Dear Jesus, please give us eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to understand your presence in our midst this morning and every day. Amen.
So Jesus comes back to his hometown, and, on the Sabbath, began to preach.
Here’s what he might have been saying: “The Kingdom of God is here – repent, and believe the good news.”
Or according to Luke’s account: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”
And how do the people he’s grown up with react? Well, according to our text today, they basically sneer at him. In Luke’s account, they try to throw him off a cliff.
Have you ever been somewhere, trying to get a message across, and how people see you keeps getting in the way? It may be your appearance, or their conceptions of what you are going to say. Or it could be that you grew up with them and they knew you as “little Sarah” or “little Johnny”, and no matter how tall you’ve grown and the fact that you’re now called John, not Johnny, and have a decent job and a family they still won’t take you seriously, because they can’t look past how they once knew you. Familiarity has bred – if not contempt – at least complacency; a blindness to anything new.
And no matter how you word it, the message you have to share is blocked by the filter through which they view you.
That’s exactly what’s happening in Nazareth. “Little Jesus” has come home – Jesus who was “just” a carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph, and is now teaching in the synagogue as if he were a rabbi. What on earth is he playing at trying to be someone else?
The townspeople of Nazareth are blinded by their familiarity with Jesus, and as a result they miss out completely on God’s work in their midst. Mark tells us that Jesus could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. They lost out on the wonder and joy of having the Messiah in their midst – one who had just raised someone from the dead in the story just before this one! Who would go on from here to feed five thousand people from a few loaves and fishes.
But more than the miracles, they lost out on knowing who Jesus actually was – his full identity as both Son of Man and Son of God. They lost out on the wonder of the Incarnation. The Word of God – also known as Jesus of Nazareth – the Word of God not only spoken in their synagogue but actually present in their midst, bringing in the Kingdom of God.
Imagine if they had been able to hear. Imagine the unique joy they could have had at being the hometown that knew Jesus when he was a child – the people that had dandled the Son of God on their knees.
It’s understandable, of course. I don’t imagine any of us might have acted much differently if the baker or the car mechanic from the community we grew up in suddenly showed up and asked us to believe he had a unique insight into who God is. It’s understandable that they were skeptical.
But it leaves us with a very important question: if we acknowledge that familiarity can blind us to ways that Jesus might be present that we weren’t expecting, what might we be missing today? How might he be speaking to us, in this service, in our communities, in the world? What unexpected thing might he be saying?
During our PALS group on Tuesday nights we’ve been studying the Book of Acts, and the question came up last week – how has Jesus revealed himself to us recently, in the last week or two? The question is one worth asking regularly, because a living faith means that we are constantly seeking after God, and God is constantly seeking to reveal himself to us. An increasingly intimate relationship.
Today I want to challenge you to an attitude of watchful expectation – an active seeking out of where Jesus might be making himself known to you today and this week.
One of the ways that Jesus still teaches us today, still heals us, as he wanted to do in that synagogue in Nazareth is through the proclamation of the Word. It’s easy to let familiarity get in the way, especially if it’s a well-known passage or a story you’ve heard before. And yet Christ is present in a unique way in the readings and in the sermon: the Word of God, spoken, living and active in our midst.
I read a beautiful little quote the other day about this from Christian thinker and author Henri Nouwen:
“When we say that God’s word is sacred, we mean that God’s word is full of God’s presence… And it is in the listening that God becomes present and heals. The Word of God is not a word to apply in our daily lives at some later date; it is a word to heal us through, and in, our listening here and now. The questions therefore are: How does God come to me as I listen to the word? Where do I discern the healing hand of God touching me through the word?” (Nouwen, With Burning Hearts, 47)
He longs to touch. Listen for him.
Another way that Jesus is present and active among us is through the Eucharist, the body broken and the cup shared.
Here’s Nouwen again:
“God not only became flesh for us years ago in a country far away. God also becomes food and drink for us now at this moment of the Eucharistic celebration, right where we are together around the table…The word that best expresses this mystery of God’s total self-giving love is ‘communion’. It is the word that contains the truth that, in and through Jesus, God wants, not only to teach us, instruct us, or inspire us, but to become one with us. God desires to be fully united with us so that all of God and all of us can be bound together in a lasting love.” (Ibid 68, emphasis mine)
God, and us, bound in a lasting love. In a few minutes we’ll come to the table and we’ll share the bread and the wine, and regardless of how distant God may have felt to you lately, how few exciting stories we have to share about Jesus meeting us on the Damascus road and turning our life around – all of that fades away as we approach this table, because here, every time, regardless of how familiar we are with it or how strange it still seems to us, Jesus meets us. It is here in that little wafer and little sip of wine that we come in contact with the living God. And whether we feel it or not, our lives become a little bit more entwined with his, “bound together in a lasting love.”
And then we take these moments – these precious moments of meeting God, of hearing Jesus in the words of Scripture and tasting him in the breaking of bread, and we go out to share them with the desperately hungry, needy world around us. There are people here, in this church and in this parish; along Weston, and all down Eglinton, in the bus shelters and in the malls, who are hurting and who need Jesus’ healing touch so badly. Dear ones, we can be bearers of Christ to them. And it is in looking with compassion into their faces that we will encounter Christ yet again.
One final quote from Nouwen:
“That Spirit, the Spirit of love, is hidden in their poverty, brokenness, and grief. That is why Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the poor, the persecuted, and those who mourn.’ Each time we reach out to them they in turn – whether they are aware of it or not – will bless us with the Spirit of Jesus and so become our ministers.” (Ibid, 89)
It’s the upside-down economy of God, where those who give, receive. Those who lose their life, gain it. And those who are looking for Jesus find him in both the familiar and in unexpected places.
Friends, my prayer for you this week is that your ears be open to hear Jesus’ words whispering into them; that your tongue and heart be ready to receive him in the bread and wine; and that your eyes be quick to seek out those who are hurting or in need, and in ministering to them, you may again encounter the living Christ.