The Very Rev. Tom Callard – February 3, 2019
Who owns God? Who claims God? Whose side is God on? That’s a question to think about today. For example: is God a Patriots fan or a Rams fan. By the way, those are the teams in the Superbowl tonight. But the issue running through the Gospel we have today is this question of – is God on someone’s side, and is it our side? And if this is how we think, do we really see the presence of God?
In some sense we have been taught that God is on our side, that God has blessed and ordained he United States of America, that God has especially blessed those of us who are Christians, who are doing well in life, and who have success. People believe that a successful life is the sign of the presence of the blessing of God.
And there’s nothing wrong with believing that God is with us. But is God also with them, whoever they are? Which makes you wonder: could God root for the Rams? Could God favor another country aside from the United States? Could God bless others who are not Episcopalians or even Christians, or who are not successful in life, who are not even doing well at all, could they also have the presence of Jesus Christ and the blessing of God too?
If you remember from last week, Jesus was in the temple, reading from the Scroll of the Prophet Isaiah, saying how the Spirit of the Lord is upon him and he has been sent to do good things, like bring good news to the poor, release to captives, eyesight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free. And just after saying all those things last week, this week the tide turns. The mood changes, and the same people who loved him are now ready to throw him off a cliff. And all because Jesus suggests that God may not be just with them.
And it all starts when someone there in the Synagogue recognizes Jesus and says: look isn’t this Joseph’s son. And there’s this murmur through the crowd when everyone recognizes him. And suddenly things change, because this feeling of familiarity falls upon them. And no longer do they see Jesus as Christ. They only see Joseph’s son.
Familiarity is an odd thing. The more familiar you are with something, the more likely you are not to see it or appreciate it. For example, those of us who live in Springfield pass near the Basketball Hall of Fame on a regular basis. It’s just on the other side of the highway. It’s this odd shaped building and at night there are huge basketballs which light up the sky. More than once I’ve wondered why the moon is shining up there, only to realize that it’s just the basketball hall of fame.
But somewhere in Chicago there’s a child who has grown up loving the Chicago Bulls and hearing stories of Michael Jordan and maybe even Scotty Pippin. And that child would absolutely love for his family to take a trip to Springfield Massachusetts to see the Basketball Hall of Fame and admire the stuff they have about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
But that’s never going to happen. Unfortunately, there’s no way this child’s family has the means to gather all the children into the car and take this three day trip to the Basketball Hall of Fame and back. So for that child, what we have right here in our own back yard is something magical and special and a dream. And for us, it’s just another thing we pass on the way to Connecticut.
In the Gospel there’s a moment when Jesus stops being the Christ who is the Messiah and the Holy one of God, and he starts being the son of Joseph. And in that moment the shine is gone, and the luster disappears, what was special is no longer there. And it is because of their familiarity. They don’t see him. They don’t see God. Their eyes are blinded by their associations with Joseph, and Mary, and the family and they memories they have of them and the things they know about them as local people. Yet standing before them is the same being. And Jesus knows this, which is why he says that a prophet is not accepted in the prophet’s home town.
The implications for us are great. For it is so easy to forget just how incredible it is that we encounter Jesus Christ on a regular basis. Especially when we come here week after week, which I hope we do, and we hear these stories of him, we look at these images of him in our windows, and we take his body and blood into our hands. And it so easily becomes just something else. Just one thing from among the many things we do.
Oh it’s Sunday morning. It’s Superbowl Sunday, let’s get our breakfast, get dressed, we’ll drive over to church, hope we find a parking spot, and receive into our lives the gift of our living Savior, the God incarnate who created the universe, and then we get back in the car and drive home in time to make get wings, sit back and watch the game. It’s a good, normal day.
And in the middle of that day there was something that was life-changing and incredible. For you received at some point in the middle of the day that life of God into your life, the being of God into your being. And you were blessed, and your sins were forgiven and you were set free. But maybe you didn’t even know it. For it was not God in Christ you found in the temple, but it was Jesus, Joseph’s son. We are blinded to things because of our familiarity.
So it’s worth thinking about how we experience Jesus Christ as faithful Christians who come here on a regular basis, where we have the immense and awesome presence of God with us, but we may not always see it or be aware of it. Let’s take time to ask ourselves regularly if it is Christ we encounter in our life, or something regular which blinds us.
What Jesus is offering in the synagogue today is the power of Christ, while they’re stuck on Joseph’s son. Which is so convenient for them because think of all he can do for them as he is one of their own. You know if someone from your town gets elected to something important, you can be sure that good things will come your way. One day if Jesse Lederman, who is a city counselor in Springfield and a member of the Cathedral, if he gets elected as governor, you know the spoils of the commonwealth will head right here. At least I hope. Because he’s one of our own.
So the people are glad to find that the Messiah is also Joseph’s son because they expect great things for them. This is good news for the neighborhood. He’s our people. So forget about the Rams winning. Pity the Rams, because Jesus is a New Englander.
But the problem with this thinking is that it leads us to believe that if he’s ours, he cannot also be theirs, whoever the they are. For he can’t be both ours and theirs. Ours is a preferential and possessive thing.
And Jesus knows what they’re thinking. He knows they’re thinking this in the synagogue. So he says to them: now are you going to tell me “Doctor cure yourself,” meaning – are you going to say to me, my people, that I have to focus my ministry here among us? Are you going to tell me that the miracles I performed in Capernaum I also have to perform with you, because this is where I grew up?
And Jesus tells them no. It’s clear that he doesn’t hate the people or have anything against them. It’s just that his mission and his purpose directed somewhere else.
I remember as a child fighting with my sister, who is two years younger than I am. And it wasn’t knocking each other out or throwing punches, but there was a fair amount of bickering and squabbling. And in my mind my sister always started it. She was the one who did something wrong. And I, of course, was innocent, and Christ-like. Because I am innocent and Christ-like.
And when my mom got involved it always seemed unfair to me because not only was she not on my side, but she seemed to be more on the side of my sister, perhaps because she is younger and weaker and more vulnerable. My mom would say this thing I always hated: “It takes two to tango,” as if I had done something wrong. Which I usually had. And she bent down and cared for my sister, and I felt jealous of her love. But then she also bent down and cared for me too.
And Jesus is like that. He’s going to love us. He will care for us. His presence will be with us forever. But he’s also especially focusing his mission and kingdom on the care for theweak, and vulnerable, and needy. He will go to your sister first, if she’s on smaller and weaker. That’s the Jesus of the Gospels. He has a preferential mission to those on the edge. He just said it: the poor, the prisoners, the blind, the oppressed. But he’s not theirs and he’s not ours. He’s for everyone.
And the truth is whenever we draw a line between us and them, between the in and the out, whenever we build a wall, the God we know in Jesus Christ is going to be on the other side of that wall.
Look at these stories he tells us today. In the first, the prophet Elijah didn’t go to any of the widows in Israel, all of whom were in need, but he went to the widow at Zarephath, in Sidon. He went to one of them. And then the prophet Elisha did not go to any of the lepers in Israel, of which there were many. But he went to the leper Naaman who was Syrian. He went to one of them.
How hard it can be to accept that God loves them. And may even go to them before coming to us. It is a difficult thing for the people of Nazareth, especially because they assume that as one of our own, he is going to put the us first.
I think Jesus is doing the people of his home town a huge favor because he’s challenging them to see God, to see Christ. He’s saying: Look, my friends, I don’t know what you’re seeing here as Joseph the carpenter’s son. Go beyond that to see the Christ. Go beyond yourself to see that the world and the things you pass by every day are magical, when you can see them in the right light. They are filled with Christ. Go beyond this notion of the us and the them, these labels we hold onto. Go beyond being divided, go beyond being strangers, go beyond building walls.
And let your eyes see the Christ that lies within all things. Give yourself to the Christ that stands before you. Sometimes when we come to Jesus, we just have to leave part of us behind. And it can be today that we find him. It can be in the communion at the altar, in the person next to you right now, in those we have labeled as “them,” or in the prayers of our hearts tonight, as we lay down to sleep. This is the season of Epiphany, the season of seeing Christ. May it be so for us today. May we see Jesus everywhere.