At our house, it’s not the 4th of July without “1776,” the strange but wonderful musical about our Founding Fathers. Although I grew up in Mr. Jefferson’s Land of Virginia, “1776” made a John Adams fan out of me. In fact, he captivates me. Perhaps it’s because someone long ago coached me to root for the underdog, and in the play, he is certainly that. The musical has a fife and drum overture that appeals to a girl who spent her childhood visiting and then living in Williamsburg, followed by the Continental Congress inviting Mr. Adams to “Sit Down, John!” Sit down, John, they sing, for God’s sake John, sit down!
They are telling him to be quiet.
They are telling him they don’t want to hear it.
And what they didn’t want to hear was the voice that pushed us into becoming a free nation.
What they didn’t want to hear was a prophet.
People, you see, had a sense of what was right and what was proper. On those visits to Williamsburg, we always went to what they used to call the Information Center to watch THE movie: “The Story of a Patriot.” Jack Lord, long before his days on Hawaii Five-O, played a planter and new member of the House of Burgesses, a man who would be won over to the cause of Revolution. But it did not come easily. His family hesitated to sacrifice the ties to England. His mother rhapsodized over a shipment from across the sea—fabric and furniture and blessed tea—saying, “British goods were ever the best.”
She didn’t want to hear her son say otherwise, didn’t want to consider the idea that we might be a different nation, more than a set of colonies, a new and free people making our own society and our own way in the world.
It’s important to remember how many world-changing things have started out that way. A prophet speaks, an eager few respond, but the rest of us? Raise a hand and turn our heads as if to say, “I don’t want to hear it.”
It happens to Jesus in today’s gospel lesson. He’s been all over the place teaching and healing, bringing little girls back from the dead, even, and he goes home to Nazareth, and it’s just no good. How could that Jesus, Mary’s and Joseph’s boy, dare to put on such airs? Who does he think he is? And the things he is teaching?
“I don’t want to hear it.”
In the church that raised me, women cannot be ordained. In that same place where I walked into the baptistery and let the pastor put me under the water, in that same place where I first learned that Jesus loved me—I would not be talking to you from the pulpit. I would not be able to baptize you or your grandchild, nor could I be the one to offer you the bread of life.
You see, when some people in my childhood denomination suggested women could offer that kind of leadership, others responded this way:
“I don’t want to hear it.”
Maybe some people in this church felt that way, too, once upon a time. But we are comfortably beyond that. We remember the history but are not captive to it. It’s a story, sort of like the one about the patriot I used to look forward to seeing on the wide screen in the beautifully cool movie theatre on a hot summer afternoon.
If you grew up in this part of the country, you were more likely raised on stories of the Pilgrims. Their spiritual leader, John Robinson, died in England before he could come to the New World, but he sent this message to them through their governor, urging them to be open to the revelation of God:
It’s certainly true the disciples had much to learn, and in the second half of the gospel lesson, Jesus sends them out to get started, in a sort of unsupervised partnership version of field education. He tells them to prepare to be rejected and to keep moving. They had seen it happen to him, so they had every reason to expect it, too.
We may find this hard to believe. Surely we would have known Jesus was special, wouldn’t we?
Surely we would have recognized a prophet?
Never would we have put our taste for tea or our desire for beautiful things or our old school ties ahead of the rights of human beings to be free…would we?
We’re guilty, too, of being the hometown crowd, of becoming comfortable with the way life seems to have always been, when God is always breaking through with a revelation, as if God knows we are finally ready to understand something new.
Out in front yesterday, during the parade, we saw a number of volunteers from Equality Maine, seeking our support to defeat the referendum question we expect this fall that will try to overturn our new law allowing gay marriage. We took this matter-of-factly; how can we not in this congregation where even without voting it as a policy we live an Open and Affirming life?
But we can’t take for granted that others will agree. On my mind are Lieutenant Dan Choi and Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, both at risk of losing their careers in the military because of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is the ultimate attitude of “I don’t want to hear it.” It’s a head in the sand response to people’s real lives that asks them to make those lives a lie.
At an event at the White House last Monday, President Obama told Lt. Col. Fehrenbach that it’s taking time to change policies and laws because there are generational differences in our understanding. I can testify to this. My kids don’t understand why we have such a policy in the first place. They can’t understand that this was considered a step forward from an outright ban on service by gay and lesbian people in the military.
From the generation in the middle, I have to say it’s hard to shake the dust of your feet and move on to leave behind a whole generation. I would rather try to stay and talk it out.
God called Ezekiel speak to Israel in a time of great strife, as Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians. To be sure of control, the victors took a large proportion of the country into exile in Babylon. For people who believed the Temple was the one place they could connect with God, this meant a feeling of complete abandonment. Why had God allowed this to happen? Ezekiel had hard work to do, first to convince the people that God had not disappeared and was still reachable, but also to teach them their part in maintaining a relationship with God. It’s clear from Ezekiel’s story that being a prophet requires courage, a sense that the
individual is so in tune with what is right that nothing will discourage him or her from trying to get the message across to others.
Even when they say, “I don’t want to hear it.” Especially when they say, “I don’t want to hear it.”
We don’t know what’s coming next, where God will bend us toward more openness and deeper relationship, but we can depend upon it, God will. There is yet more light and more truth. But when the message comes, will we be listening? When the messenger comes, will we receive her, or will we will we be among those raising a hand and turning our heads away, ever so slightly?
We don’t want to hear it. We let ourselves forget that what is familiar now was once new. We become the ones Jesus faced in the hometown crowd, and among them he could not show his full strength and power. Our unwillingness weakens the power of his love. Our close-mindedness and our lack of imagination and our limited vision have the power to prevent the Good News from being shared fully.
On the other hand, the one we haven’t used to gesture dismissively, we could welcome the prophet to come among us. We could open the door to new ways of being and to different ways of understanding.
It would be a beginning.
And that I would want to hear. Amen.