Sunday, July 15, 2012
It is easy to get caught up in the everyday details of one’s life. Pretty soon the same roads and sights become simply the backdrop of one’s thoughts. The people with whom we live become part of the process of accomplishing tasks and getting things done. For about four days last week we were able to go for a sail from Camden to Cushing and back. What a treat! Seeing my familiar world from a very different perspective is always a rich stimulant to my mind. Taking time to be with a friend, to just be with my wife; these things are so quickly overlooked in the day to day world. We can talk for longer times, be quiet together and have enough time to play games together, when out on a boat for an extended time. The limited parameters of the boat restricts everyone in such a way that being together and relating is the only option. No one can go run errands, attend to work, or be busy in such a way as to avoid others. The blessings of a boat mean we are thrust into the throes of what we actually long for all along. What a great time, great weather, and a most beautiful boat – which I think sets the perfect stage for perfect moments together.
Encounter at Nazareth Mark 6: 1-13 July 8, 2012 Good morning! Right after I signed up to preach I thought – Andrew - what have you done?! A few days later I received the readings for today. I had to chuckle when I read the Gospel – Jesus returning to his home town to preach! There was – I’m guessing - one major difference – when Jesus got up to speak in front of all the people who had known him – he probably wasn’t quite as - nervous - as I am. + + + As I read the first half of the today’s Gospel – I have to tell you - there is a part of me that went right to the mind, in a little fantasy, of one of the fellows who confronted him in the Synagogue in Nazareth. I imagined, this now bitter man, remembering Jesus when they were both kids – hearing his mother – on more than one occasion – saying– “Andrew - Andrew - Andrew – why can’t you be more like Jesus ? . . . You know very well who I’m talking about. Mary’s son?. He’s such a good boy!” Would I hold a grudge - be a little jealous? Perhaps . . . From what we know, Jesus was a good kid – and certainly an intelligent one. We’re told: As Jesus grew up he advanced in wisdom and in favor with God and men. That’s great and good . . . but . . . He was also one of us – human. For some reason I’ve never really thought of Jesus as having been one of those ‘squeeky clean’ - obnoxiously perfect kids. For me – I’m thinking that he probably got himself into one fix after another as a kid – lost a mantle – ripped his tunic and got it dirty just before going to the synagogue. And don’t we all remember what happened when he was twelve – the time when he and his parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival . . . Let me remind you . . . this is a good one! When the festive season was over and they started for home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know of this; but thinking that he was with the party they journeyed on for a whole day, and only then did they begin looking for him among their friends and relations. As they could not find him they returned to Jerusalem to look for him; and after three days they found him sitting in the temple surrounded by the teachers . . . enough said. He was - I’m sure - a good kid . . . doing what kids do! And as a teenager - - - can you imagine what he must have been like to live with?! Now . . . Imagine . . . all the mental & emotional & spiritual changes that Jesus had to have gone through as a devout young Jewish man - in order for him to be willing - and - able - to step forward into His destiny . . . into his divinity. + Why on earth would Jesus choose to go back to Nazareth – his home town – knowing that there was a pretty good chance that the reception he was going to get was going to be pretty dicey? He must have known that his reputation was going to precede him. Jesus wasn’t just another great ‘teacher’ on the lecture circuit – His words – his actions – they were radical – they were dangerous – and they were scary! His powerful message of repentance and the many miracles he was performing as he moved from village to village were wondrous to the throngs of people who gathered around him – and worrisome to the powers that be. We saw in the gospel several weeks ago how His own family out of fear or embarrassment – or both - “went out (to the hill-country where he was staying) to restrain him” because “the scribes who had come down from Jerusalem” to check him out were saying he was possessed by the “prince of devils.” How surprised – and perhaps upset and even shocked - they must have been to see their Jesus talking back to the learned scribes of Jerusalem – speaking to them with parables! He was pushing a lot of peoples buttons – So – why did he go back to Nazareth? It was necessary - even critical that he go. What he knew he would encounter at Nazareth would become a crash course, if you will, for his disciples on how they were to face their future as his followers - a future that would confront them with all the jealousy, hate and fear that the world could and would throw at them. I can imagine – Jesus and his disciples - they’ve been walking all day toward Nazareth - they’re hot, tired, dirty, hungry - and maybe even a little cranky. Turning to his disciples at the edge of town he says, “Listen up! Pay attention! And, yes, there will be a test! “ On the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, 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 hands! And then the fateful moment came – the crowds astonishment awakened their jealousy – their envy and their fear. 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. And what are the people offended by? They are offended by the gifts he has, the wisdom he has and the healing power he displays. They are offended by his authority. In their minds - Jesus is no longer ‘one of them’. + Jesus then transforms this awkward rejection into a teaching moment for his disciples – and for us. How did he react? He faced the derision and hatred and jealousy straight on. He said to the congregation - and to his disciples who were with him: Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house. He called the situation for what it was. He showed his disciples what they were up against. Teaching moment two: Jesus and his disciples stayed in Nazareth - even though the lack of faith among the people meant that he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. Sadly - not even those acts of compassion among their own people could change the hearts of those who had taken offense at him. And he was amazed at their unbelief. + Jesus had shown his disciples how to face fear and find the faithful. Then he went about among the villages teaching. Test time! He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two (apostolos means ‘sent’ in Greek), and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. Jesus was getting them used to the power and responsibility that they would hold in the future. After carefully instructing them on the details for their first mission he sent them on their way. They were on the ‘the radical simplicity prayer plan’ - guaranteed to foster faith and humility among them through their total reliance on God for their direction and protection. They were available - and they were vulnerable. This would be their first great undertaking of faith. So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. + We are on our own great undertaking of faith. We long for spiritual perfection - we live - by God’s grace - with spiritual progress . The Last Word Come to the edge, he said. They said, We are afraid. Come to the edge, he said. They came. He pushed them . . . And they flew. Peter McWilliams
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
So often, when we host an event or fund raiser or gather together in the church we feel we need to do such to help others. The list of services for others can be quite long. There seems to be an embarrassment to do something for ourselves. For us to say that this event is to raise money for the church, in order to keep it going, seems inappropriate. And, yet, for parishes in Maine (which was recently listed as the least religious state in the United States) doing things to stay alive and active is probably one of the most important things that can be done. Raising money for other non-profit organizations is good, but we sometimes feel that they are more important. And in doing so we miss what is our most vital strength. To be a praying community that offers our prayers for them is of more worth and power for them in their work than would be a few dollars now and again. And the need to be helping others - which is crucial, biblical and part of our calling, cannot be done unless we first are able to receive and accept ourselves for who and what we are in the community. Our communities need the place to gather for prayer, to meet and eat together, to share our lives with each other and in doing so discover the wonders of God in our humanity.
There are times when I am talking with my siblings about growing up together, and how we saw our parents, when I wonder whether we even had the same parents. My memories and perceptions sometimes seem vastly different than theirs. Some of this has to do with gender, birth order and personality; but some of it also is the result of different people experiencing similar circumstances with very different perceptions. There is no more important person in Christianity than Jesus. The experience of God in our lives, not just through thoughts, doctrine, laws, or institutions; but in the living reality of a love and presence that has been one with us is crucial to the Christian journey. And, yet, as with the differing experiences siblings might have with their parents; so, too, are the experiences of Jesus seen and known in different ways. For some people the liberating and authority challenging figure of Jesus gives strength and deep meaning; for others it is his healing touch that defines and makes everything real for them. Sometimes we seek out the figure of Jesus that fits our own desire and who might justify our opinions and beliefs that we have come to know. When there is a controversy of some sort, it is always good to feel that what we are thinking or advocating is perhaps the godly way, the right way, the side Jesus is also advocating. But this desire to have Jesus with us is oftentimes a desire to have Jesus serve us. This desire to control God can be found in our prayers, sometimes, when we petition God with specific expectations and conditions. What has propelled Christianity through millennia, is not the response of a serving God, waiting to meet our desires and orders; but an experience of God that can convert, transform, redefine, and heal us from our desires and controlling ways. My prayers might be to keep me from pain and ill health. But, the journey and companionship I have found with Jesus is one that in fact leads me into the conflict and through the pain and to find the illnesses I might face to, in fact, be the seed for my deeper healing. I might want Jesus to change someone with whom I am struggling, but it always comes back to me and my need to forgive and pray into a place of loving again. Recently I found a picture of my father when he was a young teenager, I have it hanging on my wall. It accompanies other pictures of him that I have in various places. It is fun to see him as a young man. But each of these pictures of him, reflect changes he has made over the years, but in each picture is an image of the person I know and love. There are many images of Jesus, from a wide range of cultures and experiences. There are many stories people have shared of how their life has been changed and made new because of his love. But in each of these is the essence, the understanding or perhaps the vibrating of harmonic similarities to my own stories and experiences. I might not have experienced Jesus the same way as someone else, but then when I look at the picture of my father as a young teenager I am reminded that I also did not experience my father is this way either. But I know both, and am thankful and have been deepened by such love. I might, from time to time, encourage Jesus to follow me and take my lead; but always come back to the realization that he is leading, and that his lead is always back into the faithfulness of our relationship. The very limited scope of my desires is always dwarfed and made inconsequential when I open my heart to the eyes of Jesus looking through me. I usually want something to happen, while Jesus wants us to happen.