The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 8, 2018
About a month ago, we at Holy Comforter took a survey about our spiritual life and discipleship. The answers you gave were fascinating. There was one question in particular that provided some truly interesting responses. The question was about the role of Jesus in your life. We got all sorts of answers. Guide, leader, Lord, example. But I’ll admit, I was disappointed because no one, no one said, not a single one of you wrote down what the New Testament calls Jesus. No one in this church called him, “carpenter.” I expected at least one of you to give the technical answer.
See, Jesus comes again to his hometown of Nazareth where had been a carpenter. He teaches in the synagogue and the people are astounded by his wisdom. And not only can he preach, but he can cure the sick and cast out demons. But the people, the people don’t like it. They say, “who does this guy think he is? We know his family. We know his people. We watched him grow up, we watched run around in diapers. And now, now he comes to us like a big shot. Jesus is not some sort of prophet, he’s just a carpenter.” And so they took offense at him. They were scandalized by what Jesus did, by what he said, and by who he was.
See, those people in Nazareth, they thought they knew Jesus. But they didn’t know him at all. And notice, notice that the people who were offended at Jesus were the ones in the synagogue. It was the pious, religious sort that was most offended by Jesus. They sat in their holy place and said, “bah, he’s just a carpenter.”
As it was the synagogue two thousand years ago, it can just as easily be the Church today. We tell Jesus who Jesus can be. No one gets off the hook on this. The Church is sorely tempted to tame Jesus, to make him palatable for modern ears. We pay attention to Jesus when it suits us, but then he says something inflammatory and, “bah, he’s just a carpenter.”
For instance, you know that Jesus talks more about money than he talks about heaven, hell, and marriage. But what do we get excited about? Heaven, hell, and marriage. And then, when we do talk about Jesus’ view on money, we tone it down to make it palatable. Because if we really listened to what Jesus said about money, we’d be scandalized. Give to everyone who begs from you. Forgive the debts of people who owe you money. You cannot serve God and money. We say that Jesus is our Lord, our guide, our mentor, our role model, but not when it comes to our money. Then, he’s just a carpenter.
We also do this in art, too. Think of the images of Jesus you’ve seen. Jesus has perfect teeth. Flowing, beautiful hair. He’s well-manicured. His hands are clean. I mean, when was the last time you saw an image of Jesus that looked like a carpenter from the Middle East? Somebody who had worked his whole life? Sunburned, weather beaten, with callouses on his hands? That’s not who we depict because that would offend us. Let’s be honest - we make Jesus in our own image. Anything other than that, and the Church is scandalized.
And the world can smell our hypocrisy from a mile away. And the church wonders, we wonder why fewer people across the country are going to church. They do believe in God, you’re seen the stats. The same percentage of people in the US believe in God as they did decades ago. It’s just, they don’t go to church. I tell you it’s not because some churches use a hymnal and some sing off a screen. It’s not because some pastors wear hip jeans and some priests wear fancy church clothes. All that is just window dressing.
No, I think fewer and fewer people are coming to church nowadays because even though we say Jesus is our Lord, our guide, our example, we act like he’s just a carpenter. We say that we follow him, but really we only do so when it’s convenient. We say that we offer our whole hearts to God, but it’s only part of our hearts. We say that we read the Bible, but all too often we’re scandalized, offended by what Jesus actually said. We treat our neighbors more like Caesar would have us treat our neighbors than how Jesus would. We create Jesus in our own image so that we can feel good about ourselves. Myself included. Because if that was us in the synagogue of Nazareth two thousand years ago, I would have been the Pharisee. I am certain that Jesus is astounded at my unbelief. At my unwillingness to follow.
The Church, as a whole, is having a reckoning. We are reckoning with ourselves. We are reaping what we have sown. We, the Church, ought to be Jesus’ hometown. And yet, even here, our prophet is without honor.
I realize these are hard words, difficult words. But I do not think that all is lost. As is true in every generation of the Church, there is also great potential. To pause, to put away our preconceived ideologies, to break open our hearts, and listen again to Jesus.
This is a crucially important lesson for Holy Comforter in this time. You know, that every day tens of thousands of people see our new church being built. I’ve already heard their stories. Of people who have stopped and watched and wondered at what is going on. They have driven by and said, “I never even knew there was a church there.” All of that is great and wonderful and holy.
But when they actually stop in, when they muster the courage to darken our doors, what will they find here? That is the pressing question. What will they find at Holy Comforter that is beyond bricks and pews and windows? Will they find Jesus?
When they see images of Jesus in art at Holy Comforter, what will they see? Will they see Jesus for who he is, or Jesus in our own image? Will they see us using our money as he said to use our money? Will they see a community that follows Jesus or is scandalized by Jesus? Will we love our neighbor as ourselves, or will we just try to love ourselves? Yes, we are building a church that can be seen from all around. You can even see it over HEB. And that’s a big deal. But the real question is what will they find inside. Because I tell you, if we treat Jesus as just some carpenter instead of our Lord, we could build the most beautiful church in all of Christianity but it would only be a monument to hypocrisy.
Brothers and sisters of Holy Comforter, I am not calling us to be perfect. I am only calling us to be true. To be true to our words, true to our prayers, true to our confessions, true to our creed, true to our sacraments. True to Jesus in absolutely everything we do and say, I pray that we first ask if Jesus would have us say it. And I pray, I pray that the church building out there stands as witness for us. I pray that it stands as a reminder to us, that we are to live better lives. That our church is to live together in holiness. Our friends, our neighbors, our community should notice this church not for its tall roof and beautiful architecture, but for our love, for our faithfulness, for our devotion, for our care for one another, and for our service to the community. I tell you that the people who stop in to this church will not be coming for new pews, or a beautiful space, or bright windows. No, they are coming to see Jesus. And I ask you, will they be amazed at our unbelief or our belief? Will they find a carpenter or will they find the Lord of all?