May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearths be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.
I've just returned from Japan this week and while I was there, I was chatting with some of my colleagues about the recent royal visit to that country by the Beckhams. Those of you who do not read the newspapers or watch the television may have missed this but about three weeks ago David Beckham, the footballer and his wife Victoria, the pop star visited Japan and a few other countries in the Asia Pacific region in what is known as a promotional tour.
What were they promoting you may ask? Victoria 's new single? David's football team - just changed from Manchester United to Real Madrid for those of you who have been on another planet. No. They were essentially there to promote the global brand that is Beckham.
This will have involved doing a lot of TV interviews, making lots of adverts for everything from sunglasses to after shave and generally making David Beckham even more famous than he already is. And that is saying something. My colleagues in Japan tell me that the few days he spent there earned him $20m - which seems pretty amazing to me.
I was musing on my flight back from Japan as to just how famous David Beckham actually is and I think he must rank in the top 10 of the most famous people in the world - using the definition of fame as being recongisability. Now you may find that surprising, in fact you may choose to disagree with me. Surely there are many others with fame that must eclipse David Beckham's. We let's think about it. Traditionally, the most famous people in the world would have come from the worlds of politics, music, religion or sport.
How about politics - well George W Bush must be up there - for us in the West at least. Nelson Mandela - he's pretty famous - but maybe not for someone in Ulan Bator . In music - well there's Paul McCartney, the last of the serious Beatles (I can't bring myself to include Ringo!). Well Paul's very famous for the over thirties but I'm not sure an 18 year old rapper in Chicago would give him much air time. Religion? Well there's the Pope - he's got to be in with a shout but probably would not figure too highly with the worlds Muslim's, Hindu's and Buddhists and there are a lot more of then than there are of us!
Which leaves us with sport. Michael Jordan the basketball player is pretty famous - but only incidentally so outside of America . Muhammed Ali would have been a strong contender 20 years ago - but probably less so now. Tiger Woods has god like status in all those parts of the world where golf is popular but golf courses are thin on the ground in Outer Mongolia or Paraguay .
They say football is the new religion and if it is then it's doing a better job of spreading itself than the old religions. It has boomed in the last 20 years with the spread of television to those parts of the world that previously were too undeveloped or too poor to afford it.
Football has universal appeal because it can be played anywhere there are two or more people, a flat area and something that resembles a ball. It has always been big throughout Europe and South America . Football in Africa has grown every year so that we now see a number of African teams competing well in every world cup. But it is Asia that has seen football boom most recently.
The big sport in Japan is baseball but lately football has started to run it a strong second. A Korean colleague told me last week that in Korea , football has taken over as the most popular spectator sport spurred on by the amazing success of the national team in getting to the semi finals of last years world cup. Gus Huddink, the team coach from Holland who guided them to that position is worshipped in that country and is used to advertise everything on TV.
Football provides us with a number of truly world famous names, all of whom now play for Real Madrid. Ronaldo of Brazil, Zinedine Zidane of France, Luis Figo of Portugal are all global stars but I would bet that if you asked a 10 year old on the streets of Beijing, or Seoul or Osaka who the greatest footballer in the world was they would give you none of those names, they would give you our very own David Beckham.
Which is why those of you who saw the TV reports of the Beckham's visit to Japan a few weeks ago will have witnessed those amazing scenes at Tokyo 's Narita airport as the Beckham's arrived. Hordes of screaming girls, reminiscent of the Beatles at the height of their fame, straining to glimpse their hero.
What is it that has made David Beckham so famous? As a footballer he is very good and he does have some amazing skills but in my opinion his talents are limited. His ability to cross a ball is stunning and his free kicks are legendary but he doesn't tackle well and some of his general play for Manchester United can be pedestrian. Figo, Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo are probably all better footballers but they are not as famous .
Beckham wins out for a host of other reasons. He is undoubtedly good looking and makes an excellent clothes horse for the advertisers. He is married to a pop star. He is clean living, he doesn't take drugs or drink to excess. He is clearly a family man who sincerely loves his wife and children and he has a knack of rising to an occasion. His status in this country reached new heights when he struck the winning goal for England against Greece to ensure world cup qualification.
What is interesting though is the way the perception of David Beckham varies between that he receives here in England and that he receives abroad. The adulation he gets in Japan or Korea or China is without reservation.
In the UK , he is as often reviled as he is revered. On the one hand the media build up this reputation as Captain Fantastic who can do no wrong when he pulls on an England shirt. On the other hand, he is represented as being totally subservient to a bullying wife. His voice is the subject of ridicule. Jokes abound about his limited intelligence. It's almost as if we need to keep him in his place. Not let him get too big for his white boots.
In first century Palestine Jesus became very famous over the three years of his ministry. Not famous in the Beckham sense - although it is often interesting to ponder how famous he would have become with today's media in attendance. As he went about his ministry, his fame spread and in today's gospel reading we hear of his return to his hometown of Nazareth to preach in the synagogue on the Sabbath.
What was the reaction of the hometown crowd to this as they listened to his preaching and teaching? Were they impressed at the local boy made good? No they were not. They started to mutter amongst themselves as only the inhabitants of small, close communities can.
Who does he think he is? That's Jesus the carpenter - what does he think he's doing preaching in the synagogue. He's not a learned man, a scribe or a Pharisee. He's just a working man and he has the cheek to get up there and tell us ho to live our lives. I know his family, his brothers and his sisters and as for his mother, well we all know she's no better than she ought to be - she was lucky her husband took her on - you know she was pregnant before they got married don't you?
You can almost hear them can't you? You know what they'd say because despite 2000 years, we'd probably hear exactly the same in Bunbury today. Can you imagine it? The son or daughter of someone in this village achieves a reputation throughout the country for their preaching and healing and then comes back here acting all holier than thou and telling us what we should and shouldn't be doing. Some young upstart who used to hang around the Pavilion with their friends, who used to drive through the village far too fast. Who do they think they are - telling us how to live our lives.
It would be nice to think that it wouldn't be like that but I suspect that it would. As Jesus tells us, "A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country and among his own kin and in his own house". The people of Nazareth took offence at Jesus. They began to discount all that he had done and said so that they could fit him into their limited view of the world. "He can't be anything because we know him. We know his beginnings, his family, where he came from."
Jesus reaction to this was interesting. Mark's gospel tells us that he was 'amazed' at their unbelief and that he could do no deed of power there. We all know that Faith is the key to the love of God and without faith Jesus could do little. Jesus points out to the disciples that this is characteristic of fallen human nature. There was no recognition of his worth among the people of Palestine , no honour accorded to him in his home town and as result no mighty deeds could be done.
What is this saying to us today? It is a critical and important message to us all in how we should live our lives and how we should respond to God. If we go through our lives with our minds closed to the possibilities that God can provide then we are like those good people of Nazereth. We see everything in our own limited perspective. If we can't make something fit that perspective then we reject it.
I'm sure those people at the back of the synagogue, muttering as Jesus preached, were good and faithful churchgoers. They had their own very clear definition of what their religion was about. They read their scriptures. They said their prayers. They went to church. And they expected God to do his bit by behaving as he was supposed to. They certainly did not expect God to choose some working man whose mother had a dodgy past as his Son .
They certainly did not expect their local carpenter to give up his trade and stop repairing their leaking roofs and broken ploughs and to start preaching and proclaiming himself a prophet. And because this did not fit into their world view, they rejected it and in rejecting it they turned away from God because they had no faith.
So what is our perspective? What do we expect God to do for us in return for our dutiful prayer and regular church attendance? Well he could start by keeping us healthy, wealthy and wise. He could send a few more people in here every Sunday so that we feel as though the church is growing - provided of course that they're people like us. What is God likely to do? Who knows?
Maybe he will surprise us just like he surprised the people of Nazareth . Maybe in our case, he won't choose Bunbury for the Second Coming but he is likely to surprise us just the same.
We may find God in the most unusual places and in the most unusual people but if our minds are closed then we will never see him at all. How will we know what God wants us to do? Through prayer - both personal and public we can seek to find the truth of God and through faith, unbounded and unlimited by our human perspective, we can seek salvation for ourselves and the strength to deliver God's message to others. Our faith should not be predictable and boring - it should be unpredictable and daring. Our faith should create the same excitement as a David Beckham free kick.
Let us pray
Thank you Father for reminding us of the lowly man of Nazareth , whom now we know to be Lord of all the earth, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Teach us Lord to respond with the touch of faith to our beloved Saviour who now, right here in our midst is ready to meet our need. Let there be some who reach out and with that individual hand of faith, lay hold of Jesus, that all the healing of his life and the glory of his heart may come into each of them and bring sunshine in the midst of darkness and healing in the midst of death. We ask this in his name. Amen.