I have a pastor friend. He was in Las Vegas on vacation with his wife and another couple. They were all at a table in a dinner theater, chatting and sipping their alcoholic beverages, waiting for a comedy show to begin. It must have been Hawaiian night. At any rate my pastor friend is wearing one of those colorful fake leis. The comedian comes on stage, and as a prelude to his routine, he’s warming up the audience. He asks where different people are from, why they are there, that sort of thing. Anyway, he eventually spies my friend. He’s wearing that lei and there’s one of those pastel colored drinks with a little umbrella sticking out the top? That drink is in front of him. The comedian says, “And you sir, what’s your name? “David.” And what do you do? My friend, his brain, racing through best ways to answer that question without causing a wave of guffaws or criticisms, says, “I’m in the cleaning business.” Saved!
Another true story. My preaching professor, a dear man, now deceased, traveled by airplane a great deal. He warned us. “When you fly, I have found it makes the flight infinitely more enjoyable if you keep your profession to yourself. Otherwise, you may find that your entire flight is spent arguing points of theology. When the person I am sitting next to asks me what I do for a living, I simply tell him, “I teach public speaking.”
These stories have a direct relation to what we are considering today—that is, the danger of sharing your faith, your calling. It’s too bad, and yet it is so. When you share your calling to serve God in public, you run the risk of becoming something of a pariah—an outcast. Or worse, you become a punching bag. A target for insults. Jesus gets a taste of that phenomena in his home synagogue in Nazareth.
It happened like this: Jesus is baptized and receives the holy spirit. We talked about that last week. Afterwards, he goes into the wilderness for a time, to think about his calling. In the wilderness he is tempted. “Hum. should I use God’s gifts to make a comfortable life for myself—turning stones into bread, maybe conjuring up a cozy retreat center for myself and my followers, where we can live in peace and harmony away from all the evils in the world? Maybe I should I gain the admiration of all by advertising my great powers— leaping over tall buildings at a single bound, a la Superman?—or at least leaping off the tallest spire on the temple in Jerusalem No, no, I know. I could worship the devil and become the political and military leader of the entire world!”
But no, Jesus decides to use his gifts to serve God and God alone. He has been charged to spread God’s message of love. A noble cause, certainly. And one, you would think, would earn him the gratitude of everyone with whom he comes in contact. People will lay out the red carpet for him, right? They will shower him with gold coins, and invite him to sit at the head table at banquets in his honor.
So, he goes to Nazareth, to his hometown. He goes home to share with his friends and family this important life-changing turn. It’s what you do, right? Mom, Dad, I’m going to be an attorney; or, hey guys, I’m going to buy myself a piece of land and be a farmer; Or maybe it’s, “ I’m going to marry Suzie, or Catherine, Bobby, or Fred.” You want to share news like that with your nearest and dearest. But what do those loved ones do? As we know, they run poor Jesus out of town. Who DOES that? And WHY do they do that?
Jesus says they reject him because he is too much their own. They have watched him grow up—some of them were his teachers and caregivers. And now this whipper-snapper, this fledgling, really not too long out of the nest, this Jesus is going to tell them what they need to know? How conceited, how self-righteous!
The wise Jesus concludes, “A prophet is without honor in his own country.”
There is another reason though, or really just a theory, which is not immediately evident. It may be that Jesus’ hometown reacts negatively because of what Jesus reads at his hometown synagogue--Portions of Isaiah, Chapter 61. We’ve heard those lines from Isaiah 61 many times probably, but maybe mostly as they are quoted in Luke. We might not be so familiar with the original words in the Old Testament. When Jesus reads what he reads, he does what a lot of the rest of us do. He reads selectively.
So for example, I’ll say, “Jesus taught us to love one another. Jesus taught us not to judge others—that includes those who may have a different sexual orientation than mine.” Others, though, will point to 1 Timothy, chapter 1, verses 8-12. Paul writes, “The law is intended for those who are lawless and rebellious, ,,,The law is for people who are sexually immoral or who practice homosexuality.”
Which is it? So, again, like all of us, Jesus read scripture selectively. Jesus reads from Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” but he drops these words: “and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus’ ministry would not include taking revenge on his country’s enemies.
The people in the temple that day in Nazareth, may have been thinking to themselves, “You mean we have been waiting hundreds, no thousands, of years for a Messiah and you’re telling us, Jesus, it’s puny little YOU? We have known you since you were a mere muppet. And you’re further telling us you DON’T intend to lead an army and wipe out the Romans?”
Tell people, even people you love, and who love you, you have been called by God for special service, Look out! They may try to tell you what God wants you to do! What you should believe, how you should act, what you should say, even what you should wear. In effect, they want to BE God for you.
One Sunday, on a terrible whim, I know—I wore eye-liner up to the pulpit. Yep, I really did. Not a lot. Just a little on my upper eyelids. After the service, a good intentioned soul, I am sure, told me to drop the eye make-up; she found it offensive. I’m embarrassed to admit this now, but I did. It has taken me a long time to learn that my primary job is as a servant of God, it is NOT as a people-pleaser. As far as I am aware, God has not yet weighed in on cosmetics.
All of this is a lead-in to our ordination service today. Cathy Thompson, who all of us know as a friend, fellow quilter, and pianist, has agreed to lead you, serving on this church’s Session. To put it in dictionary terms, you are conferring holy orders on her. The book of order is clear, and so I will be clear, too. She does not represent YOUR will; she represents the Will of Christ. How heavy is that?
How does she know what Christ’s will even is? Well, she studies scripture. She prays. She meditates. She participates in the life of this congregation, because YOU, as a church body, are living out the will of Christ.
As a leader in this church, Cathy will certainly listen to your ideas, as any good leader should; but she will not lick a finger and hold it to the wind before making a decision on the church’s behalf. Her decision is between her and God and in collaboration with the rest of the Session.
Cathy brings with her many gifts. I don’t know what all those gifts are yet; But we all have them. At the very least, we know that she has raised a family; For sure if she didn’t have these particular qualities in her repertoire before, as a parent she has by now learned empathy, patience, and responsibility. How am I doing? She’s a planner, too—I know that because she is the keeper of the family calendar. That fits right in with a primary Session responsibility--planning. We know Cathy has an artistic streak—that is, she is creative. I have learned in my time here that quilting is much more art, than craft.
Cathy’s artistic gift is important. It means that when the Session is stymied by a problem, and all churches have their problems, Cathy just may be the Session’s spark. So say, the Session is trying to find a way to bring in more members. While the rest of the Session is calling up memories, “How did we do that in the past?” or looking at data from other churches, Cathy may be the one to say, “Well, maybe we should try this”—and then give us ideas we never in a whole lifetime of deliberations would have considered without her.
I can already predict that she will be a colleague to her fellow Session members. I know that because past behavior is a predictor of future behavior. She is a friend. She will keep us laughing with her self-deprecating sense of humor, You don’t believe me? After church some Sunday, while we are all standing around talking about the weather, get really quiet for a moment. If you hear laughter, it’s probably coming from her direction. We love her for that, don’t we?
And speaking of love, we know that Cathy has a great capacity for love. That is what Jesus was all about. If she makes a decision you don’t personally agree with and you tell her so, maybe even wagging a finger in her face, but let’s hope not--she won’t stop loving you for your honesty. She has Jesus as her example, as do we all. Just as Jesus continued to love his friends and family members in Nazareth, the very ones who ran him out of town—so Cathy will continue to love YOU, despite any church political differences. But, just to smooth her way a little, don’t tell her what she should wear and please please don’t advise her on her makeup. Out of bounds, people! Just sayin!
None of us can predict what it is the Session will be engaged in over the next three years. We ARE just in the beginning stages of Session visioning retreat which we hope will bear fruit. We CAN predict, though, that what Cathy does on Session, will be some of the most important work she will ever do, expressly because it is Christ’s work.
So, Cathy, as Session moderator and on behalf of this church, I thank you for taking this on. Congratulations on this next step in your Christian faith journey, and may God continue to bless you.
In Christ’s good name. Amen