Thursday, July 9, 2015

Our Hometown

Sermon preached July 5, 2015

Texts: Mark 6:1-13

            Bruce Springsteen, “My Hometown”
            So let me just say I find today’s Scripture reading incredibly awkward.  Jesus returns to his hometown synagogue and teaches there.  The response is incredulous.  “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 hand!  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?”  And they took offense at him.
            Jesus’ response is not exactly understanding.  “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”… He was amazed at their unbelief.
            The result is that “he could do no deed of power there except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.”
            A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child – to use the words from The Message.  Awkward.  This is my hometown.  I have relatives here.  These are the streets I played on as a child.  Yet I have been treated with respect and love.  I have been deeply touched by the kind wishes received on my birthday and tenth anniversary here as your pastor. This has been a wonderful place to be, and will continue to be so.
            I don’t think the passage is meant as a blanket slam against hometowns. So what else is going on here and what might it have to do with us?
            Part of what is going on here is that we can be lulled to sleep by the familiar, fail to see what is really wonderful and magical about the everyday and ordinary.  I have long loved the lines from Walt Whitman: /and later: /.  Some half a century later, in a very different kind of work, the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead would write about the potential narrowness of philosophy, and how a good philosophy needed to take into account all the data of the world.  Philosophy may not neglect the multifariousness of the world – the fairies dance, and Christ is nailed to the cross (Process and Reality, 513)  Now the term “fairies” has come to mean many things, but Whitehead was using it in the older English poetic sense as a reference to what is glorious and magical in the world.
            Whitman and Whitehead are echoing an even more ancient thought.  Psalm 8: When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them. Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
            When the familiar becomes too familiar, we miss the miracles, the magic, the wonder that is there.  We can take the blessings of liberty for granted.
            There is another message for us about the everyday and ordinary.  We are invited, challenged, called to live our faith and share our faith in the everyday and ordinary.  We are invited, challenged, called to make our faith more real in our everyday, ordinary life – our sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life, and in our hometowns.
            There are challenges here to be sure.  Faith talk often evokes fear of negative judgment.  Faith talk is liable to evoke a “who are you?” response in your hometown.  We become so familiar to those around us that they may forget that faith is an important part of who we are and why we are.  Part of our response is simply to hang in there with people with genuineness and humility, listening to their hurts, questions, wounds, not presupposing that faith gives us all the answers to their questions, but rather that faith helps us be there with and for others.
            There are challenges to living our faith and sharing our faith, to making our faith more real in our everyday lives, in our hometowns, but we cannot simply avoid the invitation and call to try and do this.  We are invited and called, in the words of the wedding benediction I use, “to so bear witness to the love of God in this world so that those to whom love is a stranger will find in us generous friends.”
            So what does making our faith real in our everyday, ordinary lives, in our hometowns, look like?  Over the years here, I have come to focus on eight words that help me capture what it means to make faith more real in my life, and I hope they resonate with you.  When we are changed, and live out that change, we bear witness to the power of God’s love.  What does that positive transformation in the Spirit look like?  When God’s grace and Spirit are at work in my life, in my everyday life, in my hometown life, my faith is thoughtful, passionate, and compassionate and joy, genuineness, gentleness, generosity and concern for justice mark me.
            Thoughtful – God’s Spirit deepens our thinking and helps us think more imaginatively.  God’s Spirit invites us to consider the multifarious world where fairies dance and Christ is nailed to the cross.  During our vacation, I started a thick book called The Fellowship.  It is a joint biography of friends J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, and Charles Williams.  One line in the book reminds me of the kind of deep thinking the Spirit continues to form.  “Crude scientism is a failure of perspective and imagination” (258).  The battles often fought between science and religion are more often than not battles between a crude scientism and an unimaginative reading of the Bible.
            Passionate – We Northern European Protestants are often considered some of God’s frozen chosen.  We are suspicious of heart and emotion in our faith, and for some good reasons.  But our stream of Christian tradition was born with a John Wesley who knew what it was like to have his heart strangely warmed.  Our lives are richer with passion, and the Spirit inspires passion in us – a thoughtful passion and a passionate thoughtfulness.
            Compassionate – If we are not compassionate, if God’s love for us does not enlarge our hearts in compassion and love for others, then something is deeply amiss.  The disciples are sent out two by two to bring healing and freedom.  That remains our work.
            Joy – Here I am not talking about giddiness.  There are days when joy comes easily and days when joy seems rather distant, but when God’s Spirit is at work, it is never beyond the horizon.  In joy we can enjoy the simple beauties of life, laugh often, trust in the final goodness of life because we know the deep goodness of God.
            Genuineness – The work of the Spirit helps us be honest with ourselves.  When we know that we are fully known and fully loved by God, we are free to be our more authentic selves.
            Gentleness – Gentleness is not weakness, but the strength to be caring and tender, and the confidence to live with humility.  A few years ago when some of us read through the New Testament together, I was struck by how often gentleness was mentioned as a work of the Spirit in our lives.
            Generosity – Generosity has to do not only with giving of our resources, but with a generous spirit, a spirit which looks for the best in others, not naively, but with a sense that others are created in the image of God.
            Justice – Compassion and justice go together.  Justice is a concern for right relationships, and often asks broad systemic questions not just about helping the hurting but about why people are hurting and what may be done about that.
            When the Spirit is at work in our lives, these are the kinds of qualities that emerge and grow.  This is the direction of transformation in our lives.  That transformation can happen and needs to happen in our everyday, ordinary lives, in our hometown lives.
            And what if part of our hometown is the country whose existence we celebrate this weekend.  Some think we are abandoning our “Judeo-Christian traditions” with the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.  I disagree.  I think the bigger issues we face in making faith more real in our national life are issues like mass incarceration, continuing racial divide, not taking environmental issues as seriously as we once did, the fact that poverty rarely appears in our public conversations about the common good, the fact that our public conversations are often more strident than thoughtful.  We can make our faith more real in hometown USA, too.
            So what if we were to continue to grow in these eight qualities by the grace of God and the power of God’s Spirit in Jesus?  What kind of healing might be possible in our lives, in our hometowns?  Might we be even better at bearing witness to the love of God in this world so that those to whom love is a stranger might find in us generous friends?  I think so.  Amen.

1 comment:

Thoburn Thompson said...

I am new to your blog: I am heartened to read your take on responsible discipleship and hometown takes on prophets.
You, and others in the MN ACUMC are a part of my journey of faith, including many years on the Board of Ordained Ministry where my theological 'education' led me to a less doctrinal stance. Marge and I were challenged and changed in our preparation and service as commissioned missionaries in South America, where Liberation Theology was celebrated among our indigenous and expatriate Methodist communities; the push-back by our more fundamentalist brothers and sisters, a few United Methodists among them, was and is still evident. Which brings me to:
My take on a trend in our MN (and Dakota) AC seems to be more doctrinaire and less accepting of progressive theological and Biblical interpretation. Voices for inclusiveness, forgiveness, compassion, justice and listening to others seem muted. I admit I do not read all of the AC mailings and have not been at AC for the last 3 years. I no longer know all of the proposed delegates to Gen. Conf. So:
Just a warm hello to you, a word of gratitude for your leadership and your take on what following Jesus' program is.
Blessings Toby Thompson