Sermon 3 February 2019

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 03 FEB 2019, 11am

Revd Angus MacLeod MA BD

 Listen Here: https://soundcloud.com/user-942286720/sermon-3rd-february-2019

 

“There were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time…

but Elijah was not sent to any one of these;

he was sent to a widow at Zarephath , a town in Sidonia.” Luke 4:25,26

 

In a world of globalization – at times vociferously divided,

increasingly digitalized and apparently individualistic,

Where do we belong? Do we feel insider or outsider?

 

Three years ago, during Stewardship month, Matthew Syed,

former British Olympic, table tennis player – now broadcaster, journalist and author –

came to St Columba’s to give a congregational talk about talents.

This week, he wrote a newspaper article about football fans –

prompted by the growing up of his young son

who has chosen to follow London club, Tottenham Hotspur –

the boy now collects memorabilia, learns all about the players, even the club’s history.

 

The father reflects that while he, himself, enjoys football

it is more as an anthropologist glimpsing a culture that he always wanted to join,

but has never been assimilated to.

“I grasp the words, but do not feel their tug.” (The Times 28 Jan 19).

 

Reflecting further, Syed suggests that fandom is not just about the football –

but as much about identity and belonging;

in many cases, a rite passed from one generation to the next.

Football has thrived, not just because it has repackaged itself,

but because it provides precious, shared experience for which we hunger.

Syed concludes: “I have always regarded fans with a certain envy,

feeling like an outsider who never quite found his way onto the inside.”

 

Where do we belong? Insider or outsider?

 

One of the storylines of popular culture – movie or TV drama –

is the journey of the talented individual or perhaps team,

who come from the wrong side of the tracks.

Somewhere along the line, their progress is blocked by an existing elite –

“You don’t belong here!”

In Hollywood, the joy comes from the embattled hero/heroine’s ultimate triumph.

Proving true worth, breaking into, breaking beyond, privileged insiders.

As movie-goers, we cheer – and leave buoyed up.

But back in the daylight have you ever been told,

or perhaps, had it subtly implied – “You don’t belong?”

And tougher to admit – have we ever thought/implied that, to others?

Outsider to our insider?

 

Many years ago, one of the most memorable sermons I ever heard

was at my home parish of Dunvegan, on the Isle of Skye.

It was given by the Free Church minister, Revd Donald MacLeod.

The occasion was a Macleod Clan Gathering –

a colorful, tartan-bedecked event that takes place every four years –

drawing MacLeods from around the globe, to the ancestral homelands;

a seeking, affirmation and celebration of roots.

 

With a church packed with folks who had travelled half way around the world

for a sense of belonging, the preacher took the words of Paul’s letter to the Hebrews:

 “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”  (Hebrews 13:14)

 

It was brave sermon to offer for that occasion –

for though I remember it offered graciously –

it reminded us that our cherished clanship, our existing loyalties,

our claims to being insiders,

was subservient to something greater.

[For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.]

 

The gospel today is about belonging; insider and outsider.

Jesus returns to his roots (the story we told last week.)

In the synagogue of his youth he delivers his first major statement –

the dramatic unfurling and rolling up of the parchment scriptures.

Quoting from the prophet Isaiah, the Nazareth Manifesto.

Good news to the poor, release to the captive,

sight to the blind, priority for the forgotten.

 

The folks are spell bound. Jesus sits to silence.

Then breathtakingly, declares:

 “Today, this scripture is fulfilled.”

The next move is up to the hearers – the ball is in our court.

 

Initially, all is well. They love the message and the messenger.

Pride in one of their own. “The lad speaks well.

We have much to look forward to – special privileges.

Ringside seats to even better than what he did at Capernaum.”

But Jesus refuses to run with the prevailing tide;

declines the role of miracle man, instead claims the prophet’s mantle.

 

Prophets – regularly, the thorn in the side of the children of Israel.

Often, at great personal cost, confronting the people

with the unwelcome message of their failure to be God’s people;

calling them to accountability, for selfishness or faithlessness,

lack of justice and lack of mercy.

 

It is the two stories about prophets and outsiders that gets him all-but lynched.

In the time of the great prophet Elijah,

when drought devastated the land, many were on the brink of catastrophe,

of all the folk Elijah could have gone to – he went beyond the boundary.

To a widow, culturally regarded as of no consequence.

A widow moreover, from the land of the infamous Jezebel,

who spoke a foreign tongue and worshipped other gods.

 

The tolerant smiles of the synagogue listeners fade.

A glance here and there. A restless shifting.

And your point, Carpenter Boy?

 

In the time of that other great prophet, Elisha

the home-grown lepers might have anticipated the prophet’s help.

Instead…the Oscar goes to

A pagan – a general commanding the armies currently vanquishing the warriors of Israel.

Naaman, singled out for God’s special blessing? Could there be a less deserving case?

 

The listeners look with now dead eyes, their jaws set in resentment.

Being the Chosen Ones, children of Israel,

doesn’t come with a privilege card, or automatic upgrade.

Not in Elijah’s generation, not in Elisha’s generation, not now, Nazarenes.

If you insist on dividing your world into us and them – Beware!

God appears more interested in them.

 

That’s a tough sermon to preach – especially to your uncles and your aunts,

your old rabbi, your old school mates.

It’s a tough sermon to hear. So, it proved.

The pot boils. They hear heresy.

Who dares to be so liberal with the laws and love of God?  Isn’t this just Joseph’s boy?!

 

Jesus refuses to live down to their expectations. (D Mcbride, Gospel of Luke)

refuses to go home; at least, to let home define him.

Jesus declares: “I am not your pet or possession,

not your rabbit’s foot or badge of honour.

I don’t belong to you; not yours to claim or contain.

Remember God’s long history of prioritizing the outsider, the foreigner, the stranger.

God has always spoken in places/people you don’t recognize as sacred,

and saying things that will make your ears burn.  

God is not yours. You are his.”

 

You can understand their rage; being told a tradition doesn’t make it a truth:

being told, much of their religious practice misses the point.

Apparently, they would rather kill Jesus than share him with others.

 

On this day of Wallace’s baptism – a day celebrating welcome, a beginning of belonging –

The gospel warns , not to be/become the modern-day equivalent

of Jesus’s ancient townspeople.

Thinking we know him best, in danger of domesticating him;

missing him, in the faces we don’t recognize or revere.

On this day of Wallace’s baptism – with God’s help –

we can resolve anew, to be a community

as much for the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian,

as for the hometown folks of Nazareth.

A set of fans who find our identity in the breadth of those we welcome,

not in those we exclude?

Sacred ground where all may hear the words and feel their tug.