Message for July 8, 2018
Speaker: Minister Vicki McPhee
A couple of years ago, when I was on sabbatical, I went to Amsterdam with my spouse and my Dad. We had a few days there before we started a river cruise through Germany. We took a bike tour through the city and one of the stopping points was in a rather large courtyard that had small little fenced in yards in front of doorways in the surrounding buildings. In some yards there were woman sitting reading or working in small flower beds. There was a small chapel in the middle of it all. The guide was telling us about the place—he was speaking German, French and English. He saved the English for last because the three of us were the only English speakers on the tour. I had heard him say the word Beguine when he was speaking to the others. When he came to the English, he described how this courtyard was for a group of women doing God’s work, the group of them were called, and he interrupted himself here, I don’t know the English for Beguine. And I suddenly realized where we were. We were amongst a cloister of faithful women who devote themselves to service in God’s name by doing the work of Christ for the surrounding community. I spoke up and said—there is no translation—they are the Beguine in English too. My spouse and Dad looked at me, confused. Why would I know that? I then explained to them who the Beguine were and what they did. Why do you know this they asked? Because these are my people I replied. The Order of the Beguine was one of the precursors to diakonia re-emerging in Europe.
When we were on another bike tour, this time in Germany, we found ourselves looking up in the hills to the Abbey of St. Hildegard. The tour guide was uncertain what the Abbey was about and I told him that I knew. Again, I caught my spouse and my dad off-guard as I gave a history of Hildegard von Bingen and the significant role she had in religion and in science in the 12th century. They didn’t know that I knew all that information. I remembered these two funny moments when I read this week’s scripture about a prophet not being respected in their own hometown. It’s not that my dear spouse and dad do not respect me here at home in Calgary, but I think, as with is often the case with people that we’ve known for a long time, they thought they knew everything I knew. They have debated and discussed with me over the years about all manner of things, but I had never really talked to them about these bits of historical knowledge that I’ve gained over the years since being called in diaconal ministry with the church.
I think this is what happened to Jesus when he returned to Nazareth. ‘What are you talking about?’ the neighbours and childhood acquaintances would have said. This IS Jesus, son of Mary, we’re talking about, right? The carpenter? Brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? What do you mean he can heal people? WHAT DO YOU MEAN he knows something new about God that hasn’t been said a thousand times already in the synagogue? WHEN did that all happen? You see, all those who knew Jesus when he was growing up and working in Nazareth before he went to be baptized by his cousin John and headed out to the desert, all those who knew him since he was a young, wee thing, thought they knew all what he knew. And, why wouldn’t they? They grew up side-by-side, with the same people around them as they went about learning a trade and going to synagogue each day. They figured they knew everything he knew. Also, social status was a fixed thing in those days. You couldn’t or even dare to try rise above your station. Before Jesus left town to find John the Baptist, he wasn’t a rabbi, a teacher, a learned leader of any sort. He was simply a carpenter. The son of Mary. Notice his earthly father Joseph is not even mentioned although Joseph is named in similar stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The biblical scholars take this omission of Joseph as further proof that the people of Nazareth would have had little consideration of Jesus as someone significant—he was fatherless—without lineage or ancestry.
We have, with today’s scripture, the realization of Jesus and his disciples, that they had to leave, had to go beyond their family and friends to create a wider community of faithful people who could work towards the kingdom of God. Jesus was able to heal just a few people in Nazareth. Last week we read from the chapter just before this one and explored how the healing amongst people requires not only the desire of the one who has caused the damage or hurt amongst but also requires the willingness of those who have been damaged or hurt toparticipate in the healing process. The example I used last week was that just because I, as a descendent from folks who immigrated to Canada years and years ago, just because I want reconciliation and healing to happen with the indigenous people who are living with the impact and consequences of signing the treaties and the creation of residential schools across Canada, just because I want healing to occur, it can’t happen until those who have been hurt are, themselves, ready to enter into the healing process. Such as it was in Nazareth so long ago. Jesus healed those people who were willing and able to participate in the healing. The bleeding woman told him the whole truth. The little girl got up and walked after he raised her back to life. They were not passive receptacles of Jesus’ healing touch. Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus, was not open to healing of Jesus, whether it was by touch or by teaching. And so, he and his disciples left, going from village to village, offering the love of God’s word.
Jesus sends the Twelve disciples out in pairs. They are to take nothing but a staff and the clothes they are wearing. They take no other burden as they travel, sharing what they have heard and witnessed and experienced along the way as they followed their leader and teacher. Jesus tells them that if those they visit do not welcome them, they are to shake the dust off their sandals and carry on. If they are unwilling to hear the loving words of God, they are not prepared for the healing that comes with the message. It takes full participation in the healing of ourselves and in the healing of that which is needed by others so that the kingdom of God can break through into our world in the here and the now. People of southern Africa have given us a phrase for this healing—unbuntu. It means—I am not whole until the world is whole, the world is not whoel until I am whole. The world is not healed until I am healed, I am not healed untilt the world is healed. Full participation for God’s kingdom is required. But our time is limited and so Jesus says, don’t waste your time. If a household is resistant to hearing the Word of God, then move on. Move on and don’t fret and linger over what you cannot change. The Serenity Prayer by Rheinhold Niebuhr comes to mind in this dusting off one’s sandals. This is how he wrote the first stanza—it’s been altered slightly over the years, but here’s how he wrote it:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
What happens though when we discover that it is, us, ourselves, who are resistant? It’s all well and good to lay the refusal to heal, to change, to improve, to work towards God’s kingdom, at the feet of the other. Using their unwillingness to participate in the healing of God’s world as reason to not, yourself, participate in living out the teaching of Jesus? What happens when there is some area, some regret we can’t get over, some grudge we can’t let go of, some hurt that has come to define us, some addiction that imprisons us, some anger that has taken ahold of us that we are we are having difficulty entrusting to God? What happens we are the people of Nazareth, refusing to see Jesus for who he was, for who he is—the one who offers the love of God to all, to each and every person, regardless of their status, their occupation, regardless of who they love or who loves them, regardless of how they look, how much they weigh, how tall they are or how able they are. Some might call that salvation. I call that healed. In the knowing that all are worthy of the love of God, and in the knowing that we are to love one another as we would love ourselves, what is holding us back from making that real for each and every one we meet? Healing is not a passive event. Healing does not happen simply because you will it into being nor does it happen in isolation. Healing happens because you work to make it happen. Healing happens in community, in loving one another and allowing yourself to be loved in return. Healing happens when you are willing to hear the other and to allow that they might know and understand something that you didn’t know they knew. Healing happens when we don’t restrict the other to who they were years, months, days ago. Healing happens when we acknowledge that others could have grown and learned and had their eyes opened just we, ourselves, are attempting to do. Healing happens when we recognize the work that is being done by others as they participate in the coming of God’s kingdom. Healing happens when we know we are not alone working towards making heaven happen right here on earth. We live in God’s world. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.