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This Week's Sermon !

July 5, 2015 -

2 Corinthians 12: 2-10
Psalm 48
Mark 6: 1-13

Nothing to See Here!

At the time of my ordination, back in 1988, the last place I wanted to be to start my ministry was PEI, where I had been born and raised. In fact most of us, especially those of us in our 20's, were deliberately settled at some distance from where we grew up. The transfer and settlement process was very nerve wracking as it left at least the next three years of our lives in the hands of a committee, and presumably, the Holy Spirit. For the twenty-somethings in my class who happened to come from clergy families, the rule of thumb seemed to be “the better known the parent the further from home you should be” when you begin ministry. One wanted to be as far as possible from the areas where “dear old dad” was known.

Part of it is about finding your own voice. Getting your feet wet as a minister is easier when you are a stranger and people have no prior knowledge of you. Considering that there were about 28 ministry positions on PEI back then and I had at least some family connections in at least half of them, I was glad that this policy existed. I did not want to be continually identified as :”Mark’s little girl” Twenty years later, when I was finally back in PEI and one afternoon I walked into a hospital room, for a visit with a patient from Charlottetown who was convalescing from hip or knee surgery in the small community hospital there. When I introduced myself, the patient’s husband, a man in his 80s immediately said, “Oh, you must be Frank’s sister!”

I wonder if all professionals have similar issues: being concerned that people cannot make the shift - from the ‘kid next door’ to doctor, or lawyer or teacher, all newly educated and ready to take their place in the land of competent professional adults.

Perhaps the young teacher is afraid that the students’ parents know all the stories of a wild and misspent youth but perhaps the fear is somewhat misplaced? You might be able to fool the doctor from away about your un-healthy lifestyle or how hard you had been trying to get more exercise over the years but when the doctor grew up with your own kids, and spent as much time in your house as they did in their own, its harder to make that shift; its harder to hide from your own truth and some people would rather not deal with that!

My first sermon in my home church was probably about a very safe topic and I likely thanked them for all of the support they gave me in my six years of university and I was given a few gifts and we had a lovely time. Since that time, I attend worship when I am on vacations and lead in worship on occasion and that is about that! Except for the seven years I was on PEI I was off to my own church, a very safe province away. Sure, people had their opinions about what was going on in the church and sure people talked about it on the phone, or at the hairdresser’s, but it did not involve my relatives! I could speak my own truth without having to worry about my family taking sides or having opinions about how things were going.

Jesus did not have it so easy.

Of course he was not the local kid gone off to university and now coming home all educated, and a newly minted rabbi, he was just the local carpenter, looking into a second career. His was a very class conscious society and regular folks did not become religious leaders!

The content of this sermon is not recorded but perhaps he did not stick to safe subjects such as the Nazareth equivalent of aspirations to “peace, order and good government”, it was a sermon that turned the world on its head. If I were preaching in the USA, I would probably use the phrase, ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. Perhaps he dared to take their scripture and their age old, FUTURE, hopes and said that they were NOW being fulfilled.

For whatever reason, their amazement turns to disdain and they begin to when he claims that NOW is the time for the fulfilment of the age old promises that had kept the people going for many, many generations!.

Notice that they go from saying how proud they all are to, “how dare he! He’s only Mary’s boy”. Did you notice that? Mary’s son! Some commentators have said this because Joseph had died by that time, It may have been true, but I think that it was a deliberate slur - an insult. They all knew that not enough time had passed between the marriage and Jesus’ birth and they stated what everyone had been thinking: “maybe Joseph is not his father!” We’re certainly not going to listen to HIM.

It is interesting that the greater scandal is not the grand promises of God that are supposed to happen at some time in the future but that these promises are being fulfilled right here and right now. They are fulfilled both in Jesus’ words and in his actions of healing and forgiveness.

We have the grand stories of the past, which include the passages we are reading today and we have the passages that seem to be about the future, but what about right now? What about these lazy, hazy days of summer? What about the fifth of July, 2015? What about the 6th and the 7th and the day after that?

I remember hearing the moderator at the time, the Rt. Rev Stan MacKay speaking about the term “Holy Land”, used in reference to the “places where Jesus and the disciples lived and worked”. MacKay, challenged us with the Cree understanding that this land was holy. Canada is the Holy Land? Nova Scotia is the Holy Land. This is the Holy Land, on which we can celebrate the presence of God and participate in God’s plan to bless creation. We joke about this place, or that place being “God’s country”, and we usually mean that its “better” than some other place, but think about it for a moment! Just why is that far away land more special than the place in which we live and raise our families? It makes no sense?

Do we really believe that “this is the day God has made”? Do we believe this day is God’s gift and at least a partial fulfilment of God’s promise? Perhaps the more scandalous part is the idea that we have an invaluable part in fulfilling God’s will in the world.

This is not a new idea; over 1500 years ago, St Augustine is reported to have said, “Without God we cannot; without us, God will not”.

So why are we waiting for something to happen in the future? Why are waiting for something to happen somewhere else? Why are we waiting for someone to come and rescue us.

So Jesus has the audacity to claim to be the one to inaugurate the hopes of the people and asks them to participate in it.

A few weeks ago I attended a lecture series and the lecturer asked us to take another look at the term “Kingdom of God.” Of course when any phrase is translated from one culture and language to another, something is lost. He said that the Aramaic words usually translated as “Kingdom of God” should be rendered “companionship of empowerment”. Part of what Jesus was trying to teach was the paradox of “power in weakness, not in violence”! He spoke of “power with and not power over”. For Jesus, God was not some distant supernatural being, sending thunder, plague and famine as punishment, but a ‘father’ who took delight in his children.

What if we looked at the world as if God was in charge - not the country with the most nuclear weapons, the biggest army; the best credit rating with the international bond raters or the most well known leader? What if the country was viewed by how it treated its weakest members not by how wealthy or powerful. What if we saw salvation, not as avoiding the fires of hell, but as being saved from all of the things that sap true life and separate us from God?

This is the day God has created. In it we can live and praise and serve and know the fulfilment of God’s age old promises! Today is the day to experience God’s blessings - let us give thanks and rejoice.


1995- 2015 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

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