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Sermon: Choral Evensong - 26 June 2016

Derek Holbird
Sunday 26th June 2016
Choral Evensong
Mark 6: 1-6
Isaiah 25: 1-12
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He left that place and came to his hometown v1

Jesus had been away, over the lake.  He had performed miracles and the story had spread like wild fire.  Back again over the lake and great crowds gathered around him by the waterside.  As he moves on the crowd follows him and press in on him. There is yet another miracle.

And then he comes home.  Here are his neighbours, the people he grew up with, the older people who grew up with his dad.  His brothers and sisters are still around and they see them every day. He is the strange young man they are all talking about yet he is the local carpenter, the son of the village carpenter they knew so well.

Jesus goes to the synagogue, the place he had been taken every Sabbath from his childhood. 

Then... he starts speaking and teaching and something strange is taking place.  The things he is saying and the way he says them are amazing, many are astounded at what he says.

Where did this man get this wisdom? How did he get these powers? and

Hold it!  Where did he get it from? (suspicion) And where did he get this power? (sneery, cynical)  We know him. There’s something not quite right.  Who does he think he is?

The Jews believed the Messiah would come down from heaven. He was the village carpenter the local boy!!

And so, the scriptures tell us, they took offence at him.  They stumbled into suspicion and then slid into cynicism.

Something amazing was happening...they had felt it themselves...and yet it came up hard against hometown familiarity.

Hometown familiarity had blinded them to the obvious.

Over familiarity turned amazement into scepticism and suspicion.

Then reason chipped in and began to logic away the profound.

So amazement, an awareness of wisdom and the miraculous, and even the Saviour’s presence meets the cold, wet flannel of familiarity and before you know where you are: you’re giving offence and you attract opposition.

Another step in opposition to Jesus.
Authorities... Family... Hometown.

And then faith contracts, expectation shrivels and it results in a limitation of God’s power and his miraculous work.

Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their hometown, and among their own kin and in their own house’.

I find this enormously challenging.

We love the familiar.  Our familiar church, the people we like and get on with, our home area and community, our way of doing things, our preferences in worship. 

And God may be doing something astounding in any of those places, yet the familiar can mask it.

Familiarity in the home too. Our nearest and dearest. God may be working deeply and profoundly but it is easy to miss.

Perhaps even familiarity with ourselves: We look inside. The familiar ‘me’. Reasons, doubt, known weaknesses, it’s all so familiar:

And even our familiarity with God. We know God. We know how he works! And we can stop expecting, and faith can be limp and perhaps close to being non-existent.

We read that Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.  What a challenge: the negative amazement of God.

In contrast with a positive marvelling at the foreigners faith in Luke 7.

And he could do no mighty work there.

Familiarity can be such an enemy to faith.  For me I have seen Christ in a particular kind of hometown. A place that is familiar to all. A place about which everyone has an opinion, a memory, for better or worse.  The hometown I am thinking about is the school.

How easy it is to be familiar with the school.  I have visited so many schools in my 15 years in this job, probably around 100 schools times 10 visits perhaps.  It is familiar, always special yet there is the entrance, a signing in desk, a badge to wear, a coffee with the head, a tour round the classrooms.  All so familiar, for us a kind of hometown.  And it is so easy to miss what God is doing in these places.

Yet I have seen Christ in these schools. I have seen Christ in the tears or the anger, or the enthusiasm and pride of head teachers; the passion of the special needs coordinators; the fresh enthusiasm of newly qualified teachers; the brilliance of teachers at the top of their game; the devotion of caretakers, (pigs, crosses, peace gardens); the deep concern of chairs of governors; the joy on the faces of parents as they watch their children at school shows and concerts.

I’ve sensed his smile on the beehives and geometry and kitchen gardens and orchard at Ashley.

In chaplains and counsellors as they recount their home visits and engagement with troubled young people.

The daily prayers of my colleagues for our schools.

Above all it is the faces of children, and the way they talk and learn and play.

But it is so easy to miss him.

It's when you stand back, or you see like I have done a thousand times and something stirs in you and you know it is Him.

And then you connect in your mind. Your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
The kingdom that is now and not yet, but it is now and it is here. It is the familiar, in the hometown.

This is a peek into the kingdom of God. The Kingdom of Shalom foretold by the prophets.

A few years ago Tim Sudworth invited Tom Sine, a great thinker, a man with insights into trends and an observer of good practice, the author of the Mustard Seed Conspiracy and Wild Hope to Guildford. It was the beginning of new millennium and Tom Sine was thinking about the state of the church and the challenges and opportunities in the new century.

He considered God's promise of the Kingdom of Shalom, the kingdom of peace; the Hebrew glimpse into the coming Kingdom of God. The prophets gave many glimpses especially in the books of Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

Isaiah Ch 2. The mountain with the nations streaming to it.

Isaiah 25. The feast in our reading and people from all nations gathered together. The image of a banquet with God in the midst...all shadows of Jesus’ teaching and parables about the Kingdom. Christ is King. A feast, life, growth,

And then the penny dropped.  What I was seeing in schools were foretastes of God’s Kingdom of Shalom.  Places of peace, wholeness, good things spread out for the children, people from many backgrounds all coming together to a place where the Lord is in the midst.  And where there are shafts of the glory of the Lord. 

Lord open our eyes to see beyond the familiar to see Christ in the familiar, in our hometown settings;  to see Christ the coming king already bringing in his kingdom.

In spite of our doubts and our taking for granted eyes he is working and he is there.

Lord grant us the faith and expectancy to see beyond the familiar and therefore to see him do even greater works in our generation:

In our schools; in our elderly people's homes; in our police work; our hospital work; our work places. Let us see what we do each day in the home with our loved ones with our families with our friends in the light of the Kingdom of God breaking in upon us.

RS Thomas, The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.