Saturday, July 7, 2012

Making the Familiar Strange

RCL Proper 14B
8 July 2012

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

Propers:  2 Samuel 5.1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12.2-10; Mark 6.1-13

For an audio recording of the Sermon as preached at the 10.00 a.m. service, please click here.

           In 1963 my family returned to Colorado Springs after a three-year tour of duty in Europe.  We quickly settled back into our life and found a new parish to call home.

            Saint Michael’s was a new parish, only five years old when we became members.  Most of the parishioners were either members of the United States Air Force or civilian employees of the federal government.  My mother and I joined the choir and an association began that will be fifty years old in October of 2013.

            Among the members of the parish was a retired Army colonel and his wife, Jon and Elma Nottingham.  Since our own grandparents lived at some distance, my father’s parents in upstate New York and my mother’s in metropolitan London, John and Elma ‘adopted’ my sister and me as their foster grandchildren.  For the next forty years they occupied a special place in the life of my family until their deaths in the early years of this century.

           Shortly after I was ordained, I found myself at lunch with Grandma Elma and Grandpa Jon.  Throughout the meal Grandma Elma kept call me ‘Father’ Richard this and ‘Father’ Richard that.  Finally I said to her, “Grandma Elma, you’ve known me since I was ten years old.  You don’t need to call me ‘Father’.”  “I know, Father Richard,” she said and gave me another piece of lemon cake.  The moral of the story:  Don’t tell your grandmother, whether foster or birth, what to call you.  She has known you too well and too long and will do as she pleases.

            When Jesus returned to Nazareth, no one was really interested to hear about his adventures in the big wild world nor were they interested in any prophetic mumbo-jumbo.  Jesus was a local boy and he would be treated just as he had been treated all his life.  Familiarity does not breed contempt as much as it breeds a reluctance to allow someone to assume a role other than the role that people are accustomed to having this person play in the life of the community.

            I may have been ordained, but Grandma Elma would decide how to address me, whether I liked it or not.  Jesus might have been doing some extraordinary things elsewhere, but here in Nazareth he was just Mary’s boy and he better not try to play any other role.

            For sixty-five years Saint Faith’s has played a particular role in the life of this neighbourhood.  Those of us who are congregants know these walls as housing a place of physical and spiritual care, a place where God is worshipped and the sacraments administered and a place where we have come to learn God’s wisdom.  To many of our neighbours, however, we are primarily a place for recitals, for meetings and for the occasional rummage or boulevard sale.  That we might have any other role in their lives is not on their horizon.  We are familiar, but few are willing to allow us to become slightly more strange and compelling.

            While our familiarity has not bred contempt, it has bred an indifference and a lack of expectations that extraordinary things might be taken place here, a place that has become an ordinary fixture in the local landscape.  As the summer waxes and wanes, however, we will have opportunities to invite our neighbours to see what extraordinary things God is doing for us and with us.

            In two weeks’ time the Kidney Foundation will hold its second annual community fair.  We shall figure prominently that day.  Why?  Because the Kidney Foundation’s concern for the physical well-being of Canadians is our concern as well.  So let us tell our neighbours and friends to come and to see what the church is really about.

            Over the next few months the playground will be re-located on the 57th Avenue side of our property.  Why?  Because the care of the little ones, whether the children of parishioners or not, is so important to us that we are prepared to change our ‘public face’.  So let us tell our neighbours and friends to come and to see what the church is really about.

            In early September we shall celebrate our sixty-fifth anniversary as a parish.  Our property will echo with music and we shall continue outdoors with food and festivities for everyone, members and non-members alike.  Why?  Because our neighbours need to see that we are here for them.  We tend our grounds, paint our building and provide public space so that life is richer and our life together stronger.  So let us tell our neighbours and friends to come and to see what the church is really about.

            In October we shall ‘take a bite out of winter’ by providing free winter clothing to those who have need of it.  All will be welcomed to warm food and fellowship.  Why?  Because we serve a Lord who comes among us poor and naked and hungry.  Our neighbours need to see that there is more to life than acquiring more goods and capital, that real human life is shaped by servanthood and the use of privilege for the good of others rather than self.  So let us tell our neighbours and friends to come and to see what the church is really about.

           What our neighbours need us to do is to witness to a deeper dimension of human life, to the mystery of what it means to be part of the human family.  But website, Facebook and print advertising won’t be enough.  Each one of us will need to go forth and to tell our story to everyone who will listen.  People need to hear why you and I continue to participate in this way of life.  They need to learn why this ordinary, familiar place is really extraordinary and wonderfully mysterious.

            Jesus sent out his earliest disciples in pairs to tell their contemporaries that their familiar world was about to become unfamiliar.  Every Sunday you and I are sent out to our own familiar world with a message of home, hope and help to our contemporaries.  We have good news to share; let us share it.  We have hope and healing here; let us proclaim it.  We have purpose and ministry here; let us invite others to share it.  Amen.

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