THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST – 8th July, 2012
St Matthew’s, Guildford
Yesterday morning, as on most Saturdays, KT and I were at a shopping centre. While KT went off to get her hair cut and to do a bit of shopping, I bought a coffee at the doughnut shop. The proprietor of the shop is rather like the old-fashioned barber, in that he likes to chat with anyone about the state of the world and anything else that irks him currently.
Yesterday’s gripe was about his twenty-two-year-old daughter and how she takes the family home for granted. A couple of days ago, her father handed her the bill for the registration of her car. Her response was along the lines of “What has this got to do with me?” Her dad carefully explained that he’d had covered such expenses while she was at uni, but it is now her turn to pay her own way. She was not happy. And she was even less happy when he told her that her car insurance will be due in January!
A further unhappiness ensued when she asked her dad why the cleaner wasn’t cleaning her room lately. Is response that he’d told the cleaner not to, elicited the response, “But what are slaves for?” He said to me and to anyone else who’d listen, “What am I supposed to do with her? She just takes me – and her mum – for granted!”
While it is not my place to speculate on what is wrong with this girl or her family, it seems clear to me that she is indeed taking a great deal for granted, and that – possibly – she has been too well looked after in her home to date. The trouble is that whatever we are familiar with can so easily be taken for granted.
In Australia, we have a pretty good system of social security and a health system which is the envy of probably three-quarters of the world’s population. But we still hear many complaints about the inadequacies of both systems. Perhaps more of us need to travel in Asia and Africa to see the low standards in many countries and therefore value our own more.
This familiarity leading to taking things for granted appears in today’s Gospel story of Jesus coming to his home town of Nazareth. He has been out and about in Galilee healing many people and teaching great crowds who hang on his every word. Last week we read of his healing a lady with a twelve-year-long haemorrhage and of his raising a dead twelve-year-old girl to life. Jesus is increasingly popular throughout the region, except when he comes home.
“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!”
So far, so good! But then they begin to question:
“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?”
Hang on! Who does he think he is? We’ve known him since his parents came back from Egypt when he was about four years old. We went to school with him, saw him learning his trade in his father’s carpentry shop; a lot of us have furniture he made, too. Who does he think he is, with all his fancy ideas? He’s just a carpenter?
“And they took offence at him.”
Sad words indeed!
And even sadder is what follows:
“And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”
Because the people of Nazareth were too familiar with Jesus – or, rather, because they thought they knew all about him and took him for granted – he could do no deed of power there – except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. If only he would come and heal just a few sick people here!
Shortly after this visit to Nazareth, Jesus sends out his disciples in pairs and even they “anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”
As I reflected on this reading, I found myself wondering whether the problem with much of the Church today – and that undoubtedly includes me – is that we take Jesus for granted; that we know him too well; and that we discount the challenge of his teaching so much that he can “do no deeds of power amongst us.”
And I wonder if a fourteen-minute annual meeting of parishioners says something about our comfortable complacency, too?
Many of us have known Jesus since we were in nappies. We have attended Sunday School and church; we had religious instruction in our schools; and we have “religiously” turned out for the celebrations of Christmas and Easter as a sort of duty and habit. Year, by year, we have followed the whole annual cycle of the church – Advent, Christmas, Lent, Holy Week & Easter and Pentecost & Trinity. And we know the story by heart.
But have we become immune to the call of Jesus to follow him; to take up our cross; to be ready to let go of all our possessions and to live in trust of him? We have often not taken seriously the commands to love God above all else and to love our neighbour as ourselves. We can say “Sorry” in the Confession every week and hear the words of absolution, without letting the message of Jesus challenge and change us.
I can preach every Sunday and still be so familiar with the message that I let it roll off the tongue so easily and yet not let it affect or change the way I live. I know all about Jesus – I studied three years at theological college, so I must know it all! 🙂 But I have to listen, not just talk.
We all need to try to get rid of our pre-conceived ideas of Jesus and to start to listen again to the stories; to hear, as though for the first time, his calling us to be his disciples, and to allow him not only to challenge us, but to change us from within. We need to allow Jesus to kick us out of our “comfort-zone” and to make us radically uncomfortable!
In the baptism liturgy this morning, the parents and godparents of Declan, Zeb and Harriet, are going to be asked to live as disciples of Christ, loving God with their whole heart and their neighbour as themselves, and to be living examples of this, encouraging their children and godchildren to grow up in his Way.
Too often, this sacrament of baptism is taken for granted. It’s our right, we think. It’s what the church owes us. Not so! Like all of God’s gifts, it is simply a gift – unearned, undeserved – a matter of grace. God freely welcomes all who come to be members of his family, the Body of Christ.
But every time we baptise and welcome, we are called ourselves to repentance, to the turning of our lives upside-down and about-face; to turn our back not only on “Satan and all evil” but on “selfish living and all that is unjust” in our lives and in the world around us.
The baptism of these little ones challenges us all to renew and refresh our faith; to take another look at Jesus; to listen more carefully to his call; and to follow more honesty what he says.
I’m sure that it’s not good that my friend’s daughter takes the benefits of living at home for granted. As they grow up, children have to learn the sense of responsibility that goes along with being a member of the family and of the household.
It’s even more important that we, Christians old and new, learn to take up our responsibilities as we benefit from the gifts of God in Jesus. I challenge you to have another look at Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on Mount (Matthew 5-7), for instance, and let his words sink in and change you.
Who knows what each of us can be if we really listen to him? And who knows what difference we will see in our lives and in our church if we allow him to challenge and change us?
The Lord be with you!