I heard a story recently from a priest named Joshua Bowron from Charlotte NC.
He talked about a diocese that was celebrating its one hundredth anniversary.
At the time, the diocese had made a beautiful coffee table book that contained short histories of each of the churches, along with many pictures.
At the diocesan convention that year, they were selling that book.
They were selling it everywhere, in multiple places:
Including in the back of the worship space, selling it to people as they entered.
At a worship service, the sermon began with the preacher saying,
“I’m sorry if you heard the commotion a few moments ago,
There was a homeless, long haired man that got into the church.
He was shouting something about his father’s house and he turned over the tables where we are selling our book.
Don’t worry, we got rid of him.”
Don’t worry, we got rid of him.
The preacher was kidding.
There was no commotion.
No long-haired homeless man.
But he also wasn’t really kidding.
The preacher was bringing up a clear criticism:
Using the story of Jesus in the temple, turning over the tables,
To critique the diocese’s overzealousness in selling the book.
The preacher was afraid that the zeal for the book was getting more energy than the mission of the church.
Don’t worry, we got rid of him.
Where is Jesus to be found?
Where do we encounter the Holy?
Is it at church?
Is it only at church?
Can Jesus be found at church, or do we get rid of him?
Let’s dive into the gospel story to see if there are any hints as to where Jesus can most reliably be found.
The story opens in his hometown, and his disciples follow him.
It’s an interesting detail.
Jesus is from Nazareth and his disciples are from Galilee.
They walked with him back home.
It is an interesting and significant detail;
Jesus is returning home, but he’s different in several ways now,
not the least of which is that he has followers.
The ones in the synagogue who hear Jesus preaching are astounded.
They are into it. They are in awe.
But then people start to wonder:
Don’t we know this guy?
Didn’t he install your cabinets?
Where did he get all of this?
Another person says,
“oh yeah! I know his brothers and sisters. We saw his mother last week.”
After all this wandering and recognition, the next sentence in the gospel is this:
“And they took offense at him.”
They were astounded,
Yet at the same time, when they saw that he was “one of them”
All of a sudden, he is offensive.
And Jesus gets this:
Which is why he says,
“Prophets are not without dishonor,
Except in their hometown,
And among their own kin,
And in their own house.
And then the narrator of the story tells us that Jesus couldn’t do any deeds of power there.
Jesus is amazed at their unbelief,
And it seems as if there is some sort of connection between trusting Jesus,
And Jesus being able to work.
(This is not by the way, the same as praying harder)
But there IS a connection.
Jesus and his followers then leave Nazareth.
They leave Jesus’ hometown and enter the villages that surround a big city.
And then something interesting happens.
You would think that given the cold reception Jesus received in his hometown that Jesus would then give them the old razzle-dazzle,
he would heal and work miracles: Showing how powerful he is.
Instead, Jesus heals and then pairs off his followers and sends them out with special instructions.
They are to travel light.
They do, they preach repentance, they heal, and they call out evil when encountered.
Jesus doesn’t give them the razzle-dazzle,
he doesn’t do a deed of power to embarrass the old home locals;
he instead authorizes others to go out in his name to heal, testify to God’s love, to call out evil.
This tells us a lot about how God operates:
Never a braggadocious moment, never a moment of old-fashioned power like lightning from above—instead, it’s a new-fashioned power that points away from itself and pours into others.
This is what God is like, and it is something for us to remember:
That the Holy Spirit is God’s sharing of God’s-self with us:
God’s empowering of us for the work of establishing God’s Kingdom,
God’s way of living, right here in our own communities.
Besides all this, we see something in the story that is as troubling as it is interesting.
Jesus is unrecognized in his hometown.
He is recognized of course, but he is not accepted as one who is deeply connected with God.
Indeed, once they do begin to recognize him, they are offended by him.
And it’s in this offense and un-trust, this unbelief, that Jesus cannot work as powerfully as he would have normally.
This should concern all of us who claim to know who and what Jesus is.
The church is the hometown of Jesus, as it were.
Are we offended by him?
Do we allow Jesus to be Jesus or have we domesticated him into a mere kindly carpenter?
The church has, at times, carefully kept Jesus in a safe and contained box,
but Jesus keeps leaving the familiar, keeps empowering others,
and most importantly keeps showing up in strange places that are not his hometown.
That’s where we will most reliably find Jesus,
outside of the hometown.
(Maybe even outside of our comfort zone)
Of course, we meet in this space each week.
We come for solace and strength.
We certainly believe that Jesus is present with us, especially in the Eucharist;
but Jesus is also found outside, in the villages, in the world.
Don’t you know that we disciples are always playing catch-up to the Risen Lord?
Ever since that day when the women found an empty tomb, ever since then,
we have been going to where Jesus has gone ahead of us,
into Galilee, into the villages, into our neighborhoods.
And once we go there, seeking him in the face our neighbors,
he will be revealed, and we just might be empowered to do his work:
healing wounds, preaching God’s love, and calling out evil.
Let us go from here, into the villages following Jesus where he has already gone--
and not simply following him,
but being empowered by him to do his work of love and healing which the world so desperately needs.
Enjoy the weekly sermons at anytime.