Sunday 4 July 2021
Ezekiel 2:1-5, Mark 6:1-13
May I speak this morning in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
On Tuesday of last week the Church celebrated the two Saints Peter and Paul together.
Bearing in mind that most Saints, even ones you have never previously heard of, get a day all to themselves it may look a bit odd that these two pillars of the church, have to share.
It looks even more odd when you realise how different they were in so many ways. Peter was a ‘salt of the earth’ fisherman from Galilee, not very learned, often a bit impetuous. Paul was more of a scholar, advanced in his studies of Judaism and an early persecutor of the church. Even as apostles they did not always agree with one another.
But, despite their obvious differences in character and temperament, they did have something significant in common. They both responded to the call of Jesus on their lives to make a difference in the world. Peter was called by Jesus in person to leave his nets and become a fisher of men. Later he was called to be the Rock on which the church would be built. Paul was called spiritually by Jesus whilst he was on the road to Damascus, to stop being a persecutor of the church and he became its greatest evangelist.
What I love about these two saints being celebrated together is that we are reminded that the church is not built on those who are like us and who agree with us in all things. The church was never intended to be a club for the like-minded but is the place where the whole world is redeemed, and the whole world includes people who are different from us in all sorts of ways.
So, the sharing of this day by two great saints says loud and clear that the church can live with difference and diversity and even disagreement. We can choose our friends but we can’t choose our family and the Church is a new family.
This time of year, often called Petertide, is also about the calling to minister within and to the church. Peter and Paul were both called and ‘ordained’ to their different ministries and most Dioceses in the Church of England ordain their deacons and priests at this time of year, and my Facebook and Twitter feed has been full of ordination photos and memories.
Although this ordination season is a source of joy and excitement, and it is always a privilege to respond to God’s call on your life, and to see others do so, we are also reminded that ministry can be a costly business, even for Jesus.
Last week we heard that Jesus healed a woman merely by her touching his cloak and that he brought a 12 year old girl back from death. It is clear to all those around him that Jesus is a powerful miracle worker, a prophet of God and perhaps even more than that.
And then Jesus returned to his home town of Nazareth – the place where he had grown up with his family, had been surrounded by friends and neighbours – in short the place where he had been known since being a young child.
When Jesus started preaching in the synagogue things seemed to be going well at first. We are told that the people who heard him were ‘astounded’ at both his words of wisdom and the deeds of power that he had been doing. And they wondered “Where did this man get all this?” The obvious implication being that such power and wisdom must come from a place above and beyond his humanity – that it comes from God.
But in the blink of an eye the astonishment of the people in the synagogue turned to doubt and to cynicism:
“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary – are not his brothers and sisters here with us?”
The crowd allowed their knowledge of Jesus as a person – a person with a family and a history – someone they may well have seen scampering around the streets of Nazareth as a child – to destroy any possibility that there was something else, something divine, going on here. And we are told that they ‘took offence at him’.
I am reminded here of not one but two Monty Python sketches. In the first John Cleese enters a room dressed smartly in a suit and his elderly mother and one of her elderly friends are there. He says “Good evening Mother” and the two old ladies are amazed that he can walk and talk until, eventually, he says: “Mother, I am the Secretary of State for Trade.” and that sets them off again.
And the other is, of course, from the Life of Brian when Brian’s mother says to the gathered crowd, “He is not the Messiah, he is a very naughty boy.”
And we can probably understand the human nature of what is going on. Here in Hadlow, where no one knew me as an 8 year old, I am the Vicar and many people like to imagine that Vicars drop from the sky fully formed. But when I visit friends and family I am not the Vicar, I am simply Paul and rather than getting to preach I usually struggle to get a word in edgeways.
But of course, the whole point of the incarnation is that Jesus was fully human, a person with a family and a history of growing up in Nazareth who was also fully divine. God works through real, living, breathing human beings not only in the person of Jesus but also in his church – sometimes that makes it hard to discern the divine through the human but it is a useful reminder that we need to open our eyes to the divine presence in the familiar and the material – ordinary bread and wine are transformed to divine service but so too are ordinary men and women – even those we may have seen growing up and even those we know to be fallible human beings.
So, the encounter in the synagogue that started well with the crowd being astounded with Jesus ends with him being amazed at their unbelief.
In many ways this passage should be a comfort to those of us in ministry who may have unrealistic expectations about people liking us because we are seeking to do good or being won over by our preaching. And, indeed, when Jesus sent out the apostles he made it very clear that just as his ministry was not welcome in Nazareth so there will be times and places when the apostles are not welcome either. It is the apostle’s responsibility to go in the name of Christ and do what they are commanded to do but if the people won’t respond then that is the people’s responsibility. Likewise it is the prophet Ezekiel’s responsibility to go to the people, but it is up to them how they respond.
With the exception of Jesus himself, who still had to suffer the disbelief of his home crowd, all those called and ordained into the service of God including Peter and Paul and this Paul are fully human beings with pasts and with faults. Do we choose to take offence at the humanity of the preacher or do we choose to listen to the divinity of the message?
What is that message? God loves you and he calls you to love him and love each other, even those who are unlike you in every way.
How will you respond to that message this week?