Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 2006 (Proper 9B)

A Sermon From All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Briarcliff Manor
Sermon preached by the Rev. Timothy E. Schenck, Rector, on July 9, 2006. 
Based on Mark 6:1-6 (Proper 9, Year B).

“A prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown.” Which is why there will always be a market for consultants. We tend to listen to people we don’t know, and to whom we’ve paid great sums of money, but ignore those closest to us who say the same thing. And if the people of Jesus’ hometown are any indication, this is an ancient phenomenon. Which is odd. Because you’d think they’d be proud of their native son. Jesus put Nazareth on the map! Yet their reaction to Jesus’ teaching and healing miracles is brimming with anger and indignation. ‘Who does he think he is? Why should we listen to this carpenter’s son?’ In Luke’s account of this story they even try to throw Jesus off a cliff. Not exactly a great homecoming for the local boy done good.

But I think much of this comes back to what it means to be a prophet. And make no mistake: Jesus was a prophet. This role gets subsumed by some of his other hats, like savior, redeemer, incarnate God. But Jesus is also a prophet. Which is highlighted by his own comment that “a prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown.” And based on the job description, prophets are usually pretty unpopular. The great prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah and Daniel and Ezekiel played a vital, yet often unpopular role, in the ancient world. Because the classic prophetic role of the Old Testament was to call the community back to repentance. It was the prophet who held the people’s feet to the proverbial fire when it came to their relationship with God and the service of the poor and downtrodden. The prophet was the community’s conscience; a spiritual gadfly called to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. So in this sense, Jesus is indeed a prophet.

As you know, the Episcopal Church held its triennial convention last month. Three years ago, we got ourselves in trouble with the worldwide Anglican Communion over the consecration of the first openly gay man as a bishop. And this year there is some subtle grumbling about the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as the next Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Amazingly enough, from our perspective, there are still places that do not accept the ordination of women. Including three dioceses in our own country. And because of the actions of General Convention, there is talk of schism in the Anglican Communion. How this will all play out remains to be seen. It will take much time, prayer, and conversation before any resolution takes place. My prayer is that it will be done in a spirit of Christian love rather than fear and hatred.

But I also contend that the Episcopal Church’s actions have been prophetic. We are calling the church throughout the world to respect the dignity of every human being; to fight for justice; and to end discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. And for once this is not just American arrogance. This is Christian love.  

And, again, the prophetic voice is unpopular. In the generations to come I am convinced that the actions of today’s Episcopal Church will be honored and affirmed as bold moves for justice. But in the interim there may well be pain and rancor and accusations and disagreement. All in the name of Jesus, of course.

I am proud to be both an Episcopalian and an Anglican. And if there will be stormy days ahead, I think we as a church would do well to remember the words we just heard from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. “And therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

Speaking a prophetic word to the community is not easy. It takes courage and faith. It makes some people want to throw you off a cliff. But it is also what we are called to do — each one of us in our turn. As people of God, we can’t leave the prophetic voice up to others; we must join in the prophetic chorus to end discrimination and model Christian love. Even if it means upsetting our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

© The Rev. Tim Schenck 2006

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