Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, July 4, 2021: Something Different Crosses the Threshold
Columba Salamony, Seminarian
[After he raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead,] Jesus left Capernaum and returned with his disciples to Nazareth, his hometown. (Mk 6:1, TPT)
In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity: our Mother, our Brother, and our Friend. Amen.
I want to invite you to ponder with me for a moment…
What does it feel like for Jesus’ childhood neighbors to sit at his feet? Imagine you are one of them. This man whom you’ve known his entire life… Sitting in your synagogue…
Teaching and preaching to you…
I wonder if you would feel amazed… or scared… or confused…?
Do you and your neighbors, friends, and kin sense the power that he has?
Maybe you have already heard the stories about your old friend teaching beside the sea or in the hill country? Or perhaps you heard about when he cast the unclean spirit into the herd of swine? Or stopped the bleeding woman’s hemorrhage? Or raised the little girl from the dead—Talitha koum!...
How does it make you feel that Jesus, whom you’ve known since his childhood, is now a teacher? What do you think, seeing this man you helped raise seated in your synagogue? Reading from your family’s ancient Torah?
Are you confused? Surprised? Are you afraid? Sit here with that feeling…
There’s a beautiful poem by Mary Oliver called, “Maybe.” In it, she writes how Jesus, “talking his melancholy madness, stood up in the boat and the sea lay down, silky and sorry, and everybody was saved that night.”
She continues, “But you know how it is when something different crosses the threshold—the uncles mutter together, the women walk away, the young brother begins to sharpen his knife.”
She goes on to include other moments of Jesus’ ministry, and how it was likely that, over time, the disciples “forget how the wind tore at the sails before he rose and talked to it, tender and luminous and demanding as he always was—a thousand times more frightening than the killer storm.”
‘You know how it is when something different crosses the threshold’… when something different crosses the threshold… This is what I see on the faces of Mary’s friends and neighbors as they whisper to one another, “Isn’t that Yeshua?” and “That’s Joseph and Mary’s boy… the carpenter who made my table…” Their confusion turns to surprise… and then maybe disgust? Terror?
The parallel story in Luke, chapter four, tells us that Jesus reads and teaches from the first Servant Song in the book of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” (Lk 4:18; Is. 61:1) He tells them, “This scripture has been fulfilled, just as you heard it.”
And everyone is dumbstruck… if only for a moment… at what he has said to them.
Jesus did not enter Nazareth as a stranger—not as an itinerant preacher with the latest trending news on his mind. The synagogue that night was full of people that had probably known Jesus for over twenty years. They were his boyhood friends, his neighbors. Jesus stood in front of them and taught them, and they all saw him through very different eyes. He was no longer the scrappy boy sitting in the field, launching pebbles at birds with his slingshot… Something different had crossed the threshold, and they were very unsure about this new personality that Jesus has found.
And see, the thing is… They’re probably justified. People who leave a place they’ve always known, and then return to it, frequently have a really difficult time adjusting to the reality of their new perspectives. And the family and friends, who they return to, can often notice the difference right away. All of these people—the whole synagogue—sensed immediately that something about Jesus had changed. I mean, here he is, claiming to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah. A bold move, don’t you think?
Those who have always known him understood the subtext of what Jesus said to them—what it might mean for him—and they recognized something different in him. And that scared them. They were scared of him. And they were scared for him.
These Nazarenes who sat before Jesus knew that he had changed. But more than this—they also knew that he would change them, too. I don’t have to tell you that change can be scary. Even now, we are afraid of change, and of the uncertainty of change, especially when someone who we love is going to be the catalyst for change. We are afraid of the cost of such change. We seldom want to give up the comfort that we have earned for ourselves in order to change… Why should we?
It’s no huge coincidence that Jesus returns to Nazareth for this story. This is his hometown. These are the people who knew him best. Our hometown is often a place of comfort. It is where we go to relive cherished memories from our childhood, to reconnect with old friends, to drive around the streets where we rode our bikes... A hometown is where we can go to look back on how much the town, the society, the world has changed… but also, how much we have changed. Going back to your hometown can be hard, sometimes… For you, but also for those who knew you way back when… Especially if you really have changed, as Jesus had.
Just as his kindred rejected Jesus and his teaching that night, sometimes we have to be rejected by our own people to become what and who God wants us, needs us, calls us to be…. We have to embrace that we are built for and called to change. I think Jesus’ message about this is clear: We have to put aside what we know and love, what comforts us and brings us joy… We have to leave behind our bread, our cloak, and our bag… Only then, can we step into the unknown—into the killer storm—which can only make us wiser, stronger, braver people…
If we are holding onto yesterday, we are preventing the Spirit, that wild goose, from doing her work within us, from lighting a fire under our asses and pushing us out of our comfort zones and into the new person God needs us to be!
Becoming that person means changing… however much we don’t want to… or we don’t think we need to… not even how scared we are when we see the changes that we need to make to grow into something different.
Because it is always scary when something different crosses the threshold.