Sermon – Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

By The Rev. Bill Byers

In the scriptures today we meet two young men, David and Jesus, both about 30 years of age, but with a span of one thousand years between them. We begin with David. The air is filled with excitement and expectation. The golden-boy of his people is about to be crowned. He is young, handsome, articulate, and red-headed. With this charismatic man as their king, everything seems possible for the people of Israel. We are witnessing a coronation, right there at Hebron, where the tribes of Israel have come together. The people cry out, Look, we are your bone and flesh…You are our man, David, we’ve been watching you during the old king’s reign, for some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. David, you are our man!

That day, at Hebron, where the bones of their patriarchs and matriarchs were buried, David was anointed king. In time, he would lead his forces north to the hilltop fortress of the Jebusites, the impenetrable city, and capture it, then rename it Jerusalem, the city of David.

At Hebron, David made a covenant with the people of Israel before God. At the core of this society resided the conviction that its corporate life, its political existence, and all of its institutions were grounded in the ultimate reality of God. All their thoughts, all their actions were seen and known by God. They did not claim moral perfection either for David or for themselves; they knew they would fall short of their God’s demands and would need to reweave and repair their relationship with their God again and again. Both the covenant with God and the holy city of Jerusalem would become their sacred centres.

In light to all that is happening around us, and with the wisdom of this Old Testament reading, I find myself wondering if the world we live in has any sacred centres, and if it has, how can we recover them? The paradoxes of power are intriguing. David bided his time during the waning years of Saul’s troubled reign, refusing to lift a hand against God’s anointed first king of Israel. David’s move to Jerusalem was shrewdly motivated, to one of the last unconquered strongholds, and Jerusalem gave David a new capital independent of earlier tribal memories, as well as a victory which completed Joshua’s work, and sealed David’s vocation as king in the eyes of the people. In the eyes of his people, David was a hero, despite this many human foibles and failings. A thousand years later, they would hail Jesus as the Son of David as he entered Jerusalem, ingloriously on a flea-bitten mule.

In many ways Jesus had a much harder time. When he returned to his hometown of Nazareth, he could do almost nothing… In the first reading, David is the centre of his people’s adulation, but Jesus is the centre of doubt and indifference. All see David as extraordinary, while many see Jesus as too ordinary, the carpenter’s son. The people heap honour upon David, Jesus receives none.

It’s a peculiar trait of human nature. Jesus has achieved fame as a teacher, healer, and prophet. He has been widely admired and respected throughout the countryside until he came back to his hometown, where they took offense at what he said and did. Who does he think he is? Where did he get all this? Isn’t he the carpenter? Familiarity breeds contempt. We seem to be able to honour distant heroes, but we have difficulty accepting heroics among our contemporaries.

One of my ancestral relatives kept diaries for over fifty years. In 1877, Sir John A. Macdonald made a tour of the most easterly part of this province. When it became known that his entourage would be passing through our little farming community not once but twice, the community swung into action. It was decided by the Higginsons, Frasers, Byers, Robertsons, Warrens, Rutherfords and others that a huge arch should be erected at the crossroads, a splendid affair, 22 feet wide and 27 feet high, covered in evergreen boughs, with the words “Hail to our Chief” and “Welcome to Sir John” emblazoned upon it. The community gathered to cheer both times. In nearby Vankleek Hill, 5000 people gathered to listen to hours of speeches.

Such was the honour afforded the man and his government, even at a time when the horrors of the Indian Act and the residential schools were being crafted and enacted. I have studied these people who built that arch for many years, and I know they were decent people, imperfect to be sure, but good people none the less…. And now I wonder, what was wrong with these people that they could not see what was happening? Why did they not speak out differently? How did our ancestors allow this to happen?…. But then I must admit that I, and many of you, were alive during many of the years of the residential schools, and we are alive now in a time when too many first nations communities are living without clean water., just to name two of the great injustices of our time….. and I wonder why we have not spoken up more and been a louder voice… and so I, like many of you find myself reflecting….

In returning to Nazareth, Jesus must have hoped for a warmer welcome from his people. That he could do no deeds of power there, must have been a huge disappointment. To them, Jesus was the carpenter…. Not the teacher, not the healer, not the prophet, and he could do nothing of power in their eyes. For far too long the indigenous people of this land have been speaking to us, and we have not heard them. We have listened perhaps, but we have not heard, and so too little of power has been accomplished…. Will this be the time when we will hear? Or, are we just hoping it will all blow over, like COVID-19, and other irksome things like black flies, gypsy moths, and earwigs?

Jesus left Nazareth that day and went to other villages where his message and his works were received. The Nazareth experience taught him something else. He would need more people to do his work. Mark tells us he took the twelve, his disciples, and sent them out in pairs.  We, too, are his disciples, so this applies to us as well, all of us who would be his disciples until the end of time.

Herbert O’Driscoll, in one of his books, challenges us to see Jesus standing before us, today, July 4, 2021, and he asks us to dress Jesus in the clothes of today, perhaps sandals, cargo shorts and an orange t-shirt with the words Every Child Matters. He is asking us to serve him and follow him. Probably we will not even need to leave home, but perhaps we will need to leave our comfort zones. We may have to make some changes in our lives.

He tells us that we will need companions on our journey, someone to bounce things off – thoughts, insights, doubts, moods – someone to whom we can be accountable, perhaps a small group of people. He gave the disciples power and authority over unclean spirits, the ability to speak truth to situations of darkness and evil. He gives us that same power, in community, twos, or threes, or small groups. He told them to travel lightly, to not cart too much around, to not be encumbered by too much structure, but to be accountable and present to those with whom they meet along the journey, and if they are not well-received, then to move on. The original twelve went out and were well received.

Last week I spoke of Michael Peers, and his leadership in the church and with the indigenous people of the land. Michael listens well, and when he speaks, he communicates gently, and you see in him a follower of Jesus. But Michael was not just about talk, his actions as our church’s leader began a process of healing. Others in the church picked it up and continued, but there has been too few of them. Now, in this time when we are more aware of the depth of the hurt and the breadth of the healing that is needed, we must all take up the challenge and follow our Lord’s leadership, communicating gently with healing and love, open to receive healing and love ourselves, bridging chasms of fear and hatred, and walking alongside. That is our mission…. We must not fail to accept it.