St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Epiphany 4 2013 Sermon
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Rev. Joyce Avery

We heard Lorraine's sermon last Sunday about Jesus reading the lesson at the synagogue in Nazareth and how the people gazed at him intently. Then he added, "These Scriptures came true todayl" All who were there spoke well of him and were amazed by the beautiful words that fell from his lips. "How can this be?" they asked. "Isn't this Mary and Joseph's son?"
 
Then he said, "Probably you will quote me that proverb, "Physician heal yourself"-meaning, "Why don't you do miracles here in your home town like those you did in Capernaum?" But I solemnly declare to you that no prophet is accepted in his own home townl" For example remember how Elijah the prophet used a miracle to help the widow of Zarephath-a foreigner from the land of Sidon. There were many Jewish widows needing help in those days of famine, for there had been no rain for three and one/half years, and hunger stalked the land; yet Elijah was not sent to them. Or think of the prophet Elisha, who healed Naaman, a Syrian, rather than the many Jewish lepers needing help."
 
These remarks stung them to fury; and jumping up, they mobbed him and took him to the edge of the hill on which the city was built, to push him over the cliff. But he walked away through the crowd and left them.
 
Jesus was aware of their reaction and demands that he perform his usual quality of miracles in Nazareth. Jesus knew that his message of a universal invitation- not restricted to Israel- would be unacceptable to the people of Nazareth. They were satisfied with their own heritage and understanding, and were offended by the notion that they did not possess an exclusive status with God.
 
The people of Nazareth did not like to be reminded of these facts any more than they wanted to entertain the notion that Gentiles could be admitted to God's Kingdom.
 
Now the words of Jesus no longer seemed so gracious and admirable. The idea that God is present to all the poor and oppressed, regardless of their ancestral ties to Abraham, so enraged the people of Nazareth that they now sought to kill Jesus by driving him out of town and throwing him off a cliff.
 
They had their own preconceived ideas of how God was to act, and any challenge to these closely held beliefs shook them to the core. As Simeon had predicted at the birth of
Jesus, he would encounter rejection and opposition in his lifetime. Jesus must have felt the rejection by his own people and town, but was accepted by outsiders. This was also the pattern of his disciples.
 
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Lottery winners. Have you ever met one? I didn't meet one, but there was a young fellow on First Street here in Montesano that won one of the first One Million jackpots.
 
It is quite an exciting thing when a lottery winner is from your hometown, he probably bought the ticket here at a local store. Wouldn't it be nice if they were from your family? Maybe if it were a family member, they might share some with you. Then you find out that they are not planning to share anything with you, but they are giving some to another person or charity. Then what?

An article in March 2012 from the International Business Times provides two cautionary tales about people who stuck it rich. One fellow from West Virginia won the lottery and then had two relatives and his daughter's boyfriend die. He also had a number of lawsuits filed against him and blames it all on the winnings. Another winner, was 26 yrs old when we won the large Illinois lottery. He was then kidnapped and murdered by his sister-in-law and her boyfriend in hopes that they would receive the winnings after his death.
 
One person's fortune can turn another into a jealous, scheming, sometimes tortured mess. This doesn't just go for lottery winners, but also for any kind of joy that another has. Your co-worker gets the promotion you've been striving for. Your friend gets on the varsity team that you desperately wanted to be on too and you didn't make it. We can't help but berate the other person in our minds and close our hearts off to shared joy or a widened vision of blessing. It's human nature and it is difficult to combat.
 
This story is about how it was with Jesus when he came to Nazareth to teach, the locals were quite proud of him. After all, they had heard of the things that he had done at Capernaum and were convinced that he was some sort of prophet from God. They believed that Jesus had just won the lottery, so to speak, and was about to shower them with God's favor because, after all, he was one of them, so of course that is what he would do. Besides, they agreed with what he was saying - at least at first. But as long as they were pleased, they were proud and they wanted to bask in the light of a special favor from God.
 
It is interesting how the mind can turn quickly when we do not agree with someone. We may feel that a pastor, CEO, a political leader, a teacher or a friend is wonderful until they say or do something that isn't exactly what we believe. Then we are shocked or angry. After all, we like to congregate with like-minded people because it feels good to be part of a group that we understand and that we think understands us as well. When someone who we feel belongs to us says something contrary or challenges the current status, we are often quick to turn on them. It is one thing for an outsider to say or do something divergent, but it's a whole other game when it is one of our own.
 
This is where we find Jesus in our Gospel story today. When the unheard-of inclusiveness of Jesus' message became clear to those in his home congregation, their commitment to their own community and the boundaries they erected overtook the joy that they initially had in receiving a prophet of God in their midst.
 
This is the cautionary tale that we received from those at Jesus' hometown synagogue. They were so focused on what they believed God's blessing should look like - just for them- that they missed the opportunity of grace that Jesus was bearing. They were so filled with rage that they drove him out of town. How dare Jesus tell them who should be included? How dare Jesus tell us?
 
Part of becoming a maturing Christian is learning how to put our boundaries and expectations aside in order to listen to what God's are. Being a Christian isn't easy. Neither Jesus nor Paul ever tell us that it is. It requires things of us, as it says in our Book of Common Prayer's Catechism. "The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship, and to work, pray and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.
 
When Jesus speaks to his hometown synagogue, he's speaking to our church, too, Paul echo's Jesus' message, "And now faith, hope, and love abide, and the greatest of these is love." "What does God's love look like in our church? Open the ears of your heart to listen for it, and walk in grace to find out.
Amen
 
Parts of this sermon are from Danae Ashley.



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