seen him raise Jairus’ daughter from death, heal a woman of a chronic illness, bring peace to a man disturbed by a legion of demons but here he meets a brick wall: there was nothing, nothing came back to him, no welcome, no green shoots of faith. ‘He was amazed at their unbelief.’
We’re here in church. We, even as disciples, sometimes struggle to understand the ways of God but we are here because just a mustard seed of faith has enabled us to respond to Jesus’ call on our hearts and lives. This passage shows us that even in a religious society (such as 1st century Israel) unbelief is both possible and debilitating (‘he could do no deeds of power there’). Faithlessness inhibits the work of God. Faithfulness enables it to flourish and go forward. How much harder it is for people to come to faith in a society that finds the whole idea of faith to be utterly meaningless. Sometimes it simply is that folk have not heard the gospel explained that prevents them from becoming disciples – as Paul put it ‘how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard?’ But here, in this story they know about Jesus, he stands in front of them and offers the gospel of God’s Kingdom present amongst them and still they actively choose to reject him.
So this isn’t ignorance. This is Sin. The willful, deliberate, stubborn rejection of God’s ways. Perhaps we should not be surprised. ‘Judge not lest you be judged’. We know our own hearts. We know that we can so easily choose the broad path rather than the narrow. It’s there in the New Testament – the light of Christ comes to us but we prefer darkness. As He comes closer to us it is all too easy to recoil from Him – ‘so far Lord Jesus, no further’. So there is a warning here for us. Trusting Him is not an easy option but that’s what He invites us to do as individuals and as a church. He asks us for a welcome. He asks us to make room in our lives for Him. He asks us to respond to His teaching. The people of Nazareth closed ranks and rejected Him but we are invited to be brave enough to offer Him space here, in this church to reveal God’s glory.
‘Excuses, excuses.’ They had excuses. ‘Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary. Aren’t these his brothers and sisters’. They thought they knew Him. They thought they had got the measure of Him. They thought He could be pushed back into His box and contained, restricted, told to keep quiet. ‘Who do you think you are?’ He had certainly surprised them, he was breaking the mould. Everyone in a traditional society has their place and, as far as they were concerned, preaching and teaching and healing was not Jesus’ place. For them he was a carpenter and should stay a carpenter. For all that every Jew learns Torah not every Jew has the permission or qualification to interpret it or teach it: that role fell in ancient Israel to the Levites (spread throughout the tribes) and most particularly the descendants of Aaron. As the epistle to the Hebrews discusses, Jesus does not come from a priestly family – and some commentators point at the description here of him as being ‘Mary’s son’ (rather than Joseph’s) as a veiled slur against his disputed parentage. He has no legitimacy!...they might have used stronger language.
They took offense at Him. People who knew that God chose Jacob, Israel, the younger son over his older brother. People who knew that Joseph, one of the youngest of Israel’s children, would rescue his people. People who knew the story of the shepherd boy David and his grandmother, Ruth, a nobody from Moab. Those who read the prophet’s description of one ‘who had nothing to recommend him’ being the salvation of his people. These of all people should have known that God chooses that which is weak to shame the strong, they should have had space to see that God does not favour the usual suspects of wealth and power. But no. He, Jesus was the problem, not so much His teaching or healing. And for some He still is. Christian morality...’fair enough.’ Christian values...’yes please.’ Christian tradition shaping the law of the land and our common culture: ‘yes, why ever not?’ Faith? …’OK, so long as you don’t force your faith on me.’ Spirituality?... ‘if it floats your boat. ‘God...’so long as we leave the word undefined, not too specific...maybe.’ Jesus as a moral teacher, a prophet even.... ‘yes’. But Jesus ‘as the image of the invisible God’? Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us? Jesus as Lord before whom every knee shall bow? ‘They took offence at him’. We can’t cherry pick the bits of the gospel we like, it is all or nothing with Jesus. We are Christians and you can’t be a Christian without making room for Christ.
It’s not all bad news. The second part of our reading shows us Jesus moving on. He is not welcome at home so he and the disciples go elsewhere. ‘There is no point’ he says to his disciples ‘in banging your head against a brick wall – find where you are welcome and work there. Proclaim the kingdom to those who will receive the message’ And as the temperature of faith rises in those communities the passage ends with the report that the disciples saw healing brought to those who were broken in mind, body and soul. For us here at St. Mary’s it seems that a new opportunity and welcome is being extended to us from Teesdale school so we now have a challenge to find ways to speak of Christ there (keep praying). But where there has, as yet, been no response to the gospel amongst your family or your group of friends don’t despair…perhaps it is just that the time is not right. The mention of Jesus’ brothers and sisters reminds us that initially His own family struggled with His teaching, they even tried to bring him home to control him at one point. But three years later James was leading the church in Jerusalem. There are first century documents that speak of Jesus’ family and their continued role in the church after the resurrection– Jesus didn’t receive a welcome on this visit but time changes things, God does not give up on us…. even if, in the interim, we must move on.
A hard reading this morning. Jesus rejected. The people faithless and unbelieving. Rejection from those closest to him. But also a call to faith, to a faith that is living and active. A call to us as God’s people to continue to grow in faith, to allow the spiritual temperature of this place to rise so that His glory can better be revealed. A call to make room for Him each day in our hearts and our homes through our prayers and through our actions. A call to recognize God’s work in the unexpected, the small and insignificant, to be prepared to see His presence where we least expect it. A call where we find a welcome and an opening to bear witness with confidence, to the one who has brought us out of darkness into his glorious light: to not be ashamed to name the Name of Jesus and confess that we are Christians, his disciples. And a call to be patient, to trust that in God’s good time even those with the hardest of hearts can be won to the service of Christ – His spirit will still be at work even if, for the time being, we devote our energies elsewhere.
He was amazed at their unbelief. Heaven forbid that He look on us in this way. Rather, may this be a place of faith, faith that enables His deeds of power to be revealed and our neighbours exclaim ‘Wowser’!