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7/5/2009 - The Rev. Caron A. Gwynn - The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

posted May 21, 2010, 6:33 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:33 PM by Terry Brady ]
On the Sabbath, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. (Mark 1-3, NRSV)

May the mediation of our hearts and the words of our mouths be found acceptable in your sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.


My sister performed in a locally acclaimed play called “Inner City” in DC when she was a high school student. My family was very excited about this and we all went to see her on opening night at the L Street Theater. Thirty minutes into the play, my father asked "Where’s your sister?" I do not see her on the stage with everyone else.” My sister had been on the stage since the play began. However, my father did not recognize her as his daughter because he was looking for her in the way that he knew her.

My father did not recognize his daughter in the make up and costume because she appeared to be older than her actual age. We did not dare tell him her role in the play but I pointed her out to him. He felt comfortable now and became engrossed in the play. He did not take his eyes off my sister after that. He was a very proud dad watching his daughter perform in the play. He returned many times along with the neighbors we would take to see the performance.

Actually, I could not believe that I watching my sister on the stage singing and dancing. I kept saying to myself, ‘that’s my sister on the stage. Awesome! I could not believe the talent I was seeing on the stage. I felt like this even after she began to perform in plays or shows in New York. She was an actor on the stage. However, I know her as ‘my sister.’

Jesus was known as just one of the local folks in his hometown. He began his public ministry by teaching in all of the synagogues in Galilee. It was only natural for him to return to his hometown of Nazareth at some point. Most likely, perceptions of him were already formed in the minds of the Nazarenes. News of his miraculous powers were constantly circulating throughout the area. He arrived in Nazareth after having healed several people. You may remember the man possessed with demons and the hemorrhaging woman who could not stop bleeding. They both were healed. Jesus also resuscitated Jairus 12-year old daughter. Crowds of strangers followed him with curiosity. Many people left their homes to be by his side as disciples including the specially selected twelve men. However, the reception from his old neighbors and family his hometown was cold and unwelcoming.

Jesus was a little surprised by their blatant rejection of him especially after the teaching he gave for them in the synagogue. Yet, at the same time, he anticipated this would happen.

Mark does not provide us with specific details about what happened in the synagogue that caused such a negative response from the listeners. However, Luke provides us with some information that sheds light on the situation. It was customary for a visitor to the synagogue to be offered the opportunity to teach by the head ruler of the synagogue. The thing that Jesus loved most was to teach and here, was an opportunity he could not pass up by with taking advantage of the moment.

Jesus was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah to read. Jesus read. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God (he) has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God (He) has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." (Luke 18-19, 21 NRSV)

They marveled at his insight and wisdom though they questioned the source. Who was this person with such an authoritative manner indicating the prophet Isaiah was referring to him who was now standing in their presence? This was scandalous! The people were offended by the words of Jesus.

As far as they were concerned, he was Mary’s son; the carpenter who grew up there as a little boy. Their neighbors were his siblings. He and his father used to build their furniture. Their perceptions were that Jesus was an ordinary person. Now, through his actions and words, he was not human like them but Jesus claimed to have a divine nature like God! Jesus did not fit their conceptions of the Messiah. This man was familiar to them and he was one of their own. They could not think of him in any other light.

However, we know that God does work in ordinary people to serve as a witness to the marvelous works of peace, justice, love, and healing in the world. F.W. de Klerk was a regular church member. On his inauguration day, Pastor Bingle told him in a sermon that God was calling him to do God’s will for the country. His election was not to serve a select few but God was relying on him to be the President of all the people in South Africa. De Klerk was deeply moved and could be seen crying.

He asked his family to pray for him to do the will of God because God had revealed to him what to do as the President. He knew that following God’s will would mean rejection by his own people. He knew, however, what was in stake: by following God’s will. It would mean rejection by his own people. Later, de Klerk initiated negotiating with the African National Congress to disable the apartheid system in South Africa and he released Nelson Mandela after 27 years of incarceration. (from Bill Carter, Water Won’t Quench the Fire, p.94 in Lectionary, July 16, 2000).

I am sure there were many people in South Africa that did not expect de Klerk to do what he did. Many people were astonished and flatly dismissed him following his decision. His His own people had a different perception of their newly elected President. However, God had a different plan and de Klerk allowed God to use him.

The rebuffs of his own people did not stop Jesus from continuing to teach the good news of the Gospel, healing the sick, and liberating the world. Jesus died on the cross out of his love for us. God used the synagogues as a place of witness to reveal the purpose of Jesus’ ministry in his hometown and everywhere else he taught.

On this 4th of July weekend, I am reminded of what Kathleen Townsend Kennedy wrote. She said that it was time we stopped distorting faith to serve politics or silencing the better angels of our nature. It is time we started allowing faith to breathe freely and speak honesty, seeing the holy in our fellow human beings and our duty to one another on God’s earth. (Synthesis 2003)

We are called to remember that we are ordinary people like the disciples whom Jesus sent out one by one and two by two to do the ministry of the church. We are called to listen through prayer and do the will of God as a witness of God’s love as Christians in the world. During these times of discord in the Church we are called to overcome different perceptions by other people of who we are and the denunciations of others.

Remembering our collect let us pray…
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.
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