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In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good morning to you all as we come together again. Many of us were here only last night to share in the camaraderie of a meal spent together. It was a fantastic experience and a real joy to come together as a community.
Special mention needs to be made of the contributions of Andy and John and everyone else who lent their efforts to making last night such a memorable occasion.
It seems fitting that we are coming together again this morning as a community to offer thanks to God for all his many blessings; one of which is his work amongst us.
Binding us together as one people and parish.
So we farewelled last week with a supper together and now this morning we usher in this new week by celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
Community and relationships are such important things to us as human beings and as members of the Church. After all, we were created and have as our example a triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit…one God whose three persons live in perpetual relationship and community while still maintaining a perpetual unity. At the centre of the created order then we have community at work.
As a society we work to create communities around ourselves and to find our place within those communities. We develop relationships and roles and reputations and sometimes pecking orders. And whether knowingly or unknowingly, our identity becomes shaped by the community around us and by our perceived place in that community.
Our local communities and our relationships with our neighbours are not a bad thing. They are essential to who we are and how we live. But there is a rub…what happens when we step outside our usual place…what happens when we dare to say or do something unexpected?
In Mark we see Jesus, astonishing the people of his hometown with his wisdom and the reports of his miracles…”And they would not accept him”.
The wisdom was there on display…the miracles had been attested to…proof was staring them in the face and yet Jesus ended up leaving…“amazed at their lack of faith.”
So why was the great prophetic voice rejected by those who were closest to him, by his neighbours and childhood friends? Was it all just too ordinary and familiar? Who wants to listen to the boy down the street? The barely educated tradesman whose family are well known and scattered about the room? The man who has been doing the most scandalous of things, touching lepers, forgiving sins, eating with tax collectors? Teaching with authority….where does his authority come from…where are his credentials? Who has licensed and certified him…and where’s the documentation? He’s not playing by society’s rules and he’s forgotten where he fits in his own community.
I came across an article this week that talked of a young boy, who at the age of 6 decided to do something to help children in need who were suffering from cancer. After some research, he decided that he would grow out his hair so that he could donate it to a charity. They in turn would make hair pieces for children who had lost their own hair during gruelling medical treatments. That boy was bullied by his peers…they called him a girl…his sports coach and other adults told him to cut it…and a family friend gave him money so that he would.
This boy was stepping outside the ordinary conventions of his community. Publicly daring to do something that challenged the status quo of who people thought he should be and what he should be doing.
As Christians we are called to be a prophetic witness of God’s great and abiding love for his creation. We are called to be counter-cultural agents of change who speak into injustice and sin. Each and every one of us is called to live out that witness in our own lives and communities. And how hard is that? Because what happens when we offend people by speaking out of turn, what happens when we amaze people by not fitting in to what they think we’re meant to be.
And what if we don’t feel like we have the right to speak up; to talk to our neighbours, our families, our friends and colleagues…to challenge them?
What do we do when all we can see is the thorn in our own flesh? We all have things which weigh us down and silence us and make us think twice and second-guess ourselves.
That is the time to remember that the grace of God is with us and God’s “power is most fully seen in weakness.”
And even if we don’t seem to be making too much of a difference, even if crowds of people don’t come flocking, and even if most seem to scoff and roll their eyes…if we reach even one person with the good news, the Gospel of Christ, isn’t that worth it all?
In his hometown Jesus may not have been able to work any great miracles, still we can take heart that “he cured a few sick people.” So even though “He was amazed at [his hometown’s] lack of faith,” that doesn’t mean there was a complete and altogether absence of faith. There were still those few people that he cured.
And perhaps he performed no great miracles. But what did their healing meaning to those few; and what would their lives have been like without it?
Of course, the knife cuts both ways and there’s another side to this coin. If we are going to speak up when the world says we should bite our tongues; we must also be ready to listen and hear when our natural instinct is to turn away.
When the child speaks, who are we to close our ears, pat them on the head and send them off? When the person who we pass on the street everyday says something unexpected, who are we to shrug it off. If we are to speak into the ordinary and the everyday in the sure and certain knowledge that God’s love is desperately seeking to draw in all the peoples and communities and nations, whether they know and accept it or not. If that is our task, to proclaim the gospel throughout our lives and in our own places; then we must also live our lives expecting to see and hear and experience God’s message to us…even in the mundane and the boring and the common places. Those familiar sights that we walk past without seeing and those everyday pleasantries that we parrot without hearing.
How much more would we prefer the sublime experience that Paul recounts? “I know a Christian […] who fourteen years ago […] was caught up as far as the third heaven.”
How much more gratifying for us….the transcendental experience; a great and wonderful revelation given to us straight from God.
How much more meaningful to us, a truly spiritual moment spent in contemplation of the divine wonder.
So much easier to see and experience God in that way, rather than through the tender mercies of the offer of an ordinary glass of water when we’re thirsty; or a welcoming hug; or an unexpected visitor when we’re feeling at our very worst.
Indeed, we must be ready to listen, for who knows what we might hear.
And we must be ready to look, for who knows what we might see.
Oh, and the boy who wanted to help children with cancer; he grew out his hair for two and a half years. His mother tells us he never once strayed from his goal and always took the time to educate others on why he had made that choice. And recently he donated four 10-inch hanks of hair to the charity, Children with Hair Loss.