Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, July 7, 2024

YEAR B 2024 pentecost 7

Pentecost 7, 2024
Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2-10
Mark 6:1-13

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, the first thing we have to do is define the word “prophet,” because it comes up in two of today’s readings.  We tend to think of a prophet as someone who knows the future, who can predict what is going to happen, someone you’d want next to you when you’re playing the lottery.  But a prophet is a person who speaks on behalf of God.  A prophet receives messages from God and passes them on to other people.  So then, a prophecy might foretell the future—like the birth of the Messiah—but usually a prophecy is simply just a message from God.

In the first reading, from Ezekiel, God fills Ezekiel with the Spirit and tells him to speak to the people, and to say, “Thus says the Lord God,” so that “they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.”  Ezekiel will speak for God.  That one fits right in with our definition of what a prophet is:  One who speaks on behalf of God.

And in the reading from Mark, Jesus is also delivering a message from God, when he is teaching in the synagogue.  Before this, Jesus has been out, healing the sick, raising the dead, and so forth, and eventually comes around the lake to his own hometown: Nazareth.  He is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and is interrupted by the grumbling of the crowd.  They start asking one another, isn’t this the carpenter?  Mary’s son?  The brother of these young people we know?  How can it be that he is speaking with authority, with wisdom?  We know him.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.”  Well Jesus’ response is a first-century Palestine version of that saying, sort of borrowed from the Greeks.  “Prophets [or philosophers], are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”  Jesus seems to expect this response from the hometown crowd.  It is human nature to refuse to have faith in what is familiar.  Bring in some traveling charlatan selling a snake-oil miracle cure and people line up with cash in hand.  Tell people that their local doctor knows best and people say, “Oh please!  I know her.”

We do it in our pop culture too.  Think of the 60’s when the exotic Transcendental Meditation movement swept eastward from California.  Or how the British Invasion of rock music spread across the country.  What is foreign is exotic; what is local is suspect, or inferior.  Give me this new group from across the ocean rather than the local bar band down the block—who might actually be better musicians!

And, most curiously, we do this in the Church as well.  The charismatic preacher comes to town and starts a mega-church, and attracts thousands of worshipers.  While the local denominational pastor who preaches the gospel, visits the sick, and administers the sacraments finds their congregation dwindling away over time.  Flashy lights and outsiders tend to outweigh weekly sustenance.  After all, isn’t the local pastor or priest the person we know?  Isn’t she the one who baptized little Sarah?  Isn’t he the one who disagreed with me over what color to paint the church basement?  And isn’t this the same leaky stone building I have spent a lifetime of Sundays in?  How could anything miraculous happen here?  How could this week-in and week-out message really change my life?  It’s all so . . . familiar.

Ah, the week in and week out.  That is what is interesting to me.  Because we Episcopalians actually specialize in the familiar, the tangible, the day-to-day stuff.  We do it sacramentally, with bread and wine, and water and words.  In the sacraments, we use the stuff of daily life; and we believe that God uses them too.  And in that moment, a connection is made that is made nowhere else.  God comes to meet us in bread and wine at this Altar.  God comes to meet us, when water is poured over our heads at that font. 

We might well ask, “Isn’t this just the bread from those little cellophane wrappers in the cupboard?  Isn’t this just the wine that the Altar Guild got from the bottle on Saturday morning?  Isn’t that pitcher of water for the baptism just from the faucet in the sacristy?”  Yes.  They are.  They are indeed.  And there’s the beauty of it!  We don't need spectacle because God uses the familiar.

We use the familiar around St. Timothy's all year long.  In the branches we carry on Palm Sunday.  In the ashes we don on Ash Wednesday, which are made from those same palms.  In the pages of those simple prayer books and hymnals in the pew racks.  Familiar stuff, being put to extraordinary use.  And think of the ordinary people serving God and our neighbors, from vacuumers to choir members, from readers to gardeners, from Vestry members to those who cleaned up after our Founders’ Day luncheon.  Extraordinary acts from ordinary people.

And this takes us back to a crucial little segment of this Gospel reading.  After Jesus gives the townspeople the smackdown of the hometown prophet not being welcome, we are told “he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

Okay, two things.  First, the phrase, “no deed of power” does not usually go with “except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”  Even when we are feeling at the peak of our personal power, I doubt any of us have laid hands on doubting sick people and cured them.

And, secondly, well, this takes a bit of setup.  Throughout Mark’s gospel, leading up to today’s reading, faith is connected to healing.  Just last week with the bleeding woman, and the dying daughter, we heard that faith was the key to healing.  And, in the case of Jairus’s daughter, it was faith of the father, not the little girl.  But in Jesus’ hometown, we see something new.

Jesus is amazed at their unbelief.  And, remember, Jesus has seen some amazing things!  He is amazed at their lack of faith, their unbelief.  And yet, he lays his hands on sick people and cures them.  Even in the midst of this unbelief that amazes Jesus, the healing power of God is at work.  Faith is not always necessary for healing.

Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, we often hear of faith as being the thing that empowers us to move mountains, to cast out demons, to heal the sick, feed the poor, and usher in the kingdom.  But what is honestly more important to me is this question: what does Jesus do without faith?  What does God do for those who have no faith, or who have lost their faith?  In short, is God active in the world in the absence of faith?

And in today’s gospel, we have the answer.  In the absence of faith, Jesus lays his hands on people and heals them.  When we are filled with contempt at the familiarity of Jesus, he still heals us.  When we are absolutely certain that it is regular old bread and wine on that Altar, Jesus is somehow still present.  God meets us in the ordinary things of life, like food and drink.  But God also meets us in the ordinary people in our lives, like friends, family, and neighbors.  

And, most important of all, God still comes to us in the absence of belief.  Jesus lays his hands on us, and heals us, even though we have doubts, even though we have questions.  Even though we are convinced that the familiar—what we know and experience in our daily lives—is not enough.

Is this not Mary’s son?  
Oh yes, he certainly is.
And, it turns out, that’s exactly what we need him to be.



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