Sermon: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (B) – 5th July 2015

End of the Ministry of the Reverend John Cornish

St Alban’s Anglican Church Epping  9:30 am

Readings:   2 Samuel 5:1-15, 9-10;  Psalm 48;  2 Corinthians 12:2-10;  Mark 6:1-13

I have come to the end of my time here. It has been good for me, I hope for you too, and now it is time for us all to move on into the next part of our life journeys into God’s closer presence. This mornings reading are helpful for all of us as we plot the next step in our journeys.

In the first reading we hear of the appointing David as the new king after King Saul. David, as we know, was not perfect. He was a hero, a great king, a distant relative of Jesus, but just the same he had many dropped stitches in the fabric of his being. We all know his failings. He was just like all of us here. None of us are perfect. As you go about choosing your new rector and allowing him, I am sorry that he can’t be a her, my request of you is that you welcome him into this wonderful community in the manner that you have done for my family and me. Do not expect him to be anything other than a fellow child of God made of the same stuff as you and me.

David is appointed king, God’s king. This is God’s church and the new rector will be appointed by God to lead you into unknown territory through the agency of your nominators. His power as rector will be in shepherding and covenant making. As with David, the appointment of the next rector will be governed by his and your care and mutuality. From the 23rd Psalm to Jesus’ declaration of his own death, “I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep” the image of the shepherd has been a central expression of the church’s vision of leadership in the service of God’s kingdom.

Covenant has always been central to the proper understanding of Israel and the church. Leadership never functions apart from a mutual community of shared needs and responsibilities. This is the how the body of Christ, the priesthood of all believers, in this community and every Christian community, should function. The future of this parish community is in an intimate relationship between priest and people. It can be no other way.

At the heart of this morning’s Gospel passage is Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth, and his observation that “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house”. At issue here is another kind of question of power, weakness, and grace. By the time Jesus comes to Nazareth, he has acquired a growing reputation as an authoritative teacher and an effectual healer; many, many people in the region are moved by him and attracted to the Way he teaches. The next rector will come with a reputation.

Not everyone is so impressed by Jesus. Jesus’ own family are bemused by this sudden strange behaviour of their son and sibling, they think he’s gone out of his mind, and they try to get him to come home quietly and stop embarrassing them. The townsfolk who knew Jesus before his baptism and beginning of his public ministry have a similar reaction. “Where did this man get all this?” they say. “We know him,” they say, “We know his family, we know his origins, we know that he is one of us, not some prophet or healer or Messiah”. And, they take offense at him, as if they were saying, “Who does he think he is, passing himself off as some sort of teacher, as someone who is better than us?”

Instead of being welcomed as a “hometown boy made good”, they react to Jesus as a “hometown boy putting on airs”. They are so convinced that they already know everything about Jesus that is important to know, that they are incapable of recognizing in his “wisdom” and “mighty acts” the new thing that God is doing. They are so bound in the power of their preconceptions that they cannot admit to the seeming weakness of having something new to learn about Jesus, about God and about themselves.

In not admitting their weakness, they make themselves incapable of receiving the grace of God Jesus would share with them. Without accepting that you, collectively, do not have all the answers the ministry of the new rector will be hamstrung. You will also be hamstrung if he thinks that he has all the answers. He needs to be a person who is open to learn from you about what means to be a member of the body of Christ in this community.

Mark notes Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them”. Only those who recognized the weakness of their sickness were able to set aside the power of pride and open themselves enough to receive creating and re-creating grace. New periods of ministry require everyone to be open to new ways of doing things. The Spirit moves in mysterious ways beyond our understanding.

Perhaps in response to this failure in Nazareth, Jesus now expands his mission, not only preaching by himself, but by sending the Twelve to proclaim his message and enact his mission. Like Jesus, the Twelve call people to repentance, metanoia, conversion, transformation. They demonstrate the reality of such transformation by casting out demons, unclean spirits, and allowing more wholesome spirits to enter the healed and make them strong. It is our calling wherever we are to be Jesus to those we meet.

As I said in my farewell Rector’s letter in the Parish Magazine, quoting Teresa of Avila,

“Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

 

Jesus also warns his disciples, and that includes us, that not all will accept our message and ministry. As Jesus faced personal rejection at Nazareth, so there are those who would reject the message on less personal grounds: Pharisees, scribes, Temple authorities, among others. Those so called experts who know the aims and ideals of God as already given in Torah and tradition. Those people who are so convinced of their knowledge that they cannot let themselves be “weak” enough to accept that God is doing something graciously new in the mission of Jesus and his disciples.

In your case it maybe your acceptance of difference. In my time here this has been an inclusive community. We may not agree with everyone and each other but we allow others to have a different point of view and that is very confronting to many people. The world views of these people are built on preconceived ideas and any difference can cause the fortress within which they live to crumble, or so they think.

Nevertheless, and though they and we are sometimes likely to be rejected, it is important that we do as Jesus does, embodying the aims and ideals of God as given them. The people to whom the Twelve and you go will know that God has been at work among you. Whether these people can have the responsive grace to admit their weakness and make room for God’s new thing will be up to them.

Prior to this story, in last weeks Gospel reading, Jesus had just come from such an event where people had grabbed at him, pushing and shoving to get closer, pulling his robe, wanting to just touch him. He was famous. One might wonder what would amaze Jesus? Every once in a while Jesus would marvel at someone’s simple act of faith. He went to his hometown synagogue on the Sabbath. Everyone would be gathered for worship that day of the week. He spoke to his hometown friends and neighbours in that congregation. He is amazed that his own people, those he grew up with and regularly enquired of Mary how her son was doing, eyed him now as a stranger. “Yes, it is him, but what arrogance to speak to us like this.”

Jesus taught in the synagogue and they were offended. He wonders out loud “Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, among their own kin, and in their own house”. Yet, even in his own house, his brothers and sisters and his mother and father were baffled.

He was amazed that his own people choose to be offended because he was, shall we say, uppity? Familiarity breeds contempt in this case. They think that they know everything. They do not know everything about Jesus.

God does not know the future in the same way that God knows the past. The past is settled and the future is open. God provides possibilities to each unfolding event and then waits for the decisions we make and responds by offering more possibilities appropriate to the next unfolding moment. The future is radically open. If God was not involved in this way, then each event would simply repeat the previous event and there would be no change. Monotony would prevail. God provides truly new possibilities that, if chosen, lead to new outcomes and new exciting adventures, especially for this parish.

We see this divine behaviour many times in biblical stories. God responds to the characters in a dynamic give-and-take. Moses argued with God and got concessions. God is the only character in the Noah story that changes. If God’s power is expressed as creative and transformative, then the biblical stories become unpredictable.

This points to two aspects of God’s nature. There is one aspect of the divine nature that does not change. God’s power is creative transformation and will always be working in any and all events to creatively transform. God is always love. God always looks in love upon us and the rest of creation.

The other aspect of the divine nature is that God is continually making adjustments depending upon our decisions. In this way, God is dynamically involved with the unfolding of life, continually adjusting and responding to its unfolding by providing relevant possibilities to each moment.

God calls you and me out of our known present into an unknown future. God is the one who calls us into our own unknown future.

Be brave. Have courage and take that existential step into the wonderful future that confronts you. God will be there. Have no fear.

“Finally, brothers and sisters farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”[1]

(2 Corinthians 13:11-13)

[1] This sermon created using material from The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol II, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1998, and www.processandfaith.org/resources/lectionary-commentary/yearb prepared by Rick Marshall and Paul Namcarrow.

 

The Reverend John Cornish