Exceptional Familiar Jesus

Lucas Cranach, Madonna & Child with a Piece of Bread, ca. 1529

Lucas Cranach, Madonna & Child with a Piece of Bread, ca. 1529

A sermon preached at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Rockland, ME, for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost. Lections: 1 Kings 19:4-8Psalm 34:1-8Ephesians 4:25-5:2, and John 6:35, 41-51.

Many of you who are parents can remember that time when you could do no wrong in the eyes of your children. As a mother, you had all the answers and knew how to handle every situation. As a dad, you brought out excitement in your children just by walking through the front door: “Daddy’s home, daddy’s home!” What a magical time.

And many of you can remember when your reputation with your children started to wane. You might remember when your ideas were no longer revered and were starting to be challenged. And then, one day when you came through the front door, there was nothing but silence. And if you happened to lay eyes on your teenager, he or she might have shot back, “What?”

From the various accounts of Jesus’ life in the Gospels, all indications are that Jesus was a very big hit in the beginning. He had a good honeymoon period, as we say. We’ve had two weeks of miraculous feedings and astonished, riveted crowds, but this week – same crowd, same place – we see a psychological shift taking place. “Wait a minute,” they say.

  • “Isn’t this Mary and Joseph’s boy?
  • We know his entire family.
  • We watched him grow up;
  • …we’ve known him all our lives….
  • He can’t be anybody special…”

What’s going on here, of course, is something that goes on in our own lives every day. People and situations that are part of our everyday experiences eventually become “ordinary” to us, no matter how extraordinary they might actually be:

  • Perfect weather in August with warm days and cool nights? Yea, so?
  • Small organic farms and diligent, careful fishing & lobstering producing food of such diversity and quality that they are by any measure world-class? Yea?
  • Kayaking at a moment’s notice? Sigh. Okay, that’s going too far – but you get the idea.

In this morning’s Gospel, it suddenly dawns on the crowd that they know this Jesus. They’ve been around him all his life. And like most of us, this crowd assumes that if God is going to do something truly spectacular in the world, it’s probably going to come from somewhere far away:

  • It’ll be really spiritual and esoteric.
  • It certainly won’t be in the people and places we are around all the time. We know that much.

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I finished recently a quirky book by Jim DeFede called, The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland, and it tells the story of how 6,595 airline passengers and crew on 38 different planes were forced to land in the remote village of Gander in Newfoundland, population 10,000, when U.S. airspace was closed in the hours and days after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

There were many planes and passengers diverted that day – 250 in all carrying almost 44,000 people – all headed for the US and diverted to 15 Canadian airports from Vancouver to St. John’s. Gander was just one of them.

The humble and modest folks of Gander put their own lives on hold to take care of these stranded passengers for over a week. The passengers filled every school, every church, every Lion’s & Rotary Club and every senior citizen center in town. And when that wasn’t enough, the people of Gander took the sheets off their own beds and food out of their own cupboards, and they brought perfect strangers into their own homes to shower and rest.

The passengers were amazed at the level of hospitality. Over and over they tried to do something to say, “thank you”. They passed a hat to leave money. A VP for the Rockefeller Foundation asked if the schools would accept new computers from the foundation, and a North Carolina doctor solicited pledges from his fellow travellers for a scholarship fund for college bound Gander students. One couple was so moved that they ended up deciding to buy property there. They said, “This is the kind of life I want to live. This is the kind of people I want to be.”

When it was all over and the strangers had left and the folks of Gander had begun the hard work of putting their town back together, the Canadian Govt wanted to commend the people of Gander and offer them a gift. What would they want? The city council gathered to discuss this and concluded that the outpouring of gratitude from the folks on the planes themselves was enough – enough to remind them of what they had and of who they were all along.

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I suspect a lot of us are like the crowd in this morning’s Gospel lesson – we naturally think that the key to our happiness is in some faraway place, or it will come to us from some expensive, exotic, or esoteric source. Without wishing on us any of the ripple effects of a terrorist attack, it’s worth remembering that our greatest gift, and all we need, has been with us all along.

  • Augustine said we are all made by God and for God, and we are restless until we finally let go and rest in God.
  • The Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr, put it this way, “It’s good to remember that a part of you has always loved God. There is a part of you that has always said yes. There is a part of you that is Love itself, and that is what we must fall into. It is already there.” It has always been there.
  • Or in the immortal words of Dorothy Gale in “The Wizard of Oz,” if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.

The crowd in this morning’s lesson heard Jesus say some pretty extraordinary things about himself :

  • through him there is access to the divine life, both now and for eternity.
  • And their response was, “Hang on, isn’t this the person we’ve known all along?
  • And the answer, of course, is yes. Yes, we have known him all along.
  • And something inside us has always loved him.
  • We’ve known him in times of stillness and quiet.
  • We’ve known him in times of awe and wonder.
  • And we’ve known him most of all in the people he has put in our lives to love.

It’s just that we tend to get distracted by the lure of the exotic and the tantrums of our egos, so that we sometimes take for granted the treasure of what we’ve always had.

This morning’s lesson is an opportunity for us to remember that something inside us has always known and loved God. And if we’ve been distracted by the promise of faraway treasures, maybe now is a good time to get reacquainted with the wonder of what we’ve had all along.

  • Return to daily prayer (Forward Day by Days are on the table in the narthex)
  • get into a Bible study.
  • Maybe it is as simple as following the instruction in the letter to the Ephesians :
    • “Be kind to one another,
    • tenderhearted,
    • forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

Some of you know what it’s like when you’re walking up to the front door of your home and you hear that little voice crying out in excitement, “Daddy’s home!” or “Mommy’s home, Mommy’s home!”

In a well-known parable, Jesus said that’s what it’s like when you return to your true life. It’s like a father running out to greet you and enfolding you in his arms, calling out in excitement to anyone who will listen, “My child has come back home!”

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One Response to Exceptional Familiar Jesus

  1. Richard McKusic, Sr. says:

    Excellent, excellent, excellent. Thank you.

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