Does familiarity breed contempt or respect?
July 8, 2012 Pentecost VI (All Saints)
2 Sam 5:1-5, 9-10, 2 Cor 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13
One of the pressing issues in our nation right now is how best to respond to the problem of asylum seekers. Various ideas have been tried and now a group of people are to discuss the problem and come up with suggestions. If this is to have any success there will need to be people on all sides of government prepared to listen to others and have their own views modified or changed.
Before taking a funeral, I meet with the family of the person who has died to plan the service. If I don't know the person who has died, I ask the family to tell me something about him or her. Often they say that "he loved his family" or "She lived for her family" or "family was very important in his or her life". To grow up in a loving family is desirable and a blessing. But close families are not always the ones which enable their members to flourish. There is a shadow side to such families.
If the family is only concerned with supporting and caring for its own immediate members it can become an enclosed group which does not share its love and gifts with others or benefit from relationships with others. Its members can become rigid in their thinking and find it difficult to appreciate others who are different. Sometimes I hear about a person who is not only a loving father or grandfather, mother or grandmother, but also someone who would do anything for anybody; feed them if they are hungry, offer accommodation in a crisis situation, listen to their problems, mend their machinery. I immediately admire this person who is willing to reach out beyond his or her family to others in need.
Another problem in close loving families is that the children may have expectations placed on them which prevent them from developing their own particular gifts. I knew a young man who wanted to be an architect, but his family had already decided he would follow his father and be a farmer. He did this but never seemed really happy. Strong or rebellious children will fight such a setback but it can be hard for them, especially if they don't want to hurt their parents.
If we extend the example of a family to our neighbours or town, we may have noticed that we are sometimes surprised when a local boy or girl that we thought was fairly ordinary, has achieved something special. Perhaps they were in our class at school where they were only average students but they went off to university and graduated. Now they are advising us what to do. We may have felt a desire to take them down a peg or two.
In today's gospel, Jesus experienced a similar problem. He had been to Jerusalem and returned as a wandering rabbi, having gathered a few followers. On his return to Nazareth he went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath. The people had heard about Jesus healing people, casting out evil spirits and even teaching groups of people down by the Sea of Galilee. The leaders of the synagogue therefore, decided they ought to invite Jesus to preach at the service. When Jesus began to teach the people were amazed, 'astounded' is the word used in our translation. He was not repeating the words of some well known rabbi, which was probably the expectation, but taught with authority and power, as if he had something of value to impart.
Instead of being pleased or grateful they became angry. Here was a young man making them feel stupid in comparison with him. He was just the local carpenter, following in Joseph's footsteps. He mended their tools and made their furniture. Jesus was one of them, Mary's son, they knew his brothers and sisters. How did he suddenly become so wise? They didn't want to listen to him or take notice of what he was saying. They blocked their minds and wouldn't listen to him. Jesus must have been disappointed at their rejection. Consequently he was unable to do deeds of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. Little could happen. We all belong not only to our own blood families, but also to the family of the church. We were reminded of this when we saw three new members join our family last Sunday. We want our church to be the best it can be and we are all working hard in various areas caring for one another and others in need. But what happens when an idea pops into our minds or someone else presents a new idea to us?
Sometimes we are too tired or busy to do anything. We feel we are already doing all we can. The idea we have might seem so futile and impossible that we suppress it or kill it off before vocalizing it and sharing it with anyone. If we do try to speak about it, it seems so feeble and we receive so little encouragement that we wish afterwards we had remained silent. When we hear an idea from someone else, we might decide we have heard it all before, know it can't work, there is no one to implement it and quickly dismiss it.
An idea that arises in our head can be likened to a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. It is a struggle. The butterfly has never done this before and sometimes it can die just in trying to come out. A butterfly coming to life looks very pathetic. It clings to the bark of a tree or a leaf with its crunched up wings hanging close to its body. It is easy prey for any passing sharp eyed bird looking for breakfast or dinner. One quick peck and the butterfly is gone in an instant. It is as if it never existed and the bird flies away to look for other easy meals.
Suppose, however, the butterfly has been missed by predator birds, the sun's rays gradually warm it and allow its crumpled wings to open and soon it can fly. It is then able to engage in the job it was created for— to pollinate flowers and lay eggs; to connect with particular plants and assist them in their lives.
All of us are ambiguous, capable of loving and destroying one another, and being wise and silly. Suppose we respect each other and recognise that no one is completely hopeless nor are their ideas completely useless. Each one of us is capable of great things, channels of God's love, able to teach one another, but we often need encouragement to reveal our ideas and be prepared for them to be criticised, modified or extended.
I heard a young man recently describe how he was completing his thesis and sent it to a professor for comments. The professor sent it back later in the day with a massive number of corrections. The young man was so upset he immediately went down the street to a nearby pub and had a couple of beers. Then he began to think that if it was no good the professor would not have wasted time on it, which was true. So he went home and began working on the corrections.
When we hear ideas from others we need to seriously consider them, however outrageous and impossible they may seem to us at first. God may well be asking us to grasp them, be aware of their potential, suggest modifications or extensions, and even put them into practice.
So, on the one hand let us be courageous in putting forth our ideas and allowing others to build on them. On the other hand let us be prepared to offer hospitality in our minds to the ideas of others, whatever they are and from whoever they may come. We might find that this way of behaving opens the way for God to act in and through our church here at All Saints, in ways that the people of Nazareth prevented happening when Jesus spoke to them in the synagogue.
The other night in a television program on the Olympic games, the presenter described how Don Talbot the Australian swimming coach for many years, insisted that his swimmers supported and encouraged each other. Before their races they were not to go off and prepare quietly, but were to watch races in which other members of the squad were swimming and urge them on to do their best. In this way, the whole team did better. It is the same with us. We, like the members of our Federal government and the swimming squad, need the support and encouragement of each other if we are to produce the best outcome. For us as members of Christ's body the best outcome is to enable our church to participate with Christ in showing God's love in the world, especially in Kempsey.