Sermon for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 8, 2012
Admittedly, I was not heartbroken when Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise announced their divorce. That’s right, the oh so handsome Tom Cruise the movie star and the gorgeous Katie Holmes just couldn’t keep their marriage together.
What’s crazier to me is that every news outlet in America jumped all over the story. CNN, Fox News, and of course, People magazine all had leading articles about the breakup. The 24 hours news cycle went on and on about this latest celebrity scandal. And that’s the word for it – scandal.
Americans love a good scandal. There is something in our DNA that is triggered when we hear about celebrities and their nefarious activities. The paparazzi, with their cameras and tape recorders swarm celebrities to catch them at their worst. And in today’s day and age, when Michael Jackson dies, or when Tiger Woods’ private life comes out, or when Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes get divorced, it becomes a scandal of epic proportions, all hyped up by the paparazzi and the never-ending news cycle.
And you can be sure that the paparazzi were ready when Jesus returned to his hometown synagogue. The crowd gathered around to see this man who was making a name for himself throughout the countryside. The Nazarenes were maybe hoping that this Jesus would finally be the person who put their city on the map. So the paparazzi and all the people in town gathered on the Sabbath to hear what he had to say.
In typical Jesus fashion, he sized up the crowd and went for it. Jesus preached about repentance and forgiveness; he talked about healing and wholeness; he warned of the demons that had infested the culture. Jesus preached the Kingdom of God. And he probably wasn’t nice about it. He pushed people’s buttons, he called out the rulers for their sins, he cured people of their illnesses. Jesus offended the people.
And the paparazzi went nuts. Jesus was causing a synagogue scandal of epic proportions. He wasn’t fitting into their preconceived notion of what the hometown boy should be saying. Come on – they all knew Jesus when he was a little kid. They knew his mother and his brothers and his sisters. They used to know the little boy Jesus, they saw his mother change his diapers. They heard about the spats he had with his siblings. The people of Nazareth knew Jesus as the carpenter, not Jesus the prophet! And now Jesus is telling them about the Kingdom of God!
You can be sure that the flashbulbs were going as the paparazzi tried to capture every juicy moment of Jesus’ scandalous proclamations. You can be sure that the celebrity gossip news cycle was spinning for weeks after Jesus’ scandalous sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth. Our passage from Mark says that the people of Nazareth “took offense at Jesus.” But that’s the cleaned up version – those words actualy say that Jesus offended the people, that he scandalized them.
Immediately after Jesus offends the people of Nazareth, he sends out the apostles. They go throughout the countryside with no bread, no bag, no money, and only one set of clothes. The twelve are sent to go out and make a few good scandals. Jesus tells them to take no bread, no bag, no money, and only one set of clothes. He tells them that to be vagabonds, to go like nomads from place to place. And Jesus empowers them to cast out demons, cure the sick, and preach the good news. We can be sure that they caused a ruckus throughout the countryside. We can be sure that they offended quite a few people.
For the past two thousand years, Christians around the world have taken this example quite seriously. The Church has been causing scandals for two thousand years. The first Christians often gave up family connections, promises of wealth, and powerful jobs in order to follow Jesus. Monks and nuns like Francis and Clare made lives out of devotion and service to the poor. Even in our own recent memory, Christians like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Desmond Tutu scandalized the world by saying that all races and peoples are made in God’s image. Following the example of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth, Christians have created scandals.
Over the past two weeks, I have had the privilege of sitting down with dozens of you at our Meet Your Rector gatherings. In the course of those gatherings, I have shared with you my spiritual story – how I was first called to be a Christian and then later how God called me to be a priest. And I have asked all of you to share your stories, to reflect on how God has acted in your lives.
For many of us, including me, following God was scandalous. You have heard about the stir I caused when I announced that I wanted to become a priest. And I have heard your stories about God stepping into your lives in the most beautiful and strangest of ways. You have shared how you scandalized your family by leaving one church and joining another. I have heard how your spouses were scandalized when you said that you would follow Jesus. Again and again, you, the people of Holy Comforter, have told me how you have scandalized family and friends by saying that this crazy thing we call Christianity is worth living for, worth dying for. As Jesus sat in the synagogue at Nazareth proclaiming God’s kingdom, he scandalized the people he knew the best. You all are not so different. You have sat among your closest loved ones and caused a stir by choosing to follow this carpenter from the backwater of the Roman Empire.
So what I have to say is this: don’t be ashamed. Don’t be ashamed of your story. Don’t be ashamed of your relationship with God. That relationship may be rocky, that relationship might be wonderful. Whatever it is, just don’t be ashamed of it. When you talk about your life with Jesus, you might upset some people. You may scandalize them. You may scandalize them by sharing a story about how Jesus got you through a tough time. You may offend them when you say there was a time in your life when is was hard to love God. Don’t be ashamed of your story. The real tragedy would be if you weren’t honest with God and with yourself.
Americans love a good scandal. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes have kept the news cycle buzzing for weeks. But long before movie stars and Hollywood celebrities, Jesus caused a scandal of his own in Nazareth. And for twenty centuries now Christians have been causing scandals in the Lord’s name. Now it is your turn. Be bold. Be brave. Learn a lesson from People magazine and National Enquirer. Publish your scandalous story with Jesus on the cover of your life. Let the world know about this scandalous person named Jesus.