Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chasing Rabbits

I would like to start with a story by Fred Cradock the man who literally wrote the book on preaching.  Fred speaks of seeing the grey hound races on the television.  These big graceful dogs run around the track chasing a mechanical rabbit.  Once they get too old the y are put up for adoption.  Fred visited a family who had just adopted such a dog;
It was a big old greyhound, spotted hound, lying there in the den.  One of the kids in the family, Just a toddler, was pulling on its tail, and a little older kid had his head over on that old dog’s stomach, used it for a pillow.  That dog just seemed so happy and I said tot eh dog, “Uh, are you still racing any?”
            No, no, no, I don’t race anymore.”
I said, “Do you miss the glitter and excitement of the track?”
He said, “No, no.”
I said, “So what’s the matter you get old?”
“No, no I still had some race left in me.”
“Well, did you not win?”
He said, “I won over a million dollars for my owner.”
“Then was it bad treatment?”
“Oh no they treated us royally when we were racing.”
I said, “The what?  Did you get crippled?”
He said, “No, no, no.”
I said, “Then what?”
He said, “I quit.”
“You quit?”
Yeah that’s what he said, he said, “I quit.”
I said “Why did you quit?”
And he said, “I discovered that what I was chasing was not really a rabbit. And I quit.” He looked at me and said, “All that running, running, running, running, and what I was chasing, not even real.”[1]

This is Jesus’ hometown he is returning too. Jesus was a Nazarene. He lived most of his life in the town of Nazareth within the province of Galilee. Although a small village, Nazareth was close to a couple of metropolitan centers.  Unlike some of its neighbors, Nazareth was a Jewish enclave. It was also relatively poor and overpopulated; there were little if any natural resources such as water and fertile soil. There was much sickness and disease all around.
The people, the Jewish people of the villages were tired of living under Roman oppression.  They were seeking a messiah, but what that messiah was and what his message would be was not agreed upon.
Professor Gerard Hill of Brisbane catholic university points out that there were four major schools of thought or ways of being Jewish at that time.
There were the Zealots who wanted a revolutionary Messiah one who would help the people to rise up violently against their oppressors.  There is some evidence to suggest that this movement was just beginning and really did not get moving until 30 or 40 years after Christ. The suggestion goes on to state that Simon the zealot was just that zealous for Christ’s ministry. But I choose for traditions sake to include this group.
 The Sadducees were a group of the upper echelon of the Israeli people.  They were content to maintain the status quos.  They were committed to the Jewish faith on the basis of the earlier books of the bible. Moreover, as the people at the top of the pecking order in the Jewish society of their time, they were much more concerned with present-day affairs and attempting to maintain their own stability as opposed to speculation on the life-to-come.
The Pharisees sought to live a life of spiritual purity by a meticulous following of the torah (Jewish law). They were not looking to compromise with Rome nor seeking revolution as the zealots did.  With their focus on the law they often could fall into a trap of pious legalism which would lead to the accusation of hypocrisy. Many of the Pharisees were truly deeply religious people. They believed in the resurrection of the dead. Yet Jesus was a problem for he was condensing the law making it easy for all to comprehend.
The Essenes, preferred to withdraw to a monastic-like setting instead of dealing with Rome or any of the other Jewish sects. They were a commune of sorts; they completely opted out of mainstream Jewish society. The most notable group in Jesus' time was the Qumran community who lived an ascetic life and was waiting for God's apocalyptic intervention in human history. [2]
Jesus understood his role here on earth and proclaimed it to his hometown. Jesus comes back from his baptism, full of the Spirit, and understands his purpose.
He understands for certain why he is here on earth and then he starts to tell the world.
So what happened?  Jesus message when first heard is taken with acceptance and a modicum of joy.  “All spoke good of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came out of his mouth.  They said is this not Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22)  Remember Jesus had just proclaimed that what he read from the scroll is being fulfilled in the hearing of it.
Have you ever played the whisper game?  You whisper something in one person ear and by the time it gets to the 20th person it is a much more condensed and completely different message than what you started with.  Well imagine the message of salvation being proclaimed as here and now.  Whose salvation??  Whose interpretation of what we just heard.  Jesus goes on to head off their anticipated rebuttals including one to come at the cross.
See in the next little section of today’s scripture Jesus doesn’t allow the people to continue to chase after nothing, chase that rabbit around the track each with their own agenda.  He tells them;
Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor cure yourself!’  And you will say ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did in Capernaum.’  And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.  But the truth is there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the Prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naam the Syrian.’  When they all heard this all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  They got up and drove him out of town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.  But he just passed through the midst of them and went on his way. (Luke 4:23-30)

Barbara Brown Taylor points out that “Jesus gets in terrible trouble for pointing out that God sent Elijah to save a widow in Sidon, and Elisha to heal a leper in Syria when there was no shortage of widows and lepers in Israel.”[3]  You see Christ is pointing out that this God thing, this Love thing is not for you to hold sacred and keep to yourself but it needs to be shared and shared with the most unlikely, it needs to be shared with the stranger.
So you see what Jesus is saying is you’re not getting what you want, what you expect. I have come to give this planet and its people the lessons it needs, the model of a life lived in love, peace and care for all.  Not for one, not for some, but for all.
I think this is the problem many of us may suffer a bit from today.  We want a Jesus that is here Just for us.  Just for me!  The old evangelical question comes to me “have you accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal savior.”  I think sometimes we say “yes I have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as my personalized savior.” Again I quote Barbara Brown Taylor as she states; “the Great wisdom traditions of the world all recognize that the main impediment to living a life of meaning is being self-absorbed.”[4]  Jesus is challenging that in his people and today in us.
If you watch how Jesus proceeds on his journey it is all about encounter and humility.  He doesn’t limit himself, definitely not to his hometown and actually not to the people of Israel.  He doesn’t seek out people who look and think like him.  He will look a roman Guard in the eye just as easily as Samaritans or lepers.  He will walk with a Syro-Phoenician woman as well as angry Judeans.  He speaks equally to slave and master, to young girls and great men.  Christ’s call to each and all of us is to look for the image of God in each we encounter and greet that image, seek that image and minister to that image.
In our humanity we are always seeking ways to justify the faith we hold as an ultimate; making those who do not believe as we do a little less.  “If we can convince ourselves that God wants it too – even if that means making God in our own image so that we can deny God in our enemies—Then we are free to engage in combative piety.”[5]  This allows us to be angry when the message of love Challenges us.  This allows us to cower in fear at opening our doors to others.  This allows us to continue to chase our own meaningless rabbits.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the dignity of Difference states that “the supreme religious challenge is to seek God’s image in one who is not our image.”[6]  In other words do not fear the stranger for in the stranger is opportunity, an opportunity to hear a different way of being in God.  An opportunity to learn and broaden our community for each stranger that you greet, get to know, engage changes you which changes us collectively.
I hope that through this year of discernment and exploration we can hear the call of Christ to walk with the other, to serve the other and to welcome the other to make our sanctuary a little larger to make our table a little longer and to make our faith a little stronger. Amen.

[1] Fred B. Craddock, Craddock Stories (St. Louis, Mo.: Chalice Press, 2001).
[2] Gerard Hall, The world of Jesus' time, http://dlibrary.acu.edu.au/staffhome/gehall/xtology2.htm (accessed January 2, 2013).
[3] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 97.
[4] Ibid., 91.
[5] Ibid., 99.
[6] Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations (New York: Continuum, 2002), 60.

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