Good morning and happy Fourth of July Weekend. I hope you had a meaningful celebration and also got some rest. Someone asked me the other day if my congregation was feeling anxious about our country, and the upcoming election, and all the uncertainty and division we’re feeling right now. I said I know it’s on everybody’s mind, but that I usually only hear of it either at the Wednesday morning Bible study, where we sometimes talk candidly about such matters, or when people come to me about a personal issue that’s just all the worse because of everything going on in our country. 

This being (the end of) the Fourth of July weekend, I’m aware of all these feelings. We’re now going on our third presidential election together, with me as your rector. We’ve been through it all together.

I find the church to be grounding through times like these. We’re always asking questions about what endures, and what passes away; how and by whom values are handed down, how to be engaged, and passionate, without forfeiting relationship, how to handle disappointment and hold onto hope -- In other words, we have the theological, spiritual, and the historical context to get through almost anything. And I’m especially grateful that next year we’ll be celebrating 175 years of our history, with all the social, political, spiritual ups and downs that this community has endured. Thall all helps put the present moment in perspective.


“No prophet is without honor except in their hometown.”

We just had this reading a few months ago, in Epiphany, last January. I don’t know if you remember. There are only so many times the church can ask its clergy to preach on the same passage, though I’m reminded of how the 17th century English priest John Donne preached something like 300 sermons on the short Biblical book of Jonah. 

But here we are again: Jesus’ rejection in his hometown, Nazareth. This is, without doubt, something that happened to him; he returned to his hometown, entered its synagogue, the one he grew up in, read from the prophet Isaiah and declared Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

The moment is well attested to in Scripture; the same scene is described for us in 3 of the 4 Gospels. Luke gives it more context than Mark does here. According to Luke’s account, Jesus, after he finished reading, continued speaking. He spoke of God’s favor towards foreigners, outsiders, people who didn’t belong to the right town, or covenant, and yet had been chosen by God above those who did.

Luke the Evangelist is always eager to include and even favor the outsider. Christianity wouldn’t be what it is, without Luke’s Gospel. What angers the people of Nazareth in Luke’s account of this story is not so much that Jesus is seeming to call himself a prophet who can do amazing things, a Local pretending to be more important than he is, but that he’s widening the circle of God’s chosen people. And the people listening, get Very Angry. As people do, when we’re told others should have what we have.

Today’s form of the story from Mark’s Gospel however, is shorter, and simpler. But no less important. Because it’s about Who we listen to.

One week from today my family and I will be around the corner (I shouldn’t tell you this!) at the Quaker meeting, just over there on Popham Rd. We’ve been involved on my Sundays off for a few years now, and some of them, the Quakers, actually come over here during the year to worship, from time to time.

The reason we go there is because my husband Andrew was a Quaker when we met. Every Sunday he went to the 15th Street Meeting House in the East Village, near where we both lived. It’s kind of a jump to go from Quaker to Episcopal, so it’s a small concession to him to return to his tradition a few Sundays a year. 

So, Quakers worship in silence. There’s no minister, you just walk into the room, sit down on the wooden benches and you’re totally quiet, with everyone else. Maybe some few people during the hour feel led by the spirit to speak, and if they do, no matter what they say, who it is, what you think of them, Your charge is to listen and receive a message. The burden is on the hearer to hear God’s words in whatever that person says--whoever that person is, however they look, or talk, or whatever.

This has been, for me, one of the most important spiritual lessons of my life. It has made me less judgmental, a better (more attentive but also more relaxed) listener. It has brought into my life pieces of advice I never would have heard without this shift of the burden from the speaker to the hearer. It’s not on them to give me the message; it’s on me to find the message in what they’re saying.

The people of Nazareth in Jesus’ day just couldn’t hear what he had to say because they were unable to look past the messenger, which for them was just a local kid with (they presupposed) nothing helpful to say. It seems ridiculous, now. 

How often do we miss out on things we need to hear because we block the messenger. “I know his story.” “She’s one to talk; you know I knew her when … ” and so on. There are prophets all around us. The best ones are close to home. They’re also the hardest to hear. Many more, we block out, based on prejudices we’ve inherited or picked up along the way. 

Prophets are all around us: listen to them. We deprive ourselves, if we don’t. 

Remember, people didn’t listen to Jesus, for the same reasons We don’t listen to some people today. Because of their youth. Because of their color. Because of their language. Because where they’re from. Because they’re strangers, to us. Because they’re too familiar. 

The task is ours, to hear. And to let the prophets all around us, make us smarter, and wiser, better people, better Christians.