I am absolutely fascinated with this morning’s Gospel. Every time I read it, I just kept asking, “What did Jesus say that got the crowd so offended that Jesus could not perform miracles?” In another account of Jesus preaching, the people literally ran him out of the Synagogue, all because he had proclaimed Isaiah’s prophecy had been fulfilled. Why were they offended? According to the writer, because Jesus spoke with an authority and a conviction that was beyond his station in life. Jesus was the son of a carpenter, which meant the bulk of his formal education had to do with learning his father’s trade. It was assumed he was not sufficiently trained to read and interpret Scripture. This was the job of the elite, the well trained Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees. Jesus, even as a rabbi, at best, was not to deviate from the party line of the day.
Somehow, I suspect this is what he did. He deviated from what they expected. Jesus must have said something which challenged the local community, despite the fact he was one of their own and so warmly welcomed when he arrived in town, they still were not interested in hearing a new message.
The pattern is always the same with leaders. Everyone hails them a home town hero, or a gift from God when they first arrive. Then, as time goes by and the honeymoon period comes to an end, their approval rating rapidly drops. It really is true, familiarity breeds contempt. In the case of today’s congregations, I think this reality goes far deeper than that.
As Americans, we have learned to live compartmentalized lives. Religion is for Sunday mornings, work is reserved for 9 to 5 Monday through Friday, and issues with family and friends are reserved for after five p.m. and on weekends. Rarely do we allow our multiple worlds to integrate with each. In recent weeks we have heard presidential candidates criticize Pope Francis for taking a firm stance on climate change. One politician went as far to say that the Pope should let scientists discuss climate change and the Pope should stick with theology. It appears this politician didn’t know Pope Francis was a chemist before he was a priest or that everything is theological.
I suspect Jesus may have done something similar that fateful day when he was speaking in his hometown synagogue. It is obvious, somehow and in some way he veered off the path of acceptable topics and began preaching about something radical, something which may have suggested the fine people of Nazareth may not be as righteous as they thought they were. Perhaps, he talked about feeding the poor, caring for the Lepers or maybe, just maybe, he suggested the Samaritans were as righteous before God as they were.
As I have begun to prepare for my departure in a few weeks’ time, I find this morning’s Gospel especially poignant. I still remember the turmoil the church was in when I arrived twelve years ago. Just weeks before my arrival, Gene Robinson had been approved by General Convention to be consecrated as a Bishop. At the time, his elevation created quite a stir with people leaving the church in droves because he was openly Gay. Here at St. Luke’s, many of us questioned the wisdom of Convention and our Bishop that year. A handful went so far as to ask the vestry not to allow any of their pledge dollars to go to our diocesan assessment.
Almost everyone wanted to know my opinion on Gene’s consecration. Unlike Jesus, I knew not to step in to that hornet’s nest. When asked, I deflected the question, I never lied, but I never gave a straight answer either. I knew, if I openly took one side or the other, my honeymoon at St. Luke’s would be over quickly and I feared being run out of town on a rail.
As I think about that first year, I also realize how far we have come on the topic of same-sex relationships. Yes, it took time, lots of time! However, despite the length of time it took for us to sort the issue through, it was time well spent.
Through the process we learned a lot about ourselves as a congregation, how to work through conflict, even more importantly, we came to accept that the life of the church is not a constant, for the church, like any other organization, is a dynamic entity and like other organizations, it is in a constant state of change and growth.
Often times we forget this. Or perhaps it would be better to say, we want to forget this. In a world of constant and rapid change, many of us have sought comfort from the church hoping its traditions and history would protect us from the chaos and uncertainty of this changing world.
Every time we want to seek solace in the constancy of the Church all we have to do is listen to Christ’s final words in St John’s Gospel, when Jesus tells them that he has taught them all that he could at that time, but not to worry, he is sending the Holy Spirit to continue their formation. Words of wisdom for the modern church. A reminder and a challenge to remember, that which we may think to be true today may not be true tomorrow, so don’t become frozen in place, instead, be open and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you into the future.
In a few shorts weeks, my tenure as your rector will come to an end. Twelve years is a long time. Our relationship has lasted twice as long as the national average. During these years, you have gotten use to my style, to my interpretation of scripture. Some had hoped I would remain here long enough to do their funerals so they could have avoided another round of changes a new priest will bring to the parish.
On August 23rd, life will change for all of us. New clergy will occupy this pulpit. He or she will inevitably do things differently. He or she will bring their own style to how they celebrate and how they preach. He or she will encourage, even push you, to change, so you will be prepared for your next rector.
Like any new clergy person, I know you will welcome him or her with open arms, and in the beginning you will happily accept his or her unique way of being with you. In time, his or her novelty will wear off and grief will set in. You may get frustrated with the changes that are occurring. This is okay, this is natural. What I ask you to remember in the days ahead is, change is not a criticism of the past. It does not mean the past was wrong, just that we need to grow into the needs of the present. I also ask that in those times when you feel the interim is challenging you to your breaking point to remember something Dick Wiley talked about in his homily last fall. The Holy Spirit is trustworthy and works more often through the natural than the super-natural. I ask you to remember this because, I believe every clergy person who is called to lead this parish is the result of what Dick called a hyper-natural miracle. He or she is brought here by the Holy Spirit to lead and guide you from where the last rector left off.
Just think about it. Think about all the events which had to be timed just right for that person to be available to work with you and be among you. And realize, the Holy Spirit would not have sent them to you if there wasn’t something God wanted us to learn from them.
And so I pray for each of you. I pray that in the months to come, when a sense of grief and loss wells up within you, and you long for the proverbial good old days when Father Craig was here, to remember this morning’s Gospel;how the people of Nazareth got angry with Jesus when he challenged them, how they questioned his wisdom, and to know this is all part of the process we call change.