Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pentecost 6B

A prophet is not without honour except in that prophet’s hometown, and among the prophet’s own kin and in their own house...” Jesus tell us.

Wow. I’m glad I’m not a prophet. Or else it might be a tad awkward for us if Jesus is right about what hometown friends do to prophets.

I’ve been back where I grew up here in St. Catharines for the better part of a month, and I can’t say I’ve experienced the angry stares and angrier words that Jesus endured when he stepped foot back in his hometown in Galilee.

As most of you know, in the bible, a “prophet” isn’t just someone who can predict the future, although that could be part of the prophet’s job. A prophet is someone who speaks for God.

A prophet is someone with a special authority to speak God’s renewing Word to a specific people in a specific time and specific place.

A prophet is a poet, spinning visions of a new world.

A prophet sings songs of changed lives, of people turning from a life of woundedness to a life of healing.

A prophet tells stories of sin condemned and forgiveness received. A prophet exposes injustice and speaks out on behalf of the oppressed.

A prophet sees a world of possibility - God’s possibility - where others merely see suffering and pain.

I think the frosty reception at home must have stuck like a stone in Jesus’ sandal because he gives his followers some pretty terse and specific instructions in the next section as he sends them out to heal the sick and cast out demons. He says to dust off their feet in protest at the doorstep of anyone who wouldn’t receive their message, just like Jesus’ hometown friends wouldn’t receive his message.

They couldn’t see what Jesus was up to because they probably had other expectations of what a saviour was supposed to look like. They’d heard all their lives that God would send a warrior to kick the Romans out and restore Israel to the glory days of King David.

But instead, they got Jesus. A homeless preacher with nothing in his hands but the message of the kingdom of God. No wonder they were confused.

You may have noticed that I don’t wear a clerical collar. I stopped regularly wearing one about 4 years ago because I found that it ceased doing what it was supposed to do. I found that the clerical collar wasn’t a way INTO peoples’ lives, but was keeping me OUT. I noticed that people were talking to the ring around my neck rather than to me. And they were parsing their words.

And because of that, I saw that people were hiding information from me. They were afraid that I’d judge them for their mistakes and hurts. They were afraid that my uniform meant that I was in the business of condemning them for their failures rather than being an agent of God’s mercy and forgiveness. My clothes were getting in the way of doing my job.


The phone rang and I recognized the number on the call display and wasn’t going to answer it. But the guilt-ridden sucker in me wouldn’t let me ignore someone who I knew needed my help.

Hi pastor, I need you to pick up my daughter’s prescription and take it to her apartment...” said the voice on the other end of the line.

I sighed.

What was I, a delivery service? Why does she assume that I have time to drop everything to pick up some pills, then drive across town to drop them off?

But rather than get into a heated argument with this particular person, like I so often did before with her, I decided I’d help her and her daughter.

Where can I pick them up?” I asked.

I was still grumbling when I drove across the city to the outskirts where the woman’s daughter lived. I put my “Clergy Parking -Emergency” sign on my windshield hoping that it might discourage vandals or thieves, since she was living in a drug-addled neighbourhood.

She buzzed me in and I and made my way through the haze of marijuana smoke that loitered in the hallway. I was worried about the smell sticking to my clothes and having to answer some uncomfortable questions when I got home.

I knocked on her door. When she opened it and saw me in my work clothes, her eyes grew six sizes. She wasn’t expecting - for what she knew - a priest to deliver her medication.

She invited me in and told me her story. She’d been arrested for stealing a car and had a history of drug abuse. So the judge ordered house arrest.

She sat up straight in her chair with her hands folded on her lap as we talked. She chose her words carefully. It was clear that she didn’t trust me.

Thank you for picking up my pills, pastor” she said. “They keep the demons in their cages.”

What demons?” I asked.

Depression,” she said, examining my face for a reaction.

How are you finding the medicine? Is it helping?” I asked.

Sort of,” she answered. “They keep me functioning. But they make me feel like I’m just going through the motions. I have no highs or lows. They steal the flavour from life.”

Yeah,” I noticed the same thing when I was on them.

Her eyes widened.

YOU!?” she shouted. “Why would a pastor need pills for depression!?”

We all need help from time to time,” I said.

Her shoulders relaxed and the muscles on her face softened. Then the REAL conversation began. She talked about her bully of an ex-husband, the impossible expectations of a perfectionist mom, and the life she dreamed of having.

I realized that she was sharing so openly with me, NOT because I had a collar around my neck and the word “reverend” in front of my name. In fact those things kept us at a distance.

She shared so openly because I shared her brokenness. I wasn’t preaching from a mountain top as if I had all the answers. She shared so openly because I could stand in her place and know what she was feeling. I couldn’t judge her when others did.

So we communed as two children of God bound by our frail humanity. And I think that could be the blessing that Paul talked about when he said, “God’s power is made perfect in human weakness...”

That’s why Jesus sent out his followers with nothing in their hands but the power of God. Jesus wanted to make sure that nothing was getting in the way of real ministry to be done.


I’ve often said that the church of the future will look more like an AA meeting than a broadway musical. Despite all outward appearances I think people are still looking for God. And it’s not new music or multi-media presentations of the gospel that people want to connect with. It’s not the “6 Steps to More Victorious Living” type sermons that draw people to church or to God. It’s not a brilliant marketing plan that will get people through the doors.

People are looking for a place where they can be broken and not be ashamed of it.

People are looking for a place where they can display their wounds proudly and not have to worry about the judgment of others.

People are looking for a place where they can finally rest - and be weak – because they have been strong for far too long - and no one will walk over them.

People are looking for place where they will find a God who will NOT reject them because they are not perfect.

And I’m guessing that’s what YOU want. You want a place where you can finally let your scars shine. You want a place where the bruises of life don’t have to be covered up.

YOU want a place where you can bring your painful past, your failed relationships, your deep depression. YOU want a place where you can actually grieve.

YOU want a place where you can finally rest in your woundedness, and no one will bat an eye, because everyone else brings their own bruised and battered hearts.

And this IS that place. The church IS that place. That’s why God drew you here to be part of this family of faith. In a few moments, we will consume what we say is the body and blood of someone who was defeated by life. We commune with a God whose greatest power was to die. We become one with the woundedness of God.

But this is also the place where we find renewal and healing. Where there is a cross there is also an empty tomb. This is place where you bring your tears and bruises, but it’s also the place where God takes those pieces of our broken and fragmented lives and pieces them back together again. This is the place of restoration. This is the place of resurrection.

And when you share in the bread and the cup, Jesus shares in your brokenness so you can share in his resurrection. And you become a resurrection people.

You ARE a resurrection people. YOU are a people who are living God’s resurrection life.

You still have your wounds, and you still have your scars, but because of Jesus they do not define you.

You still have your hurts and your bruises, but because of Jesus they will NOT take over your life.

You still have your painful past, but because of Jesus that past does NOT determine the abundant future God has for you.

You are a child of God named and claimed as God’s own through your baptism into Christ where you died with Jesus and rose to new life in him. And that’s why you can go into the world sharing God’s healing love. Not as one who is better than others. But as one who knows how deep pit goes, and by God’s grace, was pulled out. You are one who has hope in Jesus for a new and better tomorrow.

So maybe I was wrong. Maybe I am a prophet. And maybe you are too. Maybe all of us who bear Christ’s wounds and who share in his resurrection are prophets. We are a prophetic people. We are the ones commissioned to speak for God. Not a word of judgement. But a word of love. A word of hope. A word of healing. A word of peace.

So whether we are honoured or whether we are dishonoured in our hometown, we will still be God’s healing mercy to those who surround us.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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