Published on 09 Jul 2012
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – July 8, 2012
The Rev. Canon Dr. Timothy Elliott
Christ Church Cathedral
Click Here to listen to an audio MP3 of the sermon
A great vote of thanks to my brother Peter for the invitation to preach here today and to Archdeacon Ellen for her very warm welcome. Because our son Ben, the actor, lives here (Merry Wives of Windsor Ontario at Bard – don’t miss it) and because of Peter and Thomas’ generous hospitality – my wife Judy Maddren and I love to say ‘we spend part of the year in Vancouver’. And this cathedral community is a key part of that. Our thoughts and prayers are with Peter and Thomas in Calgary – the funeral for Thomas’ dad is tomorrow at St. Stephen’s Calgary.
PRAYER: O God, grant us the grace to accept with serenity the things we cannot change; courage to change the things that ought to be changed; and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
There’s always that moment of expectation when the sermon begins. And there’s a sense of hope. Is there a word for me? We all come with hopes, and longings, and even desires. We all carry heavy burdens. We’re each more lonely than we dare admit. Will there be a connection –something I can take away? What word of hope can I take away today? What image might inspire me to live a fuller and richer life? What music might move me to do something? What thought might deepen my learning and further the action of God’s work? And believe me, the preacher is asking themselves the same questions.
In my travels I’m impressed with the number of people who read the lections before the Sunday as a way of preparing. It’s one of the gifts of our lectionary that we have a 3 year cycle. You publish the next Sunday’s readings in your bulletin. And so the preacher does his or her preparation and you do yours – so that we both are cultivating the good soil for the word of God to be sown in and bear fruit, fruit that will last.
Here are two points I want to focus on this morning. First, there are four gospels, not just one. And in today’s gospel reading we have a picture of a very human Jesus.
First, four gospels not just one. I mention this because the fact of four gospels reassures me. There are several paths to understand who Jesus is.
Four gospels. Think of it. But if it’s reassuring that there are four paths, then it’s also a challenge because then I have to bring myself to the text. And of course the text always points to Jesus because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us – the logos becomes guts. What gospel are you drawn to?
Mark’s Gospel. The New Oxford Annotated Bible tells us that “The Gospel according to Mark is generally recognized as the earliest attempt to reduce the apostolic tradition concerning Jesus the Messiah to written form”. The earliest attempt to write it down – to write a gospel – to tell the story of Jesus. To invite the hearers of the word to be the good soil.
There are several things that draw us to Mark. One is its brevity. One is the use of the word ‘immediately’ or ‘straightway’ in the King James Version – Jesus on the move. The aspect that we find in today’s reading is the gospel writer’s use of juxtaposition from the Latin – Juxta –meaning side by side – and the French word position.
Juxtaposition. That’s what writers do – put things side by side. That’s what artists and musicians do – and chefs and good teachers. Putting two things side by side and inviting us to look and think and see what’s there.
In today’s reading two scenes – two episodes – a juxtaposition – just as there was last week with the woman with the hemmorhage and the synagogue’s leader’s daughter.
First scene today, Jesus could do no good deed of power in his home town. Why would the writer include this story? This doesn’t reflect well on Jesus. Notice the envy – notice their questions, “Where did he get all this? What is this wisdom? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” And they took offence at him. And Jesus says, “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown and among their own kin, and in their own house”. And he could do no deed of power there. Interesting. Why?
Somehow this makes Jesus more human. More vulnerable. There is this idea that Jesus is some kind of superman – super healer. Mark paints a different picture. Jesus in relationship with the people around him and not fully in control. Last Sunday’s gospel, power went forth from him to heal an unknown woman. Today’s passage – he can do no deeds of power there. He was amazed at their unbelief. It seems they were not receptive. Mark is telling us that there must be openness for God to work through Jesus. Jesus is not an unconnected Messiah. God’s power working through Jesus needs an open heart – the good soil – to take root and bear fruit and it wasn’t happening that day in Nazareth. There needs to be a relationship for love to come – for healing love to enter. That’s what we saw last week.
Mark is also reminding us that familiarity isn’t always helpful because we miss things – we can get comfortable with who we think Jesus is and dismiss him. His hometown friends –we know this guy. The people you would expect to be receptive aren’t.
Mark – the great juxtaposer then tells another story. This one of action – the calling and sending of the twelve – sending them out two by two and gave them authority. “So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them”.
What do you see here? This picture has the message that the work of Jesus is to continue and that the purpose of the community of Jesus is to be called and sent. Calling involves action – sending. Calling is not just an experience – it has direction and focus. Every wake up call has a turning point. For the work we’re called to by God, there is the backing of the author. There will be refusal and office but there will also be those who welcome. He sent them out two by two.
There are such interesting pictures of Jesus in Mark –the author who is always putting scenes side by side and inviting us to think and see with new eyes. This is the author who juxtaposed the healing of the blind man in chapter 8 with Peter’s confession of faith. We’re to open our eyes to see who Jesus is.
So today – Jesus being available to give gifts for us to receive and Jesus sending out with courage and conviction. What vision of incarnation is being worked out here? Mark wants us to see Jesus as human – totally human – he suffered rejection. He wasn’t understood. He was envied. He was not welcomed. And he is also the one who sends out with confidence – con-with – fides – faith.
Sending – receiving. So what could this mean for this morning? What picture of Jesus do we need to hear as persons and as a community?
This morning Mark wants us to see Jesus as fully human – in his hometown – and as having the authority of God – as God’s Messiah.
I heard a story of a pastor who decided one Sunday morning to stand outside his church as people were coming in, holding a sign that simply said, “There but for the grace of God . . .” People were moved – that he would do this – and demonstrate his own humanity and God’s grace. At the end of the service, a woman came up to him, and told him how much this had affected her and asked what he was planning to do for the second service. He said he only thought of doing it for the first service. So she said, “Give me the sign” and then she stood outside the church holding up “there but for the grace of God . . .”
Mark wants us to know Jesus not as a someone familiar but as someone who invites us into relationship with him with all the mystery and challenges of getting to know someone in love.
And like any relationship there are layers and layers of all the things we are. And so often when we think about a relationship with God I wonder, are we really thinking of a relationship?
Because life is about deepening our learning about God’s love and furthering the action of God’s love. It’s about looking in and looking out. It’s about holding up a sign for the world to see that says, ‘there but for the grace of God . . .”
Because the call is to be open. We don’t know the future because it hasn’t happened yet. And Jesus as guest requires people as hosts who are open to what he might invite them to do as guests.
And Mark wants us to look at the whole picture and be open and see this person –human and divine – who receives and sends the love of God.
We are juxtaposed with God – side by side through Jesus to receive the love of God, side by side. Amen.
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