A few years ago I was the minister in a small town; my secretary Susan was a wonderful asset to me. She had the pulse of the congregation. Susan had grown up in the community and knew the people and knew their history
[…]– she helped me innumerable times by drawing connections between the people, and who was related to who – and trust me, in small town ministry it is vital to know these connections. She was also very involved at presbytery. She chaired Pastoral Relations and for those who do not know what a huge job that is, Pastoral Relations processes all ministry personal coming and going from a presbytery – they make sure that JNAC and Search committees are fully functioning. Pastoral Relations is also the place to go to when there are conflicts between ministers and congregations – all in all it is a big job. At Conference level, she was on the Settlement committee back in the day when almost everyone coming into ministry needed to be settled. Susan was the secretary of Settlement which meant that she processed the paperwork for every change that the conference had for ministry personnel coming or going. Frequently at conference meetings she was up at the mic, speaking to issues. Susan knew what was going on in the church; she kept abreast of the issues and challenges that the church was facing. When Susan spoke people listened and valued what she had to say with one exception.
Susan grew up in the small town; her family had been part of the church for three generations. Her sister was the organist, her sister in-law was president of the UCW. She raised her children in the church – and when members of her family died this was where the funerals were held. For all intents and purpose Susan should have had status in the congregation – but she didn’t. Whenever there was a discussion about a decision that needed to be made – either a small one or a large one – whenever Susan spoke to the issue people stopped listening. All of her insight, all of her experience, all of her dedication and commitment to the congregation was nothing – she had no voice, no opinion that anyone would listen to. And the part that I found that most concerning was how malicious the congregation was about her work behind her back. They picked apart the bulletin and blamed her for all errors and omissions. The got frustrated quickly when they perceived that the minutes for the meeting were not distributed in a timely fashion. She was paid for 10 hours a month and probably worked 10 plus hours a week for the congregation. I could count on her for any secretarial duties at any time including holidays – and yet it was perceived that she was taking advantage of the congregation by spending too much time at the church using up hydro and internet service. No matter what she did, she was never respected.
When I left this pastoral charge, Susan did too – she had one too many complaints about her spelling and grammar. She left not only the position of church secretary but also left the congregation and moved her membership to the next small town up the road where they welcomed her with open arms.
“Is this not the sister of the organist? Does she not just live down the street? Did not her children go to school with our children? – and they took offense at the wisdom that she possessed …and she could not do ministry in their midst.”
By the time we join the Jesus story this morning, Jesus is well on his way to being a well-established prophet. He has momentum in his ministry – he has been teaching and healing and exorcizing demons. Miracles are also being performed, seas are being calmed, storms are being stilled, and demon pigs are jumping off cliffs– and Jesus is attracting large crowds of people who are coming to see what all the fuss is about. Just a few days ago, he healed a little girl who everyone thought was dead and then a woman who had been ill for over 12 years now is healed and fine and on her way to living a life of inclusion again.
News of this remarkable prophet/healer has been getting back to his home town and the people are wondering if all this spectacular news is really about Jesus – Joseph and Mary’s boy. And now he is back and he has been invited to speak on the Sabbath at the meeting place– imagine all those that go out to see this home grown boy preform his miracles and to listen to his words – but look what happens – the sceptics in his audience, the naysayers, the disbelievers, and the general questioners are unable to see anything more than the boy who grew up in their midst. Is this not Mary’s son, is he not James and Joseph and Judas’s brother – what’s the big deal – what is all the fuss about – who does he think he is fooling.
The culture in Jesus’ day was very much an honor/shame culture and in Jesus’ day, honor was limited. There was only so much honour to go around so if Jesus was to receive more honor than was his due because he was a laborer’s son, than it meant families higher in the social order would be awarded less honor. Jesus becoming so popular threatened the social order in Galilee. If you want to know what counted in a Galilean village, it’s all here in verse two and three—family of origin, blood relations, inherited honor, social status and achievement of family members. As Mark describes it, what Jesus was doing was thwarting all the social expectations of someone in his class.
It is no wonder that Jesus could not perform any miracles there, how hard is it to preach the gospel of love and acceptance when everyone around you thinks that you have grown too big for your britches and expects you to go meekly back to the rung on the social ladder where you belong. The people of Galilee were unable to see beyond the boy that they knew and hear the message that he was bringing…it was as Jesus said: ‘prophets are without honour in their hometowns, among their kin and in their own home’.
How much similar blindness do we have here in our churches? How often are we unable to hear the Word of the Lord because the speaker looks too much like someone we have known for countless years? How many times have we said: ‘oh, that’s just so and so…we don’t need to listen to them. How many times have people left our churches because they believe they had messages to deliver and no one would receive them?
Anthony B. Robinson tells a story of an experience he had recently when he was asked to give a lecture at a church which used to be prominent and popular many years ago but had like our churches here, had been declining, he writes:
Not long ago he visited a once prominent church, a church that had for decades been known far and wide as the home of great preachers and a center of great social causes. Like many, however, this church had declined in recent decades.
When he arrived to give a lecture there, he was met by an officer of the church. As he was early, he was offered a tour of the grand facility. As they walked the officer of the church told him that twenty years ago he had feared for the future of his church. In fact, he said, “I was pretty sure than by now we would have closed our doors. You see, we were just fifty elderly people left in this great sanctuary.” Then he brightened. “But something has happened. Something has changed. We’re experiencing a kind of renewal, a revival.”
“Really,” said Anthony, “that’s wonderful.” “Yes, these days we have four or five hundred people in church. We have new ministries in the community. We are seeing new people, young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight.”
“How do you explain this?” asked Anthony.
He thought for a moment, his hand on his chin. Then he said, “Well, it wasn’t all our new minister, but he has made a difference.”
“What’s he done?”
“Well, he got us studying the Bible . . . yes, our minister gives a wonderful Bible Study. In fact, he can give you the entire message of the Bible in just six words.”
“And what might those six words be?” Anthony asked skeptically. The church officer grinned broadly and said: “The six words that summarize the entire message of the Bible? ‘I am God and you’re not.’
“I am God and you’re not.” Sounds kind of silly perhaps, but I don’t think it is. It’s not about you, not about us. It’s about God.
That once great church had become so focused on its past glories and singular prominence that they had forgotten, my guide said, the real source of the church’s power and of its life . . . the power of the living God. Their collective pride and ego had prevented them ….(from witnessing to God in their midst)
Now humbled by their decline but blessed with the leadership of a pastor who understood that it wasn’t really about them, they had turned to God afresh, calling upon God to guide them, praying to God to renew them. They had acknowledged their own need for healing and for change. They had come to know God and God’s power in a new way, in a new time. They had taken risks in faith….
When Jesus was rejected in Nazareth, he did not–though it must have been painful for him–reject them in turn. He did not take offense. He only sadly shook his head and then moved on. He moved on, sending his disciples out, two by two, to preach, to heal and to teach”
Jesus accepted his rejection and continued on his way to preach the good news, heal the sick and exorcise demons. He continued to be the prophet he was called to be, and was not burdened with the expectations of the home town crowd.
Paul Simon sings: ‘and the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sounds of silence.”
‘If we live long enough, all of us will be rejected for who we are, in one way or another. If we are true to ourselves in an honest but loving manner there will always be someone who will reject us. It may be because we are gay or straight, black or white, Liberal, Conservative or N.D.P. , rich or poor, male or female, United or Anglican, employed or unemployed, fat or skinny. There will always be someone, snubbing us. Count on it. Some things in time may change, like being unemployed or poor or Conservative. Other things will not change like being black, gay or female. But whatever we are at this moment is what God loves, and it is who God can speak through. We are blessed by God, and by our very being speak of God’s love without even using words, just by being loving. Jesus says if we are rejected move on. But if we move on don’t’ think all is lost or we have failed. If we move on without rancor, resentment, animosity or malice, but with love and self-possession we will leave behind a message from God. After we have gone on our way the good seeds we have sown will be “written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sounds of silence.” We are prophets by being who we are. ‘(based on thoughts by Bob Eldon on his blog: Preachingtips)
And if we remember that the church is composed of people like us and We help make it what it is. It will be friendly, if we are. Its pews will be filled, if we help fill them. It will do great work, if we work. It will make generous gifts to many causes, if we are a generous giver. It will bring other people into its worship and fellowship, if we invite and bring them. It will be a church where people grow in faith and serve you, if we are open to such growth and service.
It is not about us it about God, and miracles can happen, and people can be healed and demons can be exorcised and God will get into the world, and the kingdom will come…Amen.