This is a very personal sermon but can probably be adapted for use elsewhere
It’s so sad that the people of Nazareth can’t show an acceptance and openness to change – change in others and change in themselves.
But they can’t. Jesus left them, a while back, as a carpenter, a handyman. They’d watched him grow up, most of them had employed him at one time or another. He certainly wasn’t anyone special. Then he went away. They heard he’d been baptised by John. He’d disappeared into the wilderness for a spell. Now he’s travelling around the area, teaching and healing.
And today he’s back, in Nazareth, teaching at the synagogue.
I wonder who or what they were expecting? Were they expecting Jesus to be the same
but with gifts of teaching and healing. Were they expecting to feel a sense of pride and reflected glory:- “That’s our boy”
Whatever they were expecting, Jesus isn’t it.
This is a new Jesus. A Jesus who has been baptised and affirmed in his identity and ministry. A Jesus who has battled it out in the wilderness, struggling to work out how he is to fulfil his vocation. A Jesus filled with energy, vitality, conviction, a sense of urgency and
an authority which offends the people he grew up with.
“Who does he think he is, preaching to us like this. He’s no better than any of us, why should we listen to him!”
Last week we heard how Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter took the huge risk of calling Jesus the Christ. knowing that it would change things and he himself would be changed.
The people of Nazareth can’t take those risks. They can’t risk acknowledging the change in Jesus. They have a familiar safe image of him as one of them and they’re not able to let that go and let him be who he really is.
What a tragedy that they cannot be open and accept Jesus and what he’s offering them
Jesus is proclaiming the good news that the Kingdom of God is already here, there is forgiveness for those who repent, the chance to make a new start with the slate wiped clean of the past.
Jesus came to his own people, and his own received him not.
We too are his own people although not in the way that the people of Nazareth are. We have told his story each year, and share bread and wine in remembrance of him.
What would it be like if Jesus was coming here, next week, to preach for us.
We can be sure the church would be full. But what would our expectations be? What would we expect him to look like? What would we expect him to say or do? How would we feel – excited, a bit afraid?
Would he be anything like the picture we have of him?
There are many images of Jesus portrayed in words and pictures and we create our own images based on our understanding of the Gospel and the way we learn about our faith.
No image of itself is wrong:
The people of Nazareth are right. Jesus is someone they’ve known all his life; he has worked among them as a carpenter. The problem is that image of him is getting in the way and they can’t see the whole picture.
Perhaps we, too, carry some images which keep us from seeing the whole picture of the risen, living Lord Jesus who still proclaims the Good News that the Kingdom of God is among us, that our sins can be forgiven, and that we can make a new start in life.
The Christmas image of the baby Jesus can hide from us Jesus the man who experiences fully all that it means to be human, to love, to grieve, to celebrate, to suffer and to die.
An image of gentle Jesus, meek and mild, can hide from us the angry impatient Jesus outraged by injustices and with no time for hypocrisy and self-righteousness.
Even images of the crucified Jesus carry the risk that we stay stuck with the suffering and pain of being human and don’t live in the great promise and hope of the resurrection life that lies beyond.
Images of Jesus taken from our hymn books may well leave us wondering who Jesus is in this 21st century.
It’s a generalisation but mostly our hymns aren’t about our modern world of science and technology, they’re not about space travel, computers and the internet. They make no mention of advances in medicine and all the social and ethical problems which arise in this age.
When we’re confronted by all the issues involved in living in our world, so very different from the world Jesus knew 2000 years ago, our image of Jesus needs to be that of who he is today an image we can live with and hold with integrity.
Sometimes we don’t even realise what our images are until they’re challenged by our experience in life.
Recently I realised that I had got stuck with an inadequate image of Jesus which was getting in the way.
Many people came to Jesus for healing because they were said to be possessed by demons. It’s generally accepted now that they were suffering from mental disorders
which were unknown 2000 years ago. Jesus’ response was always to cast the demons out and free the sufferer from their affliction then and there.
My image of Jesus from these stories led me to think that I should be able to ask Jesus
to cure me of my mental distress and he would do it instantly, like casting out a demon. Because that didn’t happen I was angry with him. Like the people of Nazareth I took offence at him.
I needed to see beyond that image of Jesus casting out demons.
Only then could I encounter the Jesus who had always been walking with me and who would continue to walk with me, my doctors and my friends through the painful, slow journey towards healing. It was only then that I could encounter the Jesus who knows me better than I know myself, who wants my healing as much as I do and who knows how best that can happen.
That experience has taught me that whatever images of Jesus we carry, if they prevent us encountering the risen Christ who can lead us into new life then it’s worth taking the risk of change.
Because today Jesus still proclaims the Good News.
The Kingdom of God is amongst us.
Our sins can be forgiven if we really want to change.
The slate can be wiped clean and we can go forward into new life.
If we really want to.
It’s up to us to respond.
We can be like the people of Nazareth. Unable to respond to the invitation to new life because they don’t want the invitation to come from this Jesus who isn’t who they were expecting.
Or we can respond like Peter and the other disciples, willing to allow Jesus to be who he is
and to allow ourselves to grow so that we become the people God wants us to be.
Let us pray:
Lord, your summons echoes true
when you call my name.
Let me turn and follow you,
and never be the same.
In your company
I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you,
and you in me. Amen.
 This is 5th verse of “Will you come and follow me” by John L Bell and Graham Maule reproduced in “New Hymns & Worship Songs” Compilation ©Kevin Maynew Ltd 1996