In our gospel lesson today we have layers of past present and future All living together in a vulnerable conversation That expresses deep connection and alienation and fear. Let's start with the past that is in the room. Jesus’ past. The majority of his life that we know nothing about. Unlike holiday hymns that sing of a meek and mild young Jesus, I believe that the adult we know in the gospels is much the same as the child.
Jesus has returned to his hometown and home neighborhood. Where people have a deep love for him, and perhaps a whole set of other feelings too. Most of us know something like this scene today. When we are with our family of origin or place of origin We are there with the memories and experiences of who we once were, who they once were. The past is not the past. It is right there in the room with you.
The present is of course there with Jesus and his neighbors and his friends and family. And the scene starts out positive. We tend to read the line about ‘isn’t that Joseph’s son’ in the doubting mode, but it could be read more in the whoa - hey - that’s Joseph’s son! way. The scene starts out warm and welcoming and it is Jesus in his upending the status quo self who riles things up. You might notice all the wonders he is known for are alluded to in his teaching here healing, cleansing - which is the free forgiveness of sins, and feeding. This is good news that isn’t heard as good news if you are trying to just keep your head down. It is Jesus’ aggressiveness with these announcements that get him run out on a rail.
The future is also in this lesson. This Jesus movement was massively unsuccessful in Jesus’ home territory. Nazareth, Galilee, Capernaum - all missional failures. Every gospel is written in the context of and for immediate local Jesus movement communities. And it could be that this lesson is naming that heartbreaking disappointment, of failure in Jesus’ own hometown. Yet it is also a warning - that the synagogues were becoming places of confrontation and danger. These two groups were not distinct yet, but they were also deep in the pain of a growing sense different visions of what God is doing in the world. Which leads to animosity towards each other - often involving families and friends and neighbors.
The good news here is that Jesus’ mission what we have committed ourselves to in baptism and Eucharist is one of feeding and healing and resurrection life. Be the golden rule, strength for the weak, joy for the joyful, ears for the grief. But mostly this lesson today is a bit of an ouch and oops. It hits close to home because it is about how we are not very good at living together in the context of changes and differences. That the past is always with us and the future too It is all in motion together and this makes us anxious and dizzy. We struggle to make sense of the vulnerabilities and heartaches that such interwovenness of time and experience In the context of constant change can create.
Grace Church is certainly in one of these strange spaces of multilayered time. Feeling vulnerable about the now and what comes next and always experiencing The hope and heartaches of the past. A number of you have lived here and been near here for your entire lives. The buildings and farmlands carry memories of the past that is right here in the room with us. But it is also a basket of ways that this place may not experience again. The future is also right here in the room with us In our works of healing and feeding and discipleship. It is in the hopes we nurture and the anxieties that we are stifled by.
The future has come home, it is right here in the room with the past and the present. Like Jesus in his old neighborhood. We cannot bury our heads in the sand We should not rush to quick fixes nor just sit on our hands and wait to see what happens. Our hard question is how do we equip the future to be a creative and compelling witness to the love of God? It may not look like the past or the present, But it can be good news. We can listen. learn. lean in to the daring flexible Grace that this parish is named for. We will be changed so…. Let this assurance of the certain love of Jesus be our motivation to meet the challenges of the whole basket of time that we are in.
God Loves this place and all the people of this parish and neighborhood, loves your past, present and future, Whatever shape it takes. The past is right here in the room. So to is the future. And God already loves it, and so can you. Amen.
February 3 2019
Grace Episcopal Church
Pemberton, New Jersey