The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s036g08 Sunday 3 27/1/2008
'he .. made his home in Capernaum' Matthew 4.13
It is interesting how other sources influence our thinking. So in the well-known and inspirational passage: 'One Solitary Life' it is stated: 'He never had a family and never owned a house. He never wrote a book, or held a public office.' No doubt Jesus own words also contribute to this perception that he didn't have a home when he said to the scribe, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." Matthew 8.20
But there is other considerable evidence that Jesus had a house in Capernaum, which Matthew suggests.
It is clear that his preaching and initial ministry in the synagogue centred around the one in Capernaum. Mark (2.1) tells us that he was 'at home' in Capernaum and Luke (4.23) implies that Jesus had already done miracles in Capernaum after moving from his hometown of Nazareth perhaps a source of contention. John (6.24) tells us that the crowds naturally looked for Jesus at Capernaum and this suggests it was well known that he had a house there. The fact that Jesus says of Capernaum: 'And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that on the day of judgment it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you" (Matthew 11.23,24 // Luke 10.15). This testifies that despite Jesus having a home there it would not bring them special privilege.
So Jesus probably had a place he could call home.
Similarly Jesus calls people who were fishing and mending nets, doing the ordinary things of life, to provide for themselves and for those they loved.
Now I do not want to suggest that this means that home ownership is a blessing of the kingdom, or that the capitalist system is divinely ordained. It is simply that Jesus lived within the usual pattern of existence of his day.
It is clear that while he had a house at Capernaum, he wandered far and wide in his ministry. He was proactive in his ministry, taking the initiative to reach out to all others.
I think that what I am saying is that we can take on too much poverty. As a parish priest for twenty-nine years living in Church provided accommodation, it has been lovely to have the opportunity as a chaplain, to buy, begin to pay off, and live under my own roof for the first time.
Our first task is not to change the world, but to live peaceably in the midst of the world. We need to be able to live with ourselves and with others. If we are at loggerheads with those people God puts around us, what has happened to 'loving our neighbour?'
The phrase 'mending their nets' always reminds me of the words I use at the meditation session I take at one of the hospitals where I work. There, I always preface the tape by saying that I think for women, knitting or crocheting is a meditative activity, perhaps for men it is being out in the garage doing woodwork or whittling on the front verandah. God comes to us as we are distracted from the endless voices and competing demands on our brain cells and stop for a while. Of course men can knit and crochet, and women can do woodwork and whittle! God can come to us as we take a quiet stroll or work in our garden.
No doubt our gospel has been used to suggest that God takes us away from such mundane activities, but I suggest that it dignifies the ordinary - in place of the religiosity of those who had Jesus killed? Perhaps it points us to the fact that religion often divides people, whereas the ordinary mundane activities of life can bring people together?
I reflect how difficult it is to maintain an exercise regime, do daily Yoga practice, or have a healthy prayer life alone. What is difficult alone becomes possible in the company of others. It is a myth and self-delusion that we come as individuals to church; hear the word and receive the sacrament as individuals, then leave unaffected by those around us. God brings us together with other people, so that, that which is difficult alone becomes possible together. And for most of us in Church we are providing for ourselves and those we love and doing the ordinary things of life like mending nets. It is this very ordinariness that we share that is our great strength. We are not the rich and famous, the movers and shakers of society, those on the 'A' list.
As I have gone through the church, I guess I could not number the times when I've heard sermons on the futility of the money-making rat race and the importance of coming to Church. I have heard far less sermons on the dignity of trying to provide for oneself and one's family and respect for people who do not hold the Christian faith or do not attend worship. The dignity of all people will not (necessarily) be achieved by instituting grace before meals or family prayers. Certainly they will not bring the kingdom.
And as I reflect on my previous paragraph that began how difficult it is to maintain an exercise regime, do daily Yoga practice, or have a healthy prayer life alone the same is true on a corporate level. What is difficult alone as the Anglican Church or the 'christian' church becomes possible in the company of others. It is a myth and self-delusion that we can live our lives as church and move on unaffected by those around us. God brings us together with other people, so that, that which is difficult alone becomes possible together. For God - that communion with all others, and the resultant peace, is the aim and the kingdom.
So I want to encourage us to rejoice at the little wins in life. The jumper that we might knit, the crochet work we complete, the item of woodwork we make, the relaxation as we whittle. Whatever we choose to do, rejoice when we achieve it. I raise my own hand and acknowledge that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to congratulating my little wins. But like bad habits, good habits take time and practice to master. As we practice being gentle on ourselves, we stand a chance at being gentle on others.
The words in Greek for 'mending their nets' are 'katartizontas ta diktua'. In Hebrews 13 the author says: 'Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.' (20,21) The Greek for 'make you complete' in verse 21 is 'katartisai umas'. The word 'complete' is often translated 'perfect' but really is just complete - the result of mending.
May we all find dignity in the lives we lead and extend this same dignity to others. May we be gentle on ourselves and attend to our own hurts, so that we can be gentle on others and perhaps attend to their hurts as well. This is the way to the kingdom and perfection!
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