Monday, July 9, 2018

Father Riley's sermon from July 8, 2018

7 PENTECOST, PROPER  IX - B - 18       MARK 6. 1-13

Rarely are people in today’s world identified as prophets. The Church has not institutionalized the prophet in the same way as priest or deacon. We think of prophets as distant and unfamiliar people like a John Baptist. However, Jesus was a prophet, as well as a priest and king. Was he the last of the prophets? Did the prophetic age end with him?

Prophesy is naming the truth in a given situation and explaining the logical consequences of a course of action. God’s Word is Truth. The prophet speaks God’s word, often in a situation where people have been unable or unwilling to face the truth.

Naming the truth, especially when people have denied reality, challenges people to accept the truth, to acknowledge their denial and to change their behavior. However, people can reject the truth, usually by rejecting the bearer of the word.

That’s what happened to Jesus in his own hometown. In that he joined the company of the prophet Ezekiel and all of God’s prophets who preceded him who were instructed by God to deliver the truth whether it was received or not. Meaning, their mission was to deliver the word. The choice to receive it lies with the hearers of the word always has and always will.

God’s truth uncovers the uncomfortable reality about ourselves, our concepts and our institutions that we have been unwilling to face. When faced with the truth we are faced with a decision; we have a choice. We can choose to accept the truth and then change the way we live, or we can reject the truth.

Jesus was laughed at Capernaum. He is rejected in Nazareth. Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth is but a foreshadowing of his rejection by the whole Jewish nation that will occur at his trial before Pilate.

The people in his hometown thought that they knew him. They knew his family and they knew him as a mere carpenter. Sure, they had heard of what he had done in Capernaum, a mere twenty-five miles away, and around the lakeshore.

They were both amazed and offended. Where he got his current knowledge of God and the power to do such things was a mystery they could not explain nor could they accept, so they rejected him by doubting his prophetic role and even his power to heal.

Jesus was amazed at their unbelief. Thus, Mark records that he was unable to do any miracles there, but only to lay his hands on a few sick people who did have faith in him.  It would appear that lack of faith hinders Jesus’ power to heal. After his rejection, there was no reason for him to remain in Nazareth.

Thus, Jesus moves on to other towns and villages in the region in order to teach and preach the kingdom of God to those who have ears to hear. Then, to the surprise of the 12, he sends them out on their own, two by two. They are travel light. They are to take poverty as their bride.

They are to accept hospitality wherever they find it. They are to remain where they are received and welcomed. They are to shake off the dust from their feet from the places where they too will be rejected.

Jesus empowers them with His Spirit to preach repentance, to cast out demons as he has done, and to anoint with oil those who are sick and heal them. These things, which the disciples do, are all signs of the kingdom. They are in essence carrying out Jesus’ agenda of proclaiming the kingdom of God.

The 12 have come a long way from the fear of perishing on the Sea of Galilee to performing a mission of unwavering faith in the proclamation of the gospel. Amazing what this fledgling band of disciples was able to accomplish when unhindered by distractions.

Therefore, it should be with us, as individual Christians and corporately as the Church. For the mission has not changed. Our mission is to accept our “prophetic” role by warning the world that it is rapidly heading in the wrong direction and to warn the Church, when need be, that she is in mortal danger of being transformed by the world rather than the other way round.

I recently read a stirring article along those same lines written by an Archbishop in Europe who bemoaned the fact that the Church in Europe was becoming increasingly secular in nature and highly politicized. Her leaders were more interested in politics and in being socially acceptable rather than in proclaiming the gospel.

In the Archbishop’s opinion, the church had become totally distracted from the divine mission, which had been given to her. He wrote that the Church today is more interested in pleasing men rather than God. When we do this are we not in essence rejecting Jesus? Are we not turning away from the truth?

God’s word is truth. God’s truth uncovers the uncomfortable reality about ourselves, our concepts and our institutions that we have been unwilling to face. When faced with the truth we are faced with a choice. We can choose to accept the truth and change the way we live, or we can reject the truth.

It was the same choice those in Nazareth were faced with when they found themselves in the presence of the Jesus they thought they knew. It was the same choice Israel as a nation was faced with when Pilate presented this same Jesus before them as their king. In both instances, the people Christ came to save rejected him and in rejecting him, they rejected the Truth of God’s Word Incarnate.

To be “devoted to God with our whole heart” as today’s collect prays requires that we do not lose focus; do not allow ourselves to become distracted from the “prophetic” mission of proclaiming the truth of God’s Holy Word. The world we live in today is becoming increasingly more secular in nature and less religious. Thus, the temptation for the Church, the Bride of Christ, is to be transformed by a world, which is fixated on the here and now.

Even more reason for us to remember who we are and to whom we ultimately belong. May God grant us the grace to live our lives in such a way that it reflects our faith and belief in Him who is, and always will be, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. For the Church’s mission has never been one of pleasing men, but one of pleasing God. AMEN+

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