A Sermon preached at Cuddesdon Theological College

February 5, 2020

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Preached by The Very Reverend Dean Catherine Ogle, using 2 Samuel 24: 2, 9-17  and Mark 6: 1-6a at Cuddesdon Theological College on Wednesday 5 February 2020.

Lambeth Palace is undergoing change. The incumbent, the Archbishop of Canterbury wants his household to model the priorities of love, growth and reconciliation, so there needs to be some refashioning of the bricks and mortar. If you’ve ever been to Lambeth you’ll know that it’s a fortified enclosure. As the household there seeks now to embody openness, hospitality, service so the place needs some remodelling.

The architects’ graphic presentation of the project begins with a slide of the grand old Palace and asserts that Lambeth Palace is first and foremost, a home, it says:

‘Home is where one starts from.[1]

We start from home.

When I went to University, I was 18 and thought that I was leaving home. But of course, I know now that I was wrong. There’s a sense in which home, and all home means in terms of how we’ve been raised and formed, always travels with us. This may be good and life-giving and nourishing, or not, home may be something that we want to reproduce and emulate or grow away from and do things differently. Either way, home, is part of our on-going identity.

If home is where one starts from, and what we journey with, then returning home takes care.

The return of Jesus to his home of Nazareth is of enormous significance. Nazareth was his home for 30 years. That will be 90% of his life. His formative years and his working life. What are all those years about? Perhaps you’ve read the book by Sam Wells published in 2015, A Nazareth Manifesto, an excellent and comprehensive reflection on the meaning of those 30 years of God with us, Emmanuel, in Nazareth. Do read it.

When Jesus returns to Nazareth its hugely significant and surely he would hope to be welcomed back as the local boy made good. After sensational events in Galilee and beyond, he comes back as a Rabbi, with followers, back to teach in the synagogue. Our reading from Mark’s Gospel says that the people recognise his knowledge and his wisdom but that, ‘They took offence at him’. ‘Isn’t this the carpenter?’ ‘Isn’t this the son of Mary?’ There’s no admiration or praise, instead its denigration. And Jesus says what has become a proverb, because we recognise its truth, ‘Prophets are not without honour except in their home town and among their own kin and in their own house.’ This cuts to the bone doesn’t it? Your own kin, your own house rejecting you.

Perhaps its tall poppy syndrome. The disapproval of someone who achieves in some way? Someone who stands out. When my friends and I were going to University, we were the first in our families to do this. My friend Jane was counselled by her grandmother, ‘Don’t reach too high!’ and my own dear Dad sent me off with the words, ‘Don’t put yourself forward!’ They were voicing a fear based in their own lack of confidence.

Perhaps the people in Nazareth were envious of the fame and attention that Jesus attracted, perhaps they were angry to have been left behind? Going home is always complex. Both for the returnee and those around them. Perhaps you return now to family and former homes and find incomprehension or even hostility to your life choices.

When Jesus returns to Nazareth[2], despite knowing Jesus well, the people simply can’t see who he is now and they reject him. The more wondrous he becomes the more they take it as some kind of criticism.

Jesus causes offence. They respond with hostility and it’s a foretaste of what will come. Jesus is rejected in his own synagogue as he will be rejected in the Temple. What Jesus is teaching is so profoundly challenging to them. Jesus is talking about the fulfilment of Gods promises now, the coming of the kingdom of God now, and everyone is invited. Being with Jesus exposes their own poverty and oppression and their own need of forgiveness. No wonder they get angry. He exposes the truth and brings things out into the light that it would be easier to leave in the dark. As Simeon prophesied to Mary, her son is destined ‘to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed’[3]

Jesus challenges them and us with an inclusive, selfless love that is bigger than the nuclear family, as we see in his attitude to his own family. ‘Who are my mother and brothers?’ Mark 3:33, ‘Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ His vision is bigger than the nation state. Jesus challenged then and he challenges us now to a greater vision, a deeper truthfulness and a greater love to include everyone.

It would be much easier to preach a narrow love, for one’s own kind, kept within limits.

After the Brexit vote four years ago, I was living in Birmingham diocese, some of us got together to reflect on what had happened in our communities. A priest from a former mining area told us that on the Sunday after the vote a stranger came to their small village church. The stranger cried all through the service. Afterwards they found out that she was from Eastern Europe, working here as an agricultural labourer. She shared a small house, with other migrant workers, and slept on the floor. She was here to earn money so that her adult son back home could train as a doctor. She was upset and scared by the vote, hence her coming to church to cry. On that day someone living and working, invisibly, in that community became real to the church community. The priest said that hearts and minds opened that morning to the stranger. Something changed. Christ had visited them and opened their eyes.

Christ will always challenge our narrow minds and hearts, if we will see and if we will listen. His love will stretch our hearts to include rather than exclude, accept rather than reject. In his name we are called to preach and to live an inclusive and generous love.

We are living through times and changes that have somehow, emboldened the expression of prejudice and racism, to our shame. We need to be on our metal as Christians, to stand against this as followers of Christ, the one who broke down barriers, who brings reconciliation, growth and love and in whom all people are brothers and sisters.

May our homes and churches, our minds and hearts be re-shaped each day to accommodate and make real the love of Christ for a needy world. Until at our final home coming when we meet God face to face and live in his eternity. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Part II East Coker, 1940

 

[2] Drawing on ideas from Sam Wells ‘A Nazareth Manifesto’ 2015

[3] Luke 2: 34 – 35