By Rev. Denise Griebler
1st UCC Richmond, Michigan
January 28, 2018
Well, I will tell you this: I went to worship that evening with the usual expectations – which is to say, I wasn’t expecting anything unusual. It was just after sunset – which is when we worship. By our way of thinking, sundown is the beginning of the new day – a time to rest in God’s presence – a time to rest in the company of family and friends and neighbors.
I went to worship that night for lots of reasons, I suppose. Of course, I was there to worship God – to hear the portion of scripture, to sing the psalms, to pray. But it was also just what we all did to begin every week. I went with my husband – we’d see my cousin – he’d see his sister and brother-in-law – sometimes my mom and dad would even make it there – and I’d have a chance to connect with my committee members for the next fund-raiser or mission project. In a couple of hours you could actually make a lot of connections and see a lot of people. And you could always count on the coffee hour snacks to be pretty good. You’d hardly need to eat supper after that!
Well, let me tell you, there was nothing usual about that worship service! The rabbi hadn’t gotten things going yet. We were all just visiting quietly with one another. And then this stranger comes in with Simon and Andrew, and James and John. Everybody was talking about how last week those boys had left their fishing boats and nets and James and John had left their own father in the boat so they could sit at the feet of this total stranger. Who was he anyway? I think they said he came from down south – somebody said Nazareth (nothing good ever came from there). But I heard those boys were following him around and sitting at his feet like he was some famous teacher, hanging on his every word.
I noticed right off – and so did everybody else – that the boys were not sitting with their families. They were sitting way over on the other side of the synagogue with that stranger.
And then before our rabbi arrived – that fellow from Nazareth goes up to the pulpit and starts to teach and preach. I don’t think he was invited to do that.
You could feel the tension rising. Everybody was looking around for the rabbi. Where was he? He always got there at the last minute! Where was he? Ok, well, it serves him right. Maybe he’ll show up a little earlier from now on.
I’m starting to think to myself: “I didn’t come here for this.” I had just wanted to hear the readings for the day, to sing the psalms, to pray. See my cousin and my friends and check in with my committee members. Geez.
He’s still up there preaching. And the truth is, I’ve got to admit that he’s saying some interesting things. Things I’ve never heard in this synagogue before! The kinds of things I heard John was saying out along the Jordan River – people had been flocking to that guy – he was always talking about some alternative kingdom – he was always saying that the Kingdom of God was near. Right!?
Kingdom of God? I never went out to the River. John made me nervous. And I guess for good reason – Herod had him locked up. He’s still in prison.
I know what Kingdom I live under. All you have to do is look around – Rome is in charge here. They control our political leaders. They control our religious leaders. They’ve got soldiers everywhere always throwing their weight around, forcing us to give them food that we grew or caught for our own families, taking over our Lake and fishing it dry, humiliating us by forcing us to carry their packs – always making sure we knew who was in charge. Kingdom of God? I live in the kingdom of Rome and there’s nothing or nobody who can change that. You just try to get by the best you can for you and your family. Keep your head down, don’t cause trouble, I think you all would say “fly under the radar.”
But that fellow from Nazareth – he’s a good talker. He’s saying things he really shouldn’t say from the pulpit. And you know, it’s not so much what he’s saying that’s different – it’s how he’s saying it. Like he’s not afraid. Like he believes it. And like he assumes that we do to.
Well, of course we do. Of course I do. I believe that God is the Maker of heaven and earth and that God is the One to whom I owe my heart and my loyalty. And that how we each live and how organize our life together should reflect the justice, mercy and love of God. And that God cares about the last and the least as much (maybe more) as the first and the most. An that God judges us and our life together based on how the must vulnerable are fairing. But, come on! You can’t expect anyone to actually live that way!
But he did. And it made me wonder about what my life – what our lives really mean. What the love of God – I mean, for everyone – really means …
And then all of a sudden, somebody in the congregation got up, real noisy-like, and you could tell he was getting ready to walk out in a huff. He was going to make a scene. And he’s muttering under his breath kind of loudly, “Who is this outsider from Nazareth anyway? What gives him the right to speak?” And then as we was making his way out of the pew, he yelled over his shoulder: “I know who you are Jesus of Nazareth. You’ve come to destroy us and our community.”
I felt my stomach clench. We do not treat one another or guests like that. I’ll be honest with you. I do not like conflict. It never leads anywhere good. I could feel myself shut down. I wanted to crawl under my pew and take cover. And I bet just about everyone else felt the same way.
But Jesus wasn’t afraid – at least it didn’t seem like he was. Just lifted hands up and made a quieting sound: “Shhhhhh. Shhhhhhh. Quiet.” And then it was still again.
Man, you could hear a pin drop in that sanctuary.
And then without missing a beat, Jesus went back to teaching us about how it really is only God who is in charge – loving us all – calling us to live our faith – and to expect that it will make a difference in our lives, in our community, in our nation and even in our world.
He spoke like he really believed what he was talking about. And for a moment, I wondered what it would be like to live like that. With so much freedom and authority that seemed to come from the inside out. No fear.
Well, after worship – news spread about Jesus – not so much about what he said – but how he said it – the way it made you feel like you didn’t have to be afraid of any other human being no matter how much authority they want you to think they have. I could hear the psalm ringing in my head: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
I don’t actually know what to think about it all. It’s like he was asking me to do something. Even expecting it. And showing me how to have the courage and the freedom to do it. But I couldn’t really understand what I was supposed to do.
Do you know what I mean?
Maybe how is the key. There’s a kind of authority that imposes itself. It can break a person or a nation or even the world. But there’s another kind of authority that comes from the inside out, that has integrity, that can make a person whole or even heal a broken community or nation, even the world. An authority that comes from knowing that only God is God.
I have a friend who is always saying: “We walk as far as we can see, and when we get there we’ll be able to see a little farther.”
Maybe he’s showing us how to walk. Maybe that’s enough.