Familiarity Breeds Contempt!

5th Sunday of Pentecost, July 5, 2009

Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

A Fable, by Aesop, the African—a slave and a learned teacher of wisdom: When first the Fox saw the Lion he was terribly frightened, and ran away and hid himself in the woods. Next time however he came near the King of Beasts he stopped at a safe distance and watched him pass by. The third time they came near one another the Fox went straight up to the Lion and passed the time of day with him, asking him how his family were, and when he should have the pleasure of seeing him again; then turning his tail, he parted from the Lion without much ceremony.  What do you suppose happened to the fox the next time he met the Lion?  What if the Lion was hungry?


Of course the moral of this ancient fable is the fact that familiarity breeds contempt.  In our gospel reading this morning it was the towns people’s familiarity with Jesus that caused them to dismiss him; to think less of Him than His Words and His miracles demanded.  The good town folk of Nazareth would never accept that Jesus was the Son of God, because they could not even accept that He was a man of God.  They knew Him.  Familiarity is a tool of the devil; a tool He uses to cause us to look down upon the ways and the things of God.  Instead of standing in awe of God’s presence through the simple person of Jesus, they sneered at Him.  Today, many of us, instead of standing in awe of God’s presence in our lives in simple things like the Word, water, wine, and bread, we may look upon these simple things as common and ordinary; things that could never be miraculous.  Yes friends, familiarity is a barrier to the gospel, but it is also God’s means to bring us the power of the gospel.

I. The people of Nazareth who rejected Jesus did so because they thought they already knew Him.  They knew where Jesus grew up and they knew His mother, His brothers, and His sisters.  These Nazarenes represent a group of people that are still with us today, people who follow a way of thinking that says: “If you know the origin of something, you know all there is to know about it.  Case closed.  NEXT!”  For instance, some learned scientists have decided that the origin of man was in protoplasmic ooze, so man is nothing more than evolved protoplasm.  “Sorry God, we don’t need your account of creation that narrow minded people for thousands of years have refused to turn away from.  We learned men instead choose to preach, teach, and confess that man evolved from swamp scum!”  Some scholars have decided that love is based in man’s sexual appetites.  So love is no longer a commitment based on what is good and right, but instead on what feels good.  “Sorry God, but we don’t need your Word, which teaches that love is a commitment to You and our neighbor, instead we choose to preach, teach, and confess that if it feels good, do it!”


Another way that familiarity breeds contempt is by validating our misconceptions; misconceptions based on stereotypes—social and intellectual snobbery.  This way of thinking teaches us that race, politics, and social standing are more important than personal character and faith.  In our gospel reading this morning, you can still hear the cynicism and superior attitude hissing out in the way the good town folk of Nazareth said “Carpenter”.  After all, Jesus and His family came from a lower level of life than the brightest and best that become Rabbis and teachers.  How could He possibly have learned more than us.  He hasn’t been gone long enough to gain all of this wisdom.  Today, this thinking still plagues us.  The old prejudices and hatreds are still here, but they’ve been legislated away by laws that threaten to punish them as hate crimes.  Oh yes, those feelings are still there, but they are just hidden, swept away under a fancy judicial throw rug.


I’ve read that the most segregated day of the week in the U.S. is Sunday.  On any given Sunday you will find the rich worshiping with the rich and the poor worshiping with the poor.  We have black churches and white churches; Hispanic congregations and Asian congregations; traditional worship and contemporary worship.  You stay on your side of the worship tracks and we’ll stay on ours, and never the twain shall meet.  And to this many people answer, “Amen!  Glory, Hallelujah!”


With all of these obstacles standing in our way, it’s a great wonder how the church gets anything done.  How many times has a dear member of a church been raised up by God to speak a Word of wisdom or love only to be dismissed because they’re too young, or they are too new or inexperienced in “the ways and Word of God?”  We say things like, “Why I knew her since she was a baby.  What can she teach me?”  Or maybe when someone speaks God’s Word we can only think of the mistakes they’ve made in the past, so much so that we can’t hear God speaking through them in the here and now.  Yes, with all of this familiarity and contempt, how does God get things done?


II. He gets things done through the power and work of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, before He ascended into heaven that He would not leave us as orphans to find our way alone in this world; He said He would send to us the counselor who would continue to teach us.  Friends, Jesus has kept His promise—you see, He’s gave us the supernatural ability to live by faith and not by sight.  By faith, we understand and believe that God has revealed His power through human weakness.  The people of Nazareth said that “Jesus can’t be the Messiah, because He is one of us.”  “Jesus can’t be the Savior of the world” declares the unbelieving world today, “because He died on the cross like a common criminal!”  And to this God smiles and simply says “Your ways are not my ways O sinful man.”


In our Epistle reading this morning Paul gives us yet another example of how God chooses to use human weakness in order to demonstrate His power.  Paul pleaded with God to take away His thorn in the flesh; his weakness that the devil used as a tool in order to cause him to lose faith.  What was Paul’s thorn?  I don’t know and neither does anyone else, but whatever it was you can be sure it was a weakness of some kind—a weakness in his human flesh.  When Paul asked the Lord to take away this weakness, how did the Lord respond?  He said, Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in (your) weakness”. [2 Cor. 12:9]  And to this Word of the Lord, Paul would give the Church these wonderful words of faith: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” [2 Cor. 12:10]


How is God strong within us?  Why when we have faith!  When we trust in Jesus real presence in our lives, and know that He will provide all that we need to please Him and follow Him, then God is doing a strong work within us and through us.  Just as the apostles were sent out two by two to proclaim God’s Word without making provisions for their journey God also sends us out.  He wants us to know by faith that He has already provided all that we will need to make it through this journey we call the walk of Christian faith.  Through the preaching and teaching of His Word He nourishes us with divine power.  Through our own study of that same Word and our personal prayer life, God allows us to see how much He cares for us, and He allows us to see our love for Him grow as we learn how much He loves us!  As we live out His promises that were given to us in our own baptism, and as we feast upon His forgiveness at His holy table, we no longer look down upon His simple means of grace as simply the familiar activities of a boring church day, but instead we see all of these things as wonderful mysteries that God uses to draw us closer to Himself and each other.  It’s these simple things that empower us to go out to a dying world as His messengers, His Holy Ambassadors proclaiming His Word.


III. But what are we to proclaim?  Well, whatever He wants us to proclaim.  Now, some here this morning may counter that they are afraid to talk about the Lord because they don’t know enough Bible verses.  But we can’t let this stop us; instead we should follow the example of the apostles and latter the 72 disciples who went out 2 by 2 proclaiming a very simple message.  We need to remember that these people were simple fishermen and laborers who had very little education.  How much Bible do you think they knew?  None of that mattered to them, for you see they had the simple message of God…Repent!  Turn away from your sinful life style and trust in the love of God as given to you through the Savior, Jesus Christ.  Turn away from your fear and worries and trust in the loving heart of God, who pleads with you to turn to Him.  “Not enough” you say, “I need to say more or they may ignore me.”  Fine; then tell them your own story of faith.  Tell them why you love Jesus.  “But what if they look down on me because I am different than them?  Dear friends, the gospel, which is God’s message of love for sinners is not about skin, it’s about sin!  It’s not about race, it’s about grace.  The gospel crosses all barriers—race, age, social and economic differences are all removed by God’s power when you are sent by Jesus Christ.  All the walls of separation come tumbling down when you are giving your witness about God’s love.  When you are speaking as God directs, “whether they hear or refuse to hear (because of their sinful hearts), they will know that a prophet (an ambassador of God) has been (with) them. [Ezekiel 2:5]


CONCLUSION: Friends, let’s not get caught up in a numbers game, thinking we have to keep track of how many people received Jesus as their personal savior because of our testimony; God has never asked us to do that.  Instead, He simply asks us to speak His message of repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  Just as Jesus sent out the 12 He is also sending you.  He wants you to build relationships of trust with your neighbors.  He wants you to let Him create new friendships with people who are dying without knowing Jesus as their Lord.  Once they know you and trust you, they will hear your testimony…God’s Word of love for the world.  Once you have spoken, then just leave the rest in the Lord’s capable and loving hands.  May God continue to work His powerful and miraculous will through His simple means…even you and me.  In Jesus name….AMEN!

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