A Prophet Among Us
(Proper 9B, Mark 6.1-6)
July 9, 2006
Thus says the Lord God. “Whether they hear or refuse to hear, they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” (Ezk 2.5)
Thanks to all of you who have asked about our time away last week. It was great. Sherry and I had a very good four days at her parents’ house in Marble Falls with all of her extended family. And then we came home on the 4th and spent the last three days having our first grandchild!
Our daughter Anny, who is still up at Mainland Medical in Texas City gave birth to a beautiful little girl named Amber Marie last Thursday. Eight pounds, four ounces. Mom and baby are doing fine and hope to go home today.
Of course, I am not too sure that I am doing fine. Too much excitement for me. Actually, I think that the real problem for me was that there was just way too much going on that I had no control over.
And I am not a very good spectator. I have this need to be in charge of something. So I was uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. So I prayed. And I paced. And I waited. And sure enough the miracle of new life unfolded before my eyes.
I wonder if Jesus was teaching about new life when he returned to the synagogue in his home town? New life that was out of the control of those who were accustomed to being in control. New Life – new relationship – with God that did not depend on one’s status in society. New life that came without the guilt and the shame that the old life did. New life that does not look at what you are but who you are. New life that forgave the past and gave hope for the future.
Old life was controlled by the high priests and scribes – the ones who made the rules about who was in and who was out. Old life was the status quo – everyone knew their place and everyone stayed where they belonged.
But Jesus brought new life – New life that boldly challenged the old.
And look what happened.
Our gospel story this morning comes immediately after the three miracle stories of chapter five. Jesus has made quite a reputation all around the area of Galilee – preaching and teaching, healing the sick – even bringing a young girl back to life. So he returns home to Nazareth with a large following of new believers.
And sure enough, as he begins to teach, the people are astonished at what he knows – amazed at how he brings the old tablets to new life with his words.
So much so that they are immediately suspicious. They know this man – he is the carpenter’s son. Who does he think he is – coming in here and pretending to be better than he is? And they are offended that Jesus would put on airs and act like he is somebody special when they know that he is just the son of Mary. He should just stay in his place.
And because they still see him in that human identity, they are unable to hear him as a prophet – and certainly they can not conceive of him as divine – as being born from above. That would be out of the question.
And so Jesus says – everywhere but here. “Everywhere else, people come to hear me teach, and crowds push to get close to me. But here – here in my hometown I am without honor. I have no credibility.” And even he is amazed at their unbelief.
Why is that? Why is it that those who should know Jesus best – his old friends and family – why are they incapable of seeing who Jesus has become? Of hearing what he has to say? Why is he just another prophet like Ezekiel whose words will fall on deaf ears until it is too late?
And what can we learn about their unbelief?
The first thing that worked against their belief was the old, “That’s not the way that we have always done it” syndrome. Their comfort zones – our comfort zones - are determined by our experiences. And as long as things and people fit into our experiences – as long as they are compatible with what we expect or with what we imagine as possible, then we are comfortable.
However, we become very uncomfortable when something challenges those pre-set comfort limits don’t we? Because if that one thing is different than what we expected, then how many more things might be different? The appeal of the status quo is not so much that we know it to be the best alternative. Just that it is the most familiar. The appeal is that we have learned to adapt to it and are comfortable that we can handle its ramifications. So we have a sense of controlling our circumstances.
So if one thing changes, we fear the domino effect. We are afraid of what other unknown changes might also be caused that are now out of our control.
And we like to have a sense of control. I know that I do.
Now, I certainly knew that I had no control over this baby thing last week. But I was comfortable with everything that I understood was going on. I knew that my role was to be a comforter when Anny had contraction pains and I was to be the photographer when the baby came. Roles that I was reasonably comfortable with. And of course, Anny and the baby would basically do all the work. And I would just step out of the room at the right time.
But suddenly, early Thursday morning things changed dramatically. The baby was not in the right position for birth. And it was time for her to come out. So the next thing we knew, Anny was being prepped to go into emergency surgery.
Talk about suddenly being out of your comfort zone. Anny was terrified, and it was all that I could do to not show my panic. This was not the way it was supposed to happen. We all suddenly felt very vulnerable and at the mercy of circumstances that were out of our control.
If the people who had known Jesus as a neighbor – as an ordinary man who worked as a carpenter – had to now believe that he was a prophet from God, then what else about their lives would have to change? Remember, these people were not religious leaders; they did not turn away from Jesus because they might lose significant power.
No, they were just ordinary folks, who had figured out how to cope with their status in life. It wasn’t great, but they understood the system and they understood their place in it. But if Jesus was what he claimed, then all of that would change. And they did not know where they would end up in the new life.
What else would they have to believe, and what would they then have to do in response to that belief? Hard questions. So they opted for status quo, because it was more comfortable than the unknown of change.
And so a corollary to that is that we tend to hear what we want to hear a lot of the time, don’t we?
I know that I for one have a great capacity to only hear what is easy for me to accept, and conveniently do not ask too many questions, if it sounds like it might be challenging. Around our house, we call it TMI. Too much information. And when someone starts to share things that are a little too personal, or are otherwise out of bounds, I put my hands over my ears and say, “TMI”.
I can just picture some of those townsfolk as Jesus begins to explain that he is the one that is bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth.
And how things are now upside down – the meek, not the strong shall inherit. The poor, not the rich have the key to heaven. Those who are despised on earth, will be glorified in heaven. I can just see them putting their hands over their ears, and saying, “TMI, TMI.” It is just more than they can handle.
Because Jesus not only changes what we hear. He changes how we hear. He is not talking to our ears anyway. He is speaking to our hearts. And it is with our hearts that we hear him and understand that he is the son of God. When we listen with our hearts we hear things that we just cannot hear or understand with our ears. When we listen with our hearts, then we have to see others for who they are, and not what they are.
We have to take them out of the convenient slots that we have mentally put them in, and actually love them as fellow children of God. When we listen with our hearts, then we understand that loving God and loving others is a full time proposition – not a once a week on Sunday kind of deal. And that makes us uncomfortable.
You know, one of the hardest things that we have had to do as parents is to let go of our children. And it is particularly difficult when we see them making what we know to be one bad decision after another. We want so much for them to be able to learn from our mistakes, from our experiences – but they cannot. They have to make their own.
In fact, I sometimes find that I am holding on so tightly to my dreams for my kids, that I am unable to hear what theirs are. All I know is that they are different than mine.
And that has been particularly true with Anny. I have surely struggled with many of her recent choices.
But in the aftermath of that scary morning, the presence of that one small child in the room with us changed the way that I heard what Anny has been saying. For once I stopped trying to make things be the way that I wanted them to be - stopped arguing about truths and lies - and just heard her hopes and dreams.
And what I thought about them just didn't matter any more.
One small child did that. One small child.
That is what the presence of Christ does in our lives. He changes the way that we hear and see each other. He takes people out of the slots that we have them filed in, and makes us look at who they really are as children of God. Doesn’t change our circumstances or theirs; but changes our comfort zones. And that is scary stuff – it was then and it still is now.
Hearing Jesus makes us wonder why things have to be the way they have always been. Makes us question some of those things that we just take as givens in our old lives.
Makes us ask why so many have so little in the land of plenty.
Makes us ask why we glorify the rich and famous on earth, instead of working for our future glory.
Makes us ask ourselves, what about our lives actually gives evidence that we truly believe what we say and hear in here on Sunday?
Makes us long to know more and do more for our God and for others.
The prophet among us brings us new life.
One small child did that.