Monday, July 9, 2012

Sermon: 6 B Pentacost (Proper 9) 8 July 2012

2 Sam 5:1-5,9-10; Ps 48; 2 Cor 12:2-10; MARK 6:1-13

This is our God forever and ever; God shall be our guide for evermore. AMEN.

“Prophets are not without honor, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Prophets receive great honor everywhere but their hometown, families and friends. Jesus makes this dreary, often true, remark when he goes home briefly. He could only do “some healings,” with the implication, that if you’re very sick, you’re willing even to let the hometown boy try to heal you, because you haven’t much to lose; for weighty matters, a stranger would know more than you know, more than what your neighbors or teachers, friends, officials, and other homefolk know. If you’re having a problem, if you could have, someone of the homefolks would (or should) have solved it, and they didn’t—so what good are your own resources?

(I’d observe that when there’s a competition for virtually any Episcopal job, and someone in the running has a Brit accent, he/she virtually always gets the job. Similarly both Mitt Romney and Deval Patrick’s significant gubernatorial pre-election experience was outside any connection to the Great and General Court or the seediness of other local politics. The Radcliffe medal for some Woman’s Significant Contribution is NEVER given to a graduate of Radcliffe/ Harvard, I’d say in a really mixed message sort of way. I note, Jesus said none of these whines such as, “People in Sidon, Bethany, and Tabgha always listen, but you never…)

Here he’s sending out his disciples, two by two. This comment was only about where work was apt not to be successful. He told the disciples to travel light, and then here’s the point: “he gave them authority over the unclean spirits,” so “they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” Disciples then were supposed to do work as well as simply being prophets, prophet here meaning a person who speaks out, and to know when the ministry was not appreciated. Jesus told them to recognize when their work wasn’t working, and to make no complaints, nor excuses—but just to move on.

What’s that authority Jesus gave them; how is it connected to what we’re to do, and what we do, averring the Baptismal Covenant, both saying it for ourselves and in behalf of Nolan, now to be baptized.  We’re each and all “to continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers.”  We’re to “persevere in resisting evil, and when we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.” It’s what Jesus sent the Apostles to do: proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.

How were they—and we—supposed to do that? What’s that activity and work? “To seek and serve Christ in all persons loving our neighbors as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.” Was their job so different from what we are called to do? They were sent directly by Jesus, while we hear this less directly, although its intent is the same. It’s the same charge to every baptized person, every Christian.

Did Jesus mean for us not to be a prophet, not to speak out for Christ, unless away from home? Does that mean being elsewhere, not home? Parents of babies can’t go elsewhere, but they can be participating church members where they are and persevere in resisting evil. They can provide models for seeking and serving Christ in all persons and respecting the dignity of every human person. Will all children hearing these words of and by Jesus from parents, listen carefully, and put them right into action, respecting their parents? Well, no. We all often don’t listen to, or, is it, that we don’t hear what the most familiar people say to us? We don’t because we don’t. It may be we say or hear the same things too often. (It’s particularly gratifying to hear one’s grown up children, as parents, saying just what had been said to them, being said to their children, and sometimes in the same frustrated tone they’d heard.) It may be they don’t honor what we say, but they apparently did hear, absorb, and learn some of what we said. Whether they do or not, we can shake off criticisms as “familiarity breeds contempt” or Jesus’ version: “a prophet is not without honor except in his home town” explanation.   

He is also saying, though, that prophets, people who speak out, do have honor everywhere but at home. Whether we each turn out to be speaking and acting at home or non-home, we are to be prophets. Here, though, we might mind how we issue outspoken comments. At the beginning of General Convention, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke, concerned, as are many around the Church in parishes, dioceses, and on the national stage about the contentiousness, squabbling, backbiting, and gossiping we all hear. She said, "We have opportunities here in abundance to forswear those evils, to lay down our various weapons of division, and to work together for the commonweal of God’s created world.  Is our faith lively enough to do works toward that kind of abundant life?" This sounded like a message I’d read on the House of Bishops website just before Convention. “I find a very depressing view of Episcopal Christians -- snarky, sniping at each other, tearing each other and the church down.  I entreat you who are at GC to edit your thoughts before posting. Think about how those outside the convention and outside the church will view what you are saying. I believe in transparency and fair criticism - but mostly I see it being used to vent.”

A prophet’s role is to speak out the joyful word of promised salvation for all, the building and coming of God’s reign, and the seeking of justice for all, and so has no need to carp about anything. That good word to spread could take all of us all, all our days, all our nights, all our tweets, all our blogs, all our postings, all our conversations, all our assessing, and simply all our all. At every level, we are charged to be prophets, and wherever we are, some around us are homefolks, used to whatever we say, say, and say again—but there are some newcomers in our circle. Everyone hears the negative remarks, because they’re fundamentally unkind, whether true or not. To tell stories of salvation, to tell stories of justice, to tell stories of joy and good news takes stopping the easy complaints we all have, and find the real work of the Spirit, we’re all even more surrounded by, but we hesitate —maybe it doesn’t seem like news or cynically clever.

Think of a generous, hard-working story that happened to you this week. I heard several, and they really were more emblematic of God’s reign than Yankee wins, cutting-off drivers, or whatever leaps to mind as complaints. I think of two young women who went to western Mass. to fetch a small child for her ailing mom, and not one but each grandmother dropped whatever they were doing, one taking a bus and one driving to help the parents and their small child. No one was hesitant or complaining—they all rearranged and showed up. I think of Elizabeth Kaeton’s story of trying to get to Convention and being stuck in an unac’d airport, with a non-English speaking, poor, family, whose son fainted. The boy’s parents panicked at the thought of the bill if EMTs looked at the boy, and so refused treatment. All the waiting passengers were hot and upset. One explained to them that there would be no charge. One took his empty water bottle filled it, and handed it to the boy. The father was distraught that he had neither thought of bringing an empty bottle, nor had the $6.50 to buy water. The person offering the bottle said he’d been traveling for years and years and had just thought of bring along an empty, soothing the man who was blaming himself for his son’s dehydration. Someone heard that the family was moving back to parents, because they’d been paying such high medical bills, they’d lost their housing. Another passenger passed a hat, and it was full by the time the plane was called, and all were on it. The child was ok; everyone felt better; and help had been found and accepted. No one in that waiting room’s story was about the broken air conditioning. Can we find the prophetic story in all we do, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, striving for justice for all, and loving our neighbor, even our home town neighbors as ourselves? Whether we win praise as real prophets may well depend on who’s hearing us. We may sound like the neighbor’s ne’er do well carpenter’s son—not an Internet whiz, or some same ole same ole, or flashy newcomer. Kathleen Norris talks about the extrusion of any newcomer teacher, minister or doctor—because they DID suggest new things, but her townsfolk also rejected anything new from homefolk, and so got stuck in a pattern of controlled non-change, where carping and gossip provide the only liveliness. That is not what Jesus calls us to do. We’re called to be prophets, to say out: Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior; we’re to say it and say it, coming to believe it, and saying it again. Some will hear us; some won’t. We’re called to keep saying it out, knowing however we’re heard, however we speak out Jesus waits for us in Paradise: Good News. AMEN  

© Katharine C. Black, 8 July 2012 St. John’s Boston, MA