Jesus goes first to Nazareth. After he has been baptized, after he fully realizes what God has called him to do, he takes the message home. It is the first place he goes...Nazareth. Of course he goes there first! If you discovered that you had the best news in the world, the message of salvation itself, wouldn't you want your loved ones saved first? Jesus walked home to begin his ministry.
I can only imagine how excited he must have felt, going home. He had learned who he was. He was going to share news about God that was so good that it would change the world. And he couldn't wait to go home and share this news with his family, his friends, with the people he loved. Judging from his surprise at their reaction, Jesus expected that everything would go well. But it didn't. Jesus first attempt to tell people about God completely failed. Remember that, if you ever think that following God means immediate success. Remember that Jesus failed the first time he tried to do what God asked, and his failure did not mean that God was not with him. Success does not mean that you have God's backing and failure doesn't mean that you have failed God.
What Jesus found was that the people of Nazareth strangely couldn't hear him. Instead of listening to him, all they could think about was what they already knew about him. "This is the carpenter's son. We know his brothers and sisters. We already know him." They could not hear a word that he said. They had already made up their minds about him because he was one of them. He was, quite literally, too close to home.
The people of Nazareth had watched Jesus grow up. They had watched him play with other kids and get water from the well and work and eat and sleep. How could he be anyone special? He was one of them. Who was he to tell them about God?
We often cannot see the greatest gifts that God gives us because they are simply too close for us to notice. Our loved ones, our homes, our safety...even our country.
Just a few days ago, there was a scare at the Navy yard in Washington, DC. They thought that a shooter had snuck onto the property. And Luke, my sixteen year old, was there. Luke is doing an internship on Capitol Hill and was working out in the Navy Yard early in the mornings. I woke to the phone ringing. Don't worry! My husband said. Luke left five minutes before the shooter arrived. He is fine.
My heart felt like it might stop. What would have happened if he had been hurt? It took my breath away.
We live and breathe and work and learn in a free country. The ramifications of this great gift are so great as to change the face of the earth, but often we do not stop to appreciate this gift because we simply take it for granted. It is our home. We live here. It has always been this way. This is the air that we breathe, the water that we swim in. Why should we give thanks for it? But every once in awhile we are jolted awake and reminded to give thanks for the great gift of the country and for freedom.
I just spent the past ten days in the midst of a democratic process in our Episcopal church. Once every three years, we meet with representatives from all over this nation. We debate from morning to night. We argue. We pray. We worship. We make each other mad. We vote. Some lose the vote. Some win the vote. But we do not hit each other or resort to gossip or swear words (at least not in public), we stick it out and keep praying together.
At the root of democracy is a kind of trust and humility. Our country is built on that trust and so is our church. We are called to believe that the wisdom of a whole body of people may be greater than any one individual opinion. Each of us must hold to the humility that we as individuals may in fact be wrong, so when I lose an argument, I can accept the outcome.
Hear me out on this. Let us not forget how blessed that we are. We live in a country where debate and questioning are possible. Just this past week, 75 children were slaughtered in Iraq because they did not practice Ramadan. Some of them were crucified because they had been accused of acts of sodomy. They are prisoners. They are slaves. They have no freedom. Even their lives can be taken from them if they do not say or act in a particular way.
I am so sorry that we have to disagree. I am so sorry that the world cannot be easier. But I would rather live in a community that disagrees than a community in which everyone thinks the same thing. Church has become the most segregated time of the week in this country. Let us not aim to worship in a place where everyone thinks as we do. Then we might get so comfortable that we miss Christ. Then we might become like the people of Nazareth, so sure of ourselves that we miss out on what God is calling us to do. I am proud to lead a church that is willing to ask hard questions and suffer the consequences. I am proud to lead a church where disagreement is possible, where failure is possible, where we can pray even when we don't see eye to eye.
We look to the founding fathers with a kind of reverence on this day. We admire their tenacity, their incredible wisdom in designing this democracy, their faith in the wisdom of the people. But they were not gods. They were men (and their women were behind them but at the time they were mostly men). And they struggled. They disagreed. They were not always right.
When Jesus came, he ushered in a radically new way of thinking about God, a new way of worshipping, a new way of praying. But the people of his hometown missed out because they could not listen. They could not open their hearts to his message. They had already made up their minds about who he was. They were too comfortable.
The gospel says that he marveled at their unbelief. He marveled at their unbelief. What is unbelief? I think it is when we start thinking that we know so much that it is time to stop listening, time to stop questioning. Unbelief is certainty without humility. It happens when we become so attached to the world as we know it that we can no longer open our hearts to Christ. Unbelief occurs when you stop listening and watching for what God is doing in the world. It is not only denying faith but perhaps more importantly, believing that you have all the answers and that everyone should think like you think. Unbelief, that is the word that Jesus used when describing the people of Nazareth. Unbelief.
The people of Nazareth were not free so long as their minds were already made up. And that is all that I ask of you on this weekend of our Independence. Give thanks that you are free. But make sure that you embrace the gift of your freedom by never ceasing to consider other perspectives, to ask questions, to remember that it is God alone who knows all in all. Listen to one another, pray with one another, and give thanks for our freedom.