Sermons
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July 5, 2015, 12:00 AM

6 Pentecost

6th Sunday of Pentecost 5 July in the Year of our Lord 2015 

Morning Prayer and Sermon at Christ the King

Ezekiel 2:1-7                                                                             Psalm 123 Page 780, BCP                                                                 2 Corinthians 12:2-10                                                                Mark 6:1-13

      TO MISS THE MARK & FIND NEWNESS OF LIFE

For we are buried together with him by baptism into death; that as Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life. Romans 6:4

 

A Russian literary critique of the early 20th century believed that “habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war.” The first taste of an exotic fruit is wonderful, over time its special quality may be muted. Some years ago I bought an Italian sport coat in San Francisco, I felt like a Spanish nobleman when I wore it. Today I rarely notice it in my closet. Married people who have made love to each other hundreds or even thousands of times go to counselors for help for they wish to regain the passion and joy they experienced the first few times. Good luck, unless you discover the Fountain of Youth. The point is that habit may kill our apprehension of reality. Let’s look at one case in the call of the prophet Ezekiel.

The Prophetic books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel imply that habit may indeed devour the fear of war, such as led Israel and Judah king’s to open revolt against the exponentially more powerful Babylon. After being shocked by a spectacular vision of four angelic Cherubim and an image of God blazing in light and fire, Ezekiel is told by God that he was chosen to prophesy to the people of Judah and Israel. He was to offer repentance to a defeated people in exile. 

Yet even in their humiliation and uprooting to a foreign land, they do not want change. God tells Ezekiel he is to speak God’s messages to them even though they are “a rebellious house … thorns and scorpions.” Yahweh was faithful to his covenant with “Abraham and his descendants.” He determined that even in desolation brought on by their unfaithfulness … He would give them an authentic prophet who would offer newness of life. Ezekiel will find that the Chosen People do not wish for renewal and hold to their old ways. And so Jerusalem will be destroyed and Israel remains in captivity for decades. Yet if we look to the end of Ezekiel’s prophesy, the LORD promises that His people will, in the future repent and again be blessed.

Habit may also preserve modern forms of sinful behavior. N.T. Wright says that all sin springs from the “primal fault, which is idolatry, worshiping that which is not God, as if it were” (Surprised By Hope, 179). Material idolatries that put possessions first and God after, white lies (that supposedly hurt no one), petty demonstrations of pride, evasions when Jesus calls us to some kind of service. 

And we cannot forget genocidal sins on a massive scale, true horrors of human decision-making. In each of the examples to follow some ideology took the place of God. Stalin’s Purges of 1932-1939 took 7 million lives: wealthy peasants who resisted collectivization, 90% of the officer class of the Military and countless political undesirables killed in Siberian Gulags.   Adolf Hitler’s Nazi’s killed 12 million Jews, Slavs and other civilians and abandoned 3 million Russian POWs to starvation. Hideki Tojo, the head of the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces oversaw the murder of 5 million civilians in occupied territories from 1941-1944. In Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution from 1958-1962, 45 Million Chinese were worked, starved or beaten to death. Chinese leaders love to take Tojo to task for his massacres in Nanking and other Chinese cities but their revisionist history is silent on the so-called Great Leap Forward’s genocide. These are just the most egregious examples of genocide in the 20th century. There are many more.  

We may be disappointed or even outraged at times with our leaders or practice of government. The way so many running for office are bought and paid for makes me ill. We cringe at examples of civilian barbarity such as happened at the Emanuel AME church of South Carolina last month. But I thank the LORD that our country does not have to carry the psychological burden of genocide on such a scale. 

Nearly all of the people I love in the world are Americans. I thank God for this country and have never wanted to live anywhere else. Happy 4th of July! But we are not finished.

A preacher’s message is not easily born. The readings for this morning did not coalesce for me until I thought about what St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans: since Christ is risen … so we may also walk in newness of life. Then the Old and New Testament readings shaped up for me around the idea of turning from the ordinary and habitual to “newness of life.” 

The word sin in the New Testament is hamartia, which means to miss the mark, our failure to will to reflect the image of God: such as led Adam and Eve to disobey. Repentance, as preached by the prophet’s, by Jesus and the Apostles leads to change, a return to true humanness, a renewal of life … not lockstep obedience to endless lists of arbitrary rules. Let’s have a look at the gospel lesson.

During his ministry, Jesus reached out equally to all: rich and poor, young and old, urbanites and village dwellers, saints and sinners.  At one point he decided to visit his family and hometown, and share his message with his fellow villagers. Today Nazareth is a small city of about 75,000 people, primarily Arab Christians but also thousands of Jews. Archaeological excavations have confirmed that the city was an agricultural village of about 500 during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. During the lifetime of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, village people knew one another, and like Jesus, lived, prayed and studied in the Jewish tradition. They gathered in the synagogue, meeting for prayer and holidays. Nazareth was home to Jesus in the same way that Quincy and the surrounding communities are home to many of us. Jesus was well known and respected enough to be allowed to teach in their local synagogue on the Sabbath. So I presume he had rabbinical status. St. Mark says that those who heard him were amazed and offended at the same time.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?  Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Both the message and the healing ministry are seen to be notable: where did he learn all this wisdom, and how can he perform miracles? But what is the default position of the most vocal of the men present: he is no better than us, a common laborer. We know his family; he is no one special. We see here the insanity of unbelief: his fellow villagers are amazed at his teaching and admit to seeing miraculous healing, yet they reject his authority and message. Leave us be and do not speak to us of Good News and New Life.

Jesus is amazed: A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.

But he is not hampered by this set back; he left Nazareth and proceeded from Jewish village to village in Galilee, and sent out his 12 Disciples with authority to do the same. Preach repentance and heal the sick. Preach that we have missed the mark and failed to reflect the image of God in the way we live. Preach that we are offered through relationship to Jesus a way to walk in newness of life. Jesus counsels the 12 to follow his example: don’t be concerned about money or extra clothes but except the hospitality of those who embrace the message; if a town rejects the message, leave it the way I did Nazareth, my home town. There are always other villages and other people.

Anthony Doerr, in Four Seasons in Rome said, “the easier an experience, or the more entrenched, or the more familiar, the fainter our sensation of it becomes.” Habits are imbedded and we persist in them, even though the habitual patterns often dictate a grayer, less meaningful life. Yet to the reformer we say, “leave me be, it may be a drab life but it’s mine.”

Shall we apply these Scriptural insights to ourselves? Or do we wish to live in a habitual haze of the commonplace and the familiar? Do we choose the easy way of the faint hearted or grasp the hand of the Savior and seek through Jesus glory, honor and immortality!

As was true for the people of ancient Israel and Judah, and for the villagers of Nazareth, God knows where we stand and what we need. He will send us prophetic voices that convey a message offering newness of life, a message with the same currency that it had in ancient Israel and 1st century Nazareth. These messengers will speak with authority words of power and beauty that are consistent with the Scriptural revelation that is our lodestone. And on occasion, if we are paying attention, the word will go directly to the hidden needs of our hearts. As Jesus said, come to me, come to me, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

 

 

Quincy California

Joseph J. Muñoz

 

 

 

 


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