Friday, July 6, 2012

Accept or Reject (July 8 2012)

Homily Yr B Proper 14, July 8 2012, St. Albans
Readings:  2 Sam 5:1-5, 9-10; Ps 48; 2 Cor 12:2-10; Mk 6:1-13

Our readings this morning may seem to be an odd collection at first glance.  The Old Testament reading is about David finally, after seven and a half years, being accepted as King of Israel.  The New Testament reading from 2 Corinthians has Paul telling us of an amazing vision and spiritual experience.  And the gospel which we just heard is the story of Jesus’ less than spectacular return to his hometown of Nazareth.  At first glance, these stories don’t seem to have a lot in common.  But there is one theme  that I do find in each of these readings and that is the theme of acceptance and rejection, and so that’s the theme that I’d like to explore with you a little bit this morning.

All of us encounter moments and face decisions of acceptance and rejection every day of our lives.  Some are trivial.  The alarm clock goes off in the morning.  Do you accept the instructions that you pre-programmed for yourself and get up, or do you reject them and go back to sleep?  Probably not a big deal most of the time.  But some moments of acceptance and rejection are much more profound.  When you discover over the course of your marriage that your spouse is not the person you thought he or she was, is your response acceptance or rejection? 

On what basis do we make such judgments or decisions?  Are our responses of acceptance or rejection, of people, of ideas, of circumstances, are they even well thought out decisions, or are they more like gut reactions?  Does our faith enter into any of this, or is that just reserved for Sunday mornings?

One of the reasons that I think it’s worth reflecting on these things is because they say a lot about who we are.  That’s ironic in a way, because we think that the focus is on the thing or person or idea that we’re evaluating.  But when we accept or reject something or someone, in the end that says much more about us than anything else.

I think that Mark the gospel writer understood this.  That’s why he’s structured his gospel, the one we’ve been reading off and on for most of this year, he’s structured it so that the key question that keeps surfacing for his readers is that of “Who do you think Jesus is?”  Mark is constantly encouraging us to respond to Jesus, to answer that question for ourselves.  Because when we do respond, when we accept or reject Jesus, when we make judgements about Jesus, we learn something about ourselves, and we become part of the story, ready to go on our own journey.

In our Old Testament text, today’s reading comes seven years after the death of Saul, the first king of Israel.  After Saul’s death, David had been proclaimed as King of his own tribe of Judah, but the northern tribes of Israel had followed Abner, one of Saul’s military commanders, and they had installed one of Saul’s sons, Ishbaal as king.  A long war followed between David’s and Ishbaal’s armies, during which David’s forces became stronger and stronger, and Ishbaal’s became weaker.  Finally, after seven years of rejecting David, the leaders of the northern tribes come to David at Hebron in the reading we heard today and accept him as their King, and David goes on to be the King of all the tribes of Israel for thirty-three more years.

So why is it that the response of the northern tribes to David changes from one of rejection to acceptance?  Their words say that they want David as king because the Lord had told David that he was to be shepherd of Israel and because David had been a great army leader under Saul.  But they had known these things before, during the seven years that they had rejected David.  The reason they are accepting him now seems to be a bit more basic:  David is a winner, he has military power and the northern tribes realize that it is in their own-self interest to align with the one who has the power.

In our New Testament reading of 2 Corinthians we find ourselves in the middle of Paul’s response to the church at Corinth about a power struggle that has broken out there.  Paul is the apostle who founded the Christian community at Corinth and first told them the good news of Jesus, and since then has served as their spiritual guide, through periodic visits and correspondence.  But it seems that others who call themselves apostles have infiltrated the community and discredited Paul, calling on the community to reject Paul and his teaching and to endorse their leadership.  These so-called apostles claim to have better credentials than Paul.  They are more authentically Jewish, they have a much more extensive list of achievements, and they have had superior spiritual visions and revelations which bolster their credentials.  In short, they claim to have a better C.V. than Paul, and as a result they’ve been able to displace him in the eyes of at least some in the community.

And so Paul responds to the challenge in the reading we just heard.  Even though it’s foolish to be arguing on the basis of our C.V’s and past credentials, he writes, let me answer my critics.  And he goes on to give an account of his Jewish roots, of his missionary work and the suffering and persecution he has endured as a result, and in today’s reading, of the vision and revelation that he experienced 14 years previously.  If I wanted to boast about these things, I could, says Paul.  But it is more important for you to make your response based not on past accomplishments but on what you see in me and hear from me.  Accept or reject me not based on my CV, but on whether my actions and my words are a proclamation of the kingdom of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel, Jesus returns to his hometown.  You will recall that Jesus has been traveling around the region of Galilee, teaching, healing.  He has demonstrated his power over the forces of evil, over illness, over nature and even over death.  Crowds of people flock to see him.  But when he gets back home and begins to teach in the local synagogue, all of a sudden he encounters a different reaction.  Cynicism.  Skepticism.  Jealousy.  Rejection.

Instead of learning from his teaching, they wonder where he got it from.  Instead of believing that his power is from God, they question why he’s able to do these things.  They actually seem to talk themselves out of a response of faith.  After all, we know this man, they say.  He’s a nothing, a carpenter, one of the landless people, the lowest class.  He’s the son of Mary, we can’t even say for sure who his father is, apparently his birth was a bit of a scandal and people still whisper about it in the village.  Who does he think he is, teaching in the synagogue like someone important when in reality he’s no different than his brothers and sisters who live here with us?

And so they take offence at him.  They reject him and they have no faith.  Instead of accepting Jesus, they try to cut him down to size.  Instead of celebrating the wisdom that God has given him, they try to bring him down to their level.  Anyone surprised by any of this?  We shouldn’t be, because we do it all the time.  How often do we try to make ourselves feel better by putting down other people?  How often do we harbour resentments and jealousy when people who are just like us all of a sudden become successful.  Our response of acceptance or rejection has very little to do with what we are accepting or rejecting and a lot more to do with our own wounds and insecurities deep inside us.

We learn a lot about ourselves from the things, ideas and people that we accept or reject.  And sometimes, like in these three stories, the picture we get of humanity isn’t very pretty.  We can be self-seeking, trying to align ourselves with the winning side.  We can be seduced by power or by fame.  Our jealousies and insecurities can be more powerful than our search for truth or for what is right.  Our fears and our scepticism can win out over our faith and our beliefs.

But that doesn’t have to be the case.  Immediately following his rejection in his hometown, Jesus turns to the twelve followers that he has gathered about him.  Here’s what I want you to do.  I want you to go out to all the villages, to heal the sick and to proclaim the kingdom of God.  Take nothing with you, give up your financial security, leave home and friends and learn to trust God for your needs.  This is your mission if you choose to accept it.  And the twelve do accept, and head out on their journey.

As we listen to these stories, as we read the gospel of Mark each week, we’re confronted over and over again with the same question:  Who is this Jesus?  Some will reject him.  Others accept him, and their lives are changed.  How do you respond?


No comments:

Post a Comment