Sunday, July 09, 2006

Proper 9B

Ezekiel 2:1-7; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-6

The first time I drove to Camp Bratton-Green by myself, I had been given pretty good directions – which exit to take, then take an immediate left, which state road to turn on to, which side of the road the entrance to camp was on. And I made it there just fine. But when it was time to leave, I noticed that the directions didn’t actually name the road between the exit and the state road, so, afraid that I would miss the turn, I asked someone for help, and was told, “Oh, you know, I don’t know, but it’s that intersection where the two-story house used to be.”

I’ve gotten a few directions like that around here, too – “Just turn at Mary and Dave’s house, well, the Smith’s live there now, and it’s right there. Just before the house where Ann grew up.”

Places – especially in the South it seems – are very often more than they are. They are also who they used to be. They don’t have names – they have stories, and someone who’s lived here a long time can recognize them as easily from a piece of their history as from a street address.

People can be like that, too, especially in the south, especially in small towns. Everyone knows everyone, and who their parents were, and who they took to the prom. Ask who was sitting behind someone in church, and you’re likely to hear, “Oh that’s Steve, the doctor, Jack and Lisa’s son. Scored the winning touchdown in the state championship. He grew up across the street from Mary and Dave’s house, well, the Smith’s live there now. ”

Nazareth was very much like a small southern town. Everyone knew everyone – most of them were related, if not by blood, then by marriage. Businesses were handed down by generation. No one ever left.

Except Jesus. Just as he was taking on his father’s trade and responsibility for supporting the family, he up and left, muttering something about water and the Holy Spirit and the kingdom of God. Bless his heart.

When he finally came back home, the townspeople recognized him right away. He was the one whose birth to parents-barely-married had caused quite a stir. The rabbi remembered Jesus dutifully studied the Torah as a young boy, full of questions about God and the world. The shopkeepers remembered him running with his friends through the marketplace at breakneck speed. The young women, now mothers themselves, remembered wondering if he was going to be the one their parents chose to be their husband. And most of them had something in their home he had made with the careful, calloused hands of a carpenter – a bench, a table, a doorframe.

Jesus was no stranger to the people of Nazareth. They knew him as well as they knew themselves. Like them, he was not just ordinary – he was extra-ordinary. Jesus was no stranger, but no one had any idea who he was. Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?

There is a modern-day story about a young man who, as a teenager, had been kicked out of the corner grocery store in his neighborhood for causing more than a few problems there. Twelve years later, the devoted father of two and a newly certified social worker, he returned home to visit his family. He walked over to the corner grocery for milk, and was surprised to see the same store owner behind the counter. The store owner looked up at him, squinted his eyes and said, “I told you, stay out!”

A more familiar modern-day story, perhaps, is that of mild-mannered newspaper reporter Clark Kent, so ordinary that all it takes is a pair of glasses to keep people from knowing that he’s Superman.

Theologians have called this the scandal of particularity. Someone or something is so familiar, so common, so extra-ordinary, that we miss what is extraordinary about them. We know them (or think we know them) so well that we don’t know them at all.

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary? Jesus, who spent most of his adult life as a craftsman, had no credibility as a tent-show evangelist in Nazereth. Where did this man get all this? they asked. What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands?

The people of Nazareth had such an opportunity that day. They could open their hearts and minds to something new, finally believe Mary’s strange story about an angel and a baby and a promise that God was going to be at work in the world in a very ordinary and wonderful way. Heaven right there, in their small town. Jesus, the Messiah, the boy whose sticky fingerprints were always on the water jars.

Instead, they took offense at him. His preaching – though apparently astounding – was scandalous. He was pretending to be something he was not. Instead of miracles, they saw magic tricks. Instead of God, they saw a carpenter. Their hearts and minds remained closed around what they already knew, that Jesus belonged among wooden beams, with a hammer, and nails in his hands.

Thousands of years and millions of witnesses later, we know that the man who walked into town that day was the carpenter, the son of Mary, and that he was also the Savior, the Son of God. In Jesus, God was a little boy who lost his father, who stubbed his toes, who learned a trade, who worked for a living, who supported his family. What was once a scandal we now take as the foundation of our faith, the scandal of a God whose intimate familiarity with us went even to death on a cross. In Jesus, love was made extraordinary in ordinariness.

There is, then, a unique challenge for us in this morning’s gospel. From our baptismal covenant we know that we are called to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. Our beautiful worship spaces, our fine and ancient liturgies, our passion for outreach, our summer camp, are all truly extraordinary efforts to answer that call.

But this morning we are being called to something much more….ordinary. We are being called to see what the people of Nazareth could not, what they were too scandalized to see – that God is most profoundly present in what is most profoundly common, familiar, and ordinary in our lives.

The ordinary contains extraordinary wonders. We make that claim every time we share a meal of bread and wine, every time we are sprinkled with water from the font, every time we gather to celebrate the life of the carpenter, the son of Mary.

When you leave here this morning, go back just the way you came (you know, past Mary and Dave’s house, well, the Smith’s live there now, and through the intersection where the two story house used to be). Go back just the way you came and look along that familiar road. Every day, look in the most common, familiar, ordinary places and people of your lives – the ones you know so well – and see them, perhaps for the first time, as places where God is profoundly present, as people whose stories reflect something of the story of Jesus. Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary? Yes, it is, and thank goodness, for in him the extraordinary love of God touched our ordinariness, so that our lives, too, could be made extraordinary. Amen.

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