July 8, 2018
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Psalm 48; Mark 6:1-13
There is currently a documentary playing in theatres; one that is profoundly important at this moment in history. The title of this documentary is, “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?” and is, of course the story about Fred Rogers and his vision of what a neighbourhood is called to be. In his television neighbourhood, Fred Rogers offered children an opportunity to experience a neighbourhood where people with differently coloured feet could sit together and dip their feet in the same cool water of a pool on a hot day; he offered children this vision at a time when, in many places, this was not an option.
Fred Rogers was, really, nothing more than an ordinary man; he spoke quietly, and slowly; he never ever exuded anything even resembling overt power; he was, simply, committed to fairness, and kindness, and equality. I would say, that for decades, for countless children, he was a channel through which God’s healing presence was made visible in the midst of a broken world. Today, as it seems the world may be even more broken – he has returned – through this documentary – to convey this same message of gentleness, and all encompassing love. And, by the way, he was a faithful and committed disciple of Jesus. I believe that he serves as a shining example – a follower – of Jesus’ healing presence in the midst of a less than inclusive, less than ideal neighbourhood. Fred Rogers is, in fact, a prophet: offering a vision beyond the world that is currently known.
In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus and his disciples have gone to Jesus’ home town – his neighbourhood. Here are the very people who were his friends and neighbours, who were at school with him or came to his carpenter’s shop. They have heard of his fame, but remain somewhat confused because they wonder how he has the audacity to proclaim such wisdom, perform such deeds of wisdom, when they know only-too-well that all this grandeur is way beyond his station. They refer to him as Mary’s son – and just one of five brothers; he is nothing special! In no way is he unique. He is, after all, just an ordinary person, and how dare he aspire to such grand gestures.
But as per usual, Jesus sees this situation within the context of the big picture, and quickly acknowledges that prophets are never accepted in their own home town. And here’s the clincher: his friends – the people in his neighbourhood – miss out, because their lack of faith blocks God’s power to help them. Jesus has already been rejected by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees. Now he is rejected by his friends and neighbours.
The point here is that the power of God works more effectively through those who are courageous enough to acknowledge their own weakness. The more full of our own illusions of power and strength, the less open we are to the power of God working through us. God’s power working through us enters in through our weakness. And furthermore, this story is being remembered after Jesus’ death and resurrection which means that those first century followers would now be seeing it in light of Jesus death and resurrection. They would be thinking, “Of course! All this talk of God working through weakness reaches its climax on the cross where the very Son of God suffers in every possible way, and dies a brutal death… only to rise from the tomb so that the whole of humanity may be enshrined in this truth.
Then this morning’s reading moves on to suggest what this means to those who choose to follow Jesus in this understanding of power working through weakness, as Jesus sends his disciples to extend this work. Jesus passes on to them this great power of God which is to shine through them, offering healing to an otherwise broken world. As they travel from place to place sharing this great gift, they do so modestly, without food, or money, or baggage; they depend entirely on God and the hospitality of strangers. If they are rejected, as Jesus has been, they are not to badger people into submission; they are to move on and share this gift elsewhere.
And here’s the thing: every time they allow the power of God to work through them in promoting healing and justice, they are living examples that – with Jesus, and commissioned by Jesus – they are building the kingdom of God. They prove hat the Kingdom of God is present by demonstrating God’s power; not THEIR power, but GOD’s power working through them.
So, Jesus is rejected, and as he calls his followers to carry on his work, he is also equipping them with a plan for when they, too, receive such rejection; and, of course, we know that they will. Prophets tend to be misunderstood by the people of their own time and place precisely because a prophet is always calling people to see beyond that time and place; beyond their current circumstances. They expand our vision by calling us out of complacency with injustice, reorienting us to the liberating will and power of God. This is what the Old Testament prophets were all about. This is what John the Baptist was all about.
And although Jesus – as the son of God, the long-awaited Messiah – moves beyond the role of prophet, certainly a significant part of his message was that of a prophet; that is: one who expanded the vision of the people of his time, urging them to see beyond their hatred and injustice and sickness… to envision a world where peace and love and justice abide.
I began with recalling the recent documentary on Fred Rogers, and I think this criteria makes him a prophet. He called his viewers to envision a neighbourhood very different from the one that many of them knew, where racism, injustice, division prevailed.
In a recent interview with David Letterman, Howard Stern spoke of the neighbourhood of his childhood; when families of colour began to move into an otherwise predominantly white neighbourhood, white families would panic, and therefore quietly sell their homes to more families of colour, who would literally move in in the middle of the night. This led to such racial tension that Howard Stern only ever knew a childhood school and neighbourhood experience where no one felt safe. This is the context in which Mr. Rogers was calling his viewers to imagine a neighbourhood beyond this; a neighbourhood steeped in love and justice and peace. A neighbourhood in which people of different colours could share the same pool.
I think today is a day to reflect on who the prophets are in our world today. Who are the ordinary people in our world who are calling us to see a world beyond the one we currently know? I read an article this week that highlighted a number of leaders who are working to make our world a more just and peaceful place; I would say, prophets who are calling us to imagine – and work toward - a world beyond the one we currently know.
A woman named Kesha Cash recognized that communities of colour are often overlooked in the financial world, their interests often ignored and their desire for positive economic impact for their neighbourhoods denied. So, she left a job on Wall Street, because she couldn’t justify gaining personal wealth and success at the expense of communities like the ones from which she came, having – herself – grown up in significant poverty. While the system was not equipped to help her reach her goals, special people helped her past the pitfalls that often trap people from underprivileged communities. Because of this, she has developed philanthropic organizations to fulfill her desire that her experience not be a rarity but, rather, a path that is open to everyone. Through this prophetic work, God’s power is working through the profound weakness she, and her family, have known.
Jeanette Vizguerra spent 86 days living in two different churches, often with 3 of her 4 children by her side, finding refuge from the U.S. government’s threat of deportation, until the government granted her a two-year stay of removal last year. Out of this experience of weakness and vulnerability, she has become an activist, working as a leader for the cause of immigrant’s rights. She is offering her people and the world in which she lives a glimpse into a world beyond the one in which she currently lives; a world of kindness, hospitality, justice, and love.
These are just two examples from this article that I read this week in Sojourner’s magazine. I encourage each of us here today to ponder this question: who are the prophets in our world today; and how can each of us, within the ordinariness of our own lives, live prophetically.
I think, again, of Malala Yousafzai, whose demand that girls be educated in Pakistan caused her to be attacked by the Taliban. Having survived the attack, she continues advocating for girls’ right to education. Though the God to whom she prays may be different from the one we know, she is allowing the great power of God to work through her vulnerability and weakness, and is offering her world a vision of something beyond what they currently know. I think that makes her a prophet.
And closer to home: all those who have led and continue to lead the way in truth and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples; this is just one example of how we may envision this within our Canadian context.
In a world in which the divorce rate is so high, and sadly I have to include myself in this statistic, I think that people who choose well in marriage, and work effectively so that their love may grow and thrive over a lifetime, serve as outward and visible signs of God’s unconditional love; they serve as prophets; prophets, because they call us all to envision something beyond the predominant divorce culture in which we live. In just a few minutes, we will be celebrating 40 years of such a marriage. Thank you to the couple we celebrate with for offering us this incentive and this vision. It is such a gift to be celebrating with you today.
At the very core of our faith is a God who came into the world in the person of Jesus, who called his world to envision love and harmony, inclusion and justice… a vision that rises far beyond the world that was, or is, known. As his followers, we are called to do the same: at home; at church, in all our communities close by and abroad.
Amen. May it be so.