“[Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had grown up, and went according to His custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.”(Luke 4:16)In the name …
One day while playing the ponies at the track and all but losing his shirt, Mitch noticed a priest who stepped out onto the track and blessed the forehead of one of the horses lining up for the fourth race.Lo and behold, the horse, a long shot, won the race.Before the start of the next race, the old priest stepped back onto the track.Sure enough, he blessed one of the animals on the forehead.Mitch ran to the betting window and placed a small wager on that horse.Again, even though it was a long shot, the horse blessed by the priest won.The same thing happened again in the sixth and seventh races.By the time of the last race Mitch knew his wildest dreams were going to come true.He made a quick dash to the ATM, withdrew all his savings, and awaited the priest’s blessing that would tell him which horse to bet on.True to form, the priest stepped onto the track for the last race and blessed the forehead of an old nag – the longest shot of the day!Mitch also observed the priest even blessing the eyes, ears and hooves of this horse.Mitch was even more confident of victory when he placed all his winnings and all his savings on this especially blessed horse.He then watched dumbfounded as the old nag came in dead last.In shock he made his way down to the track area where the priest was.“Father!What happened?” exclaimed Mitch. “All day long you blessed horses and they all won.Then in the last race the horse you blessed came in last.”The priest nodded wisely and with sympathy, and said, “Son, that’s the problem with you Protestants.You can’t tell the difference between a simple blessing and the Last Rites.”
Now that joke could never be told in a place like Northern Ireland where there is still a lot of tension between Protestants and Catholics.Maybe that joke shouldn’t even have been told here this morning.But I think for the most part we are comfortable enough with our denominational differences that we can tell a story like the priest at the racetrack without any serious insult or harm being intended or perceived.This past Sunday I had to go searching at three different convenience stores to find a copy of the Boston Globe.As I walked into the store over on the other side of 5-and-10, I saw a couple from town that I know.They were having their morning coffee. I went over to say Hi, and they mentioned to me that when they don’t go to their Lutheran church they watch Holy Name on TV. They told me there was another glitch in the cable system last weekend so that only a black screen was visible instead of our Mass.I thanked them for watching anyway.But how nice it is that they watch.
I remember some previous choir ladies mentioning that before they came to sing at church here they would watch the Lutheran Mass on television from Holyoke or Easthampton or something.They liked it because the liturgy and the hymns were so similar.How nice that is.On Christmas Eve one of our parishioners attended Services at the South Deerfield Congregational Church at 7:00pm and then showed up here at 11:00pm.She did so because she would rather be in church than waiting for 11:00 to roll around at her house.And then some from that church came here for our Shepherds’ Mass.How nice is all that.
On Ash Wednesday in years past we would invite the local Congregational ministers and their congregations to join us for Mass as we began our Ecumenical Lenten Discussion Series.One of the ministers would preach and one from their congregations would read the Lesson.And we all received the ashes together, I receiving mine from whichever minister preached that night.How nice is that.This year because we only have five pastors presenting instead of six we won’t be holding any joint services on Ash Wednesday, but for the rest of Lent we will come together and share our various takes on the parables of Jesus.I have chosen to base my session on a book I once read called Once More Astonished by Fr. Jan Lambrecht, a Jesuit priest of the Roman Catholic Church.I would venture to say that half the religious books I own have been written by Roman Catholics.At college where there was no National Catholic Church to attend, I went to Sunday and daily Mass at the Roman Catholic Chapel, and even though I was preparing for our Seminary they welcomed me with open arms.While at the Seminary, I attended classes at MarywoodCollege in Scranton which is also Roman Catholic.And one of the nicest Christmas cards I received this year was from Fr. Roux who wrote that he would remember my family and me as he celebrated Christmas Mass, and then he signed the card by writing, “In the love of the Lord we serve.”How nice is that.
You know when Jesus walked into the synagogue in His old hometown of Nazareth everyone there was prepared to hear thecarpenter read from the prophet Isaiah.No one was ready to hear Jesus proclaim:“‘Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Lk 4:21)That they could not see Jesus as the Messiah didn’t make Him any less the Messiah.Today marks the final day of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.Throughout the world churches are praying not for uniformity but for unity. We don’t all have to be the same, in other words, but we must respect each other as church just the same. The people in that old Nazareth synagogue had a narrow view of Jesus and they could not see Him for all that He truly was.We have to learn from their lesson.Congregations are praying today all around the world that we be respectful and open to the Jesus who walks into all of our various churches as He is so that we are not blinded by preconceived notions of how we think He must be.That we may cherish and respect our chosen form of worship, but that we may simultaneously respect the choices of others as well, may this be our prayer of Christian unity that we offer in the name of our shared God and of our shared Saviour, Jesus Christ.Amen.(+)