I began with an acknowledgement that I was part of a generation that watched black and white television. What an amazing transition as we eventually watched programs in color. The experience was similar to the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy walks out of the black and white drudgery of her Kansas home and into the vibrant world of the colorful Munchkin Land!
I reminded those older attendees of what it was like to adjust the “rabbit ears’ antenna on top of the television set and be forced to hold onto the antenna as you became a part of the system and the picture was “Just right” as you held it. And of course, when you let go of the antenna the image went fuzzy. So you would have to kink your neck and watch the show as you stood next to the large wooden console.
It was in this era that I first watched the blockbuster film, “South Pacific” which today is little more than a love story in a tropical setting in the midst of a war with the Japanese. We have forgotten the edginess that was the message of South Pacific. The Rogers and Hammerstein musical opened on Broadway in 1949 and went right into the face of the racial bigotry of that time. I sang some of the lyrics as lieutenant Cable commiserated with nurse Nellie, “You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
The Greatest Generation often romanticizes this time in American history ignoring such ugly realities of bigotry and fear that led us to place Japanese Americans in internment camps because of the color of their skin and the strangeness of their language. We feared them, because they were different from ourselves. At the Second Service I told of a conversation that I had in the Fellowship Hall with a long time member of our church. He told me that as a young German boy he was invited by his good friend to dinner at his home. The family was Belgian and Hitler had just invaded that country. His friend’s parents told him never to invite this “German” to their home again.
Bigotry is not just racial. I shared my experience as moderator of the presbytery installing the new pastor in my hometown church. I had mentioned from that pulpit that I had once worked at a local foundry. After the service I was approached by a well groomed gentleman who asked what years I was at the plant. When I answered he said, “I don’t recall meeting you in the front office.” I told him that, “I didn’t work in the front office. I pulled trays on the deck and ultimately worked in maintenance.” He stepped back from me as if I was contagious. He had assumed that I was part of his socio-economic group. He didn’t seem to quite know how to make the cognitive leap of how a blue collar employee who worked on the floor of the plant (and in my case often underneath it) could transition into a white collar person in a position of authority.
As Jesus spoke in his hometown synagogue the crowd seemed initially pleased and proud of one of their own making good. But as he began to make messianic claims he also challenged their sense of theological entitlement as God’s Chosen People. Jesus spoke of how God sent Elijah not to save a Jewish widow but a Gentile from the hometown of the hated queen, Jezabel. Jesus then ground salt in their prejudice by reminding them that it was a Syrian Gentile, Naaman whom God had cured of leprosy through the prophet Elisha. The hometown folk ground their teeth in rage and attempted to kill Jesus for daring to challenge their narrow view of God’s love and redemptive power for the world. The bible says that Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”
I believe that we in the church today can be just as prejudiced as those in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth against people who are not like ourselves. Whether it is because of the color of their skin, or their sexuality, or the way in which they worship, we hold ourselves above them. We seem to arrogantly assume that God will somehow find it easier to love us than them. The gospel writer reminds us of God’s love of all creation. This is the “Good News” of the passage!