Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jan 18 Sermon: Nazareth and Toad Suck

Sermon Texts:
Epiphany 2B Corinthians and John

Sermon Notes
Christ from Hicksville

Growing up in Arkadelphia, we always looked down our noses at folks from Gurdon. It just sounds like a place to make fun of, doesn’t it? The po-dunkness of the town just flows from the guttural sounding names of some towns in South Arkansas, where I’m from. Gurdon, Dierks (pronounced Durks), Smackover, Fordyce. We used to make fun of the guys who would date girls from Gurdon. Nothing good comes from Gurdon.

Those towns who tried to name themselves something more glorious usually fall short of the grandiosity of the namesake. There is a London, Tokio (yes, spelled that way), Hollywood, and yes even Paris in Arkansas. .. and London, Hollywood, Tokyo, and Paris they are not.

Some towns are blatantly honest about their place in life. Ashdown was right next to a paper mill, and I suppose it was about the right distance and direction from the plant that it was indeed where the Ash comes down. “Cotton Plant” is Jonny Cash’s hometown, and is aptly described by its name. Even our largest city capitol is a humble “Little Rock.”

Early in my hometown’s history, the name was briefly considered to be changed from Arkadelphia to Athens to attract another university. (Arkadelphia has two: OBU and HSU). I suppose the population of Ark. Did think of our little town as a seat of education, like that namesake. But, they stuck with the name that inexplicably elicits laughter from others.

Maybe we as high falutin as we thought we were. No doubt residents of nearby and more significant Hot Springs looked down their noses at us.

But you know what I mean about these little towns? Perhaps you came, or even come from one. Perhaps that’s how folks think about Morris. Or perhaps that’s how we think of other little settlements around here. Ther’s always somewhere smaller and less significant and more laughable. Unless of course you are in Booger Holler, AR. That’s right down the road from Toad Suck.

Canonical gospels all have nothing positive to say about Nazareth, other than it was the home of Jesus.

They try to kill Jesus by throwing him off a cliff, they aren’t able to receive the ministry of Jesus’ ministry. He said himself, a prophet isn’t accepted in his own hometown. Not until Jesus has died and resurrected that his own family begins to believe his Gospel.

Nazareth is either small and insignificant, or it is disreputable because of the religious practices of those northerners.

In Judea, Nazareth and Galilee in general is thought to be a step down from Judah. Judea is where the temple is, after all. The north had more influence from the Assyrian Empire. It was a less “holy” place. Nothing good could come from Nazareth. Nazereth held no cultural significance to Judaism.

Are you willing to accept this Christ who comes from nowheresville? Or, even a disreputable place? It is not what Nathanael observes about Jesus that saves him. According to Nathanael, he doesn’t expect much of this Jesus guy if he comes from Nazareth.

However, it is that encounter with Christ and finding that though he thinks he knows Jesus, Jesus really knows him. Now that is where Nathanael begins his discipleship.

In a sense, Nathanael goes from expecting nothing of Jesus to being wowed by his foreknowledge of his whereabouts to being told, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

That’s what happens when we bow to the truth that great things can come from what we think are insignificant sources. That’s the truth of the nativity. That’s the truth of the incarnation.

God’s mystery and miracle can even come from places like Toad Suck, AR. If we live inside this truth not because we have seen proof, but because God is God—then we are living lives of discipleship.

Even those moments or occasions that we think are insignificant and boring can contain the precious jewel of enlightenment.

One notion of Zen philosophy that really attracted me to that practice is that mindfulness or a settled sense of letting things “be” is often best practiced by being attentive to those mundane practices like doing the dishes or sweeping the floor.
These tasks, which we would probably say, “well, what kind of significant moment could come out of doing the dishes?” hold the keys to enlightenment, because if we find value in the “boring stuff,” then we will be less likely to grow unfazed by the truly “brilliant stuff.” Some people drive the Pacific Coast Highway every day—a highway which most of us would be truly astounded by and shouting “woah, look at that!” at every twist and turn. And some people who have grown accustomed to it probably don’t really see it anymore.

Paul writes to the Corinthians about having the same kind of open mind about the importance of our bodies.

People in the time of Jesus and after (and even now) have a fairly dim view of our bodily life. After all, our bodily life is fragile and corrupted. Our bodies get old and broken and they eventually fail us.

Cheap understanding of value of body—led some to use prostitutes.

Our body is the temple of God. Can anything good come of the body? Our bodies are infused by the Holy Breath of God. Living itself is a miracle. When we cheapen the value of our bodies by following their every urge and inclination, we forget that we are not our own. We belong to God.

God can use any humble vessel or place to bring about significant change. The author of the universe if the author of every part of the universe, and none of it is insignificant. Every sparrow, every hair on our head is numbered. Even Gurdon is the dwelling place of God.

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