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St Paul's ChurchSermon preached by the Reverend Louise Kalemkerian
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, Connecticut
The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost – July 5, 2009

IIn the name of the God who loves us, calls us, challenges us, and goes with us, Father Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.

Fr. Bill Tully, the rector of St. Bart’s Church in NYC in his weekly eMessage, quotes the famous 20th century philosopher and sage Erma Bombeck about July 4th. She writes “You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness. You may think you have overeaten, but it is patriotism.”

There has been a lot of talk about freedom and patriotism of late. Both are good and important words. Lots of blood has been shed through the years to protect both. Yet freedom in today’s vernacular seems to mean, “I am free to be an individual. I am free to do as I please.” Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and the other founding leaders seemed to have a deeper sense of freedom than simply the freedom to do as I please. They seemed to think freedom meant a freedom to participate, to have some meaningful engagement in the society around them, a freedom to contribute to the common good. Perhaps their understanding was closer to Erma Bombeck’s than to those who focus freedom and patriotism on their right to carry arms and even bring them to church.

Patriotism is also about speaking truth to power. And often the people who do that we call by other names, some flattering, some not so. One of the terms we use for those who do so is prophet. Prophecy is about being God’s spokesperson in the community of faith. Prophecy is about letting the community know what God’s will is and what it is not, about speaking God’s judgment. And Jesus uses that term about himself in today’s Gospel, coining the now much used aphorism that “prophets are not without honor except in their hometowns.” In other words prophets don’t get no respect from their kinfolk, from those closest to them.

So what was it that offended the townspeople, Jesus’ relatives and friends, when he showed up at synagogue that Saturday morning? Probably what he said, as recorded in Luke’s gospel, the quotation from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind…” He claimed for himself the prophet’s mantle that morning; he acknowledged to them that he was God’s spokesperson. He used that passage to explain his mission and ministry.

Jesus came to reconcile the world to himself. Jesus, God-become-human, came that all humans might live in love and faithfulness with God and with one another. He came to preach and teach that God loves everyone of us, no matter what. He came to proclaim justice for all, be that economic, social, ethnic, religious. He came to show that God’s love knows no boundaries of race, gender, orientation, ability, or nationality. He came to take on himself our pain, our grief, our sins, our burdens and inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth. To proclaim radical welcome.

Of course, Jesus didn’t spell all this out when he taught in the synagogue that morning. But his words and actions to that point had obviously reached the hometown folk, and they found him unnerving, even frightening. His crossing over the Sea of Galilee to go into the “foreign” territory to preach to “the enemy”, his healing of Jairus’ daughter, his allowing women to touch him, his violation of religious codes. He did indeed sound like the prophets of earlier generations. And that was scary.

We know that Jesus challenged his disciples in every generation to love one another as God loves us, to love one’s enemies, to turn the other cheek, to embrace forgiveness, to serve the poor, to seek out the lost and the hurt and the estranged and serve them as they would serve him. And he probably reminded his hearers that morning that they weren’t living into this relationship with God. So it was easier to discount him than embrace him.

As we read Scripture, both the Gospels and the rest of the Bible, I think we have the tendency to romanticize what we read. We think that the people Jesus preached and ministered to were either obstinate or unsophisticated, and unable to “get” what he was talking about. We, in our own time, just as Jesus’ fellow citizens, need to be reminded, challenged, cajoled, harangued, to live into God’s expectations of us, into our responsibilities as children of God. We are no different than those 1st century people of Nazareth.

This week our triennial General Convention begins meeting in Anaheim, CA. The theme of General Convention is ubuntu, a Bantu word which means a number of things, including affirming others, living in community, interconnectedness, generosity, the essence of being human.

Mother Barbara Brown Taylor, in her most recent, and my opinion best, book An Altar in the World (available in Angel’s Bookstore) describes being human as “…learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good. It means growing gentler toward human weakness. It means practicing forgiveness of my and everyone else’s hourly failures to live up to divine standards. It means learning to forget myself on a regular basis in order to attend to the other selves in my vicinity. It means living so that ‘I’m only human’ does not become an excuse for anything. It means receiving the human condition as blessing and not curse…

It is my prayer that ubuntu can be lived not only throughout the GC, but that you and I can embrace it in our own lives. It includes embracing those Gospel values that Jesus calls us to in our everyday lives: forgiveness, loving those persons who are extraordinarily hard to love (including the ones closest to us) as well as those who are radically different from us, speaking out against injustice directed toward any of God’s children, seeing Christ in the face of everyone we encounter, loving our enemies, sharing our financial resources sacrificially, proclaiming by our very lives and actions, every day, that we are his disciples.

You may be thinking, “I’m here, am I not? I’m already a follower of Jesus. I already do those things. Why is she preaching to those already in church?” Because, first of all, I preach to myself, because I need to be reminded of these words but also, as Fr. Lang once said in a sermon, “…the community of believers is really the toughest audience to whom Jesus has to preach, especially when what he has to say offends us. Too often we think we know what is right and what is wrong and do not want to be challenged in that arena.”

You and I, as 21st century disciples, share in Jesus’ life and mission. He has entrusted each of us, by virtue of our baptism, with discipleship, to proclaim by word and deed his Good News. This community is that place of support , encouragement, nurture, where we are strengthened to carry out our discipleship in the every day of our lives. The incredible news is that each and everyone of us is loved by God beyond measure, and that nothing can ever separate us from that love. That is NEWS to be shared.

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