16 August 2009

Who do we think we are?

Sermon for 9 August 2009
By Anne Crawford

Who Do We Think We Are?



In our Gospel reading today Jesus is back in Nazareth, the town where he grew up.  Not everyone is thrilled to see him.  Imagine if you will, a group of elderly men sitting around a table in the market square.  They’re having their morning coffee and smoking the hookah pipe.  Let’s drop in on the conversation.


Who does he think he is?


Yes, who indeed, stirring up the locals and getting quite a following too.

Dangerous if you ask me.

Yes, next thing you know there’ll be trouble for all of us.

We don’t need his type around here – going off to the desert to study and coming back with weird ideas. 

Dangerous if you ask me.

Joseph’s eldest isn’t he?

Yes, born in Bethlehem – strange stories around that at the time.  

Fancy coming back after all these years and telling everyone he’s the Bread of Life and the Son of God.

Don’t understand any of it but it sounds dangerous if you ask me.

We need to get him out of town or else it’s more trouble from the Romans.


Not much of a welcome home!  So what is really happening here?


Well, first of all, Jesus was a threat to the stability of the region as were many other itinerant preachers such as his cousin, John the Baptist.

These were volatile times with the Romans thinking nothing of putting hundreds of people to death by crucifixion.  It didn’t take much provocation to suffer that fate.

The subjugated Jewish population was scared. They knew that the least trouble they caused the better.  None of the local leaders wished to be associated with a trouble maker.


If we think of those occupied countries in Europe during the Second World War and the tensions, we might well be sympathetic with those who were critical of Jesus. 

His teachings were radical and were likely to cause trouble for the local population.

The leaders of the synagogue were well aware of the dangers from a political point of view.


Yet I sense that the deeper threat was that to the religious status quo.  Jesus was presenting new ways of living the Jewish faith.   New ways of interpreting the laws and thereby of managing the social fabric tied to them.

He was not asking for the law to be abandoned – far from it.  He upheld the law but he was pushing for reform both in thought and in action. 

He believed that women should be treated as beloved children of God rather than as chattels and that those at the bottom of the social ladder had as much right to be healed in body mind and spirit as anyone else.  Jesus wanted more emphasis put on social justice and teach people the practical ways of how to truly love their neighbours.


He healed on the Sabbath.  He broke the law.

He touched lepers physically to facilitate healing.  More law breaking.

These were radical actions intended to show that there was another way of interpreting the law that God had given to their ancestor Moses.


When he wasn’t healing, Jesus was teaching a new way of thinking about the Torah, and the prophets, and about whom God was and what God was doing in the world. 

This was revolutionary talk.  This was teaching that could lead to change and it was a change that not all were willing to embrace. 

Yes, there was resistance.


We don’t have to look far to see similar resistance to change in our world today.  Women in many countries still treated as chattel, child brides, honor killings, ignorance surrounding birth control and HIV/Aids.

And lest we become too smug, what about our own resistance to Ecumenicalism or to an inclusive church which treats all its members equally?  What about our resistance to the effort it takes each one of us to lower our daily carbon footprint.



Who does he think he is?


We take our imaginations back to Italy in the early 17th  century and observe a group of elderly men sitting around a table in the Vatican discussing the eminent physicist and astronomer, Galileo.

Galileo is possibly the person most responsible for the birth of modern science.  Yet the church in his day condemned his ideas as ‘false and contrary to Scripture.’  He was tried by the Inquisition and spent the last ten years of his life under house arrest. 


Who does he think he is?


Charles Darwin went to Cambridge to study theology in order to become a vicar in the Church of England. He became enraptured by the history of natural selection and is today considered the father of modern evolutionary theory.  He delayed publishing his work because of a possible conflict with the teachings of that Church.  He fears were realized when the Bishop of Oxford held a public debate denouncing his findings as contrary to the Biblical account of creation.


There have been many throughout history who have questioned the status quo of inequality, cruelty, slavery and human rights and who have acted to make the world a better place for humankind, living creatures and even for the planet itself.

These are the people who heard the new teachings of Jesus throughout the ages, and who responded by listening to the inner voice of the Spirit and by being courageous enough to follow the message they received.


Take a moment to think of some of them:


Oscar Romero, Dorothy Day, Nelson Mandela, William Wilberforce, Charles Dickens, Martin Luther, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Saint Francis, Hildegard of Bingen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  The list goes on.


The Nazarenes in our Gospel reading today had understood Jesus in an entirely literal way.  They professed to know who he was because they knew his parents.  But Jesus had spoken to them in metaphors.  He was telling them as he is telling us, that through him we can know God and we can receive that peace which the regular bread of this world cannot give.  When we are fed with the living bread of Jesus, we are able to rethink our old ways and begin to walk the way of him who guides us.

The way of Jesus is the way of truth and compassion.  It is the way of justice and shalom.  It is the way of kindness and it is the way of love.


Who do we think we are?


Do we welcome new ideas that allow us to rethink our thoughts and renew our commitments, or are we content to stick with the old routines?

Do we complain amongst one another about changes or do we encourage those who are willing to try a different way – a new way in which to open our hearts and minds to the love of God which surrounds us all each and every day. 



Let us pray:


Loving God

We know you in the breaking of the bread.

Open our hearts and minds to the endless possibilities

Of the New Way of seeing, believing, and doing

In Jesus’ Name we pray




August 9. 2009

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