Preached at House for All Sinners and Saints
8 July 2012
Day Texts: Ezekiel 2.1-5
2 Corinthians 12.2-10
(Audio available at conclusion of text)
-As many of you know by now, my time as Vicar of House for All Sinners and Saints is coming to a close. (“Vicar” being just a fancy churchy word for “pastoral intern.”) In just a few weeks, my Vicar clock will strike midnight, I’ll evaporate into thin air, and the Seminary Stork will deliver a brand new baby Vicar for you all to shape, form, teach and love, as you have done for me throughout this past year.
-Actually, I’ll be headed home. The ELCA (the church body to which HFASS belongs) gets to assign candidates approved for ordination to any region in the country. And wouldn’t you know, they assigned us to Upstate New York. Our home state. Which means there’s a good chance we could also get assigned to serve a church in our hometown. Which, if today’s Gospel lesson is any indication, is a good reason to evaporate into thin air.
-Because, as you may have noticed, Jesus is not exactly welcomed back to his hometown of Nazareth with embraces and toasts and a hearty home-cooked meal. OK, so things DO start off well. He’s asked to preach at his home church, and people seem impressed with his wit, his wisdom, and rumors of his supernatural powers. And you’d think the ability to turn a congregation’s water into wine would win you some friends.
-But almost immediately, the situation turns ugly. People start muttering: “Isn’t this guy the carpenter? You know, the guy who worked on my deck during summer vacation? Who’s he to tell us what to do?” “Yeah, and he’s Mary’s son. You know, that crazy unwed pregnant woman who still insists that, ‘an angel visited me?’” St. Mark tells us that they were not merely offended, but scandalized by this bastard local boy tradesman trying to play prophet.
-Like nice Southern ladies who say “bless your heart” to your face, then gossip just loud enough for you to get the point, Jesus’ hometown homies make their disapproval felt. The Romans knew how to break Jesus’ body with a cross, but only a hometown crowd could know Jesus intimately enough to pierce his heart with words of rejection.
-Welcome home Jesus.
-Now look, I know it’s extremely problematic to compare ourselves to Jesus. But I suspect that, perhaps, some of you can relate to Jesus experience of homecoming. Because while some of us treasure fond memories of our families and friends and faith-communities of yore, many of us, whether we are old or young, have spent years and decades of our life, from adolescence onward, trying to escape our homes. Because for many of us, home’s not where the heart is. It’s where the heart’s been broken.
-See, home is where we first discover who we are – or, at the very least, where people first try to tell us who we are. It’s not always that perfect vision of harmony and laughter that fits on a hallmark Christmas card. More often, it can feel like the place where we’ve been shoe-horned into the boxes of our community’s hopes, dreams and expectations for us.
-Home. Where bastard carpenters from Nazareth aren’t supposed to be able to perform miracles and preach prophetically.
-Home. Where good boys who always sat in the front pew now training to be pastors are not supposed to have beards and tattoos, or swear or talk about things like race and sexuality. Where, in some places, if you’re a good girl, you can forget about being a pastor at all.
-Home. Where good kids are supposed to wait until marriage to have sex, and then marry the perfect spouse, and have lots of grandchildren. So they’re not supposed to show up at Thanksgiving with a partner of the same gender.
-Home. Where you have to at least pretend to uphold the status quo – even if it means keeping your disruptions and deviations a "family secret." Because in so doing, you’ll somehow magically make life make sense, and create that perfect heaven everyone’s always wanted – though never been able to create for themselves.
-And if we’re honest, we know it’s not just our home that’s done this to us. We've done it back too. We retaliate. We fight boxes with boxes. We pit dreams against dreams. I swore I’d never try to limit my daughter’s freedom - until she started freely choosing Disney Princesses, instead of a non-commercialized, non-pink wearing alternative. In my efforts to escape the influence of home and "be my own person," I too often unjustly overlook the many ways that my own home community has blessed, loved and supported me, often, unconditionally. In our efforts to create churches and communities that are decidedly “not that place I grew up in,” we discover just how difficult it can be not to end up creating walls and exclusionary standards of our own.
-And that’s why I don't think we can fully identify with Jesus’ heart-break here. Because not only have we been hurt by our homes. If we’re honest with ourselves, there's been times we’ve also been the home that’s hurt others. Often, just when we think we’ve finally created the home we’ve always wanted, we find ourselves still controlled by the need to escape the home we thought we’d left behind. We can pass on the brokeness that's broken us, and so become a part of the home wrecking.
-But see, that’s what’s powerful about Jesus’ coming home, about Jesus allowing himself to be so deeply wounded by his home. Because God does not wait for a perfect home, free of pain and full of perfection, to dwell among us. Again and again, from the beginning of creation, God has this knack for making God’s home in the midst of fallen humanity. God desires a home with us, even though God knows that, again and again, we will fail to live out God’s dreams, that we will always succeed in breaking God’s heart.
-And God makes a home, not only where God can assert God’s power in miracles and wondrous deeds, but in Nazareth, where neighbors are cruel, families are broken, and, we are told, Jesus can do no deed of power. God makes a home where God’s grief at the brokenness of this home renders God weakest. God makes a home exactly at the place where the wind gets knocked out of him. Where God’s heart can first be heard to actually break. Among us home wreckers. With you. And with me.
-It is here, in the home, amidst faltering family and friends, that Jesus first begins to carry his cross. See, in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ hometown grief is the first time his weakness is revealed. And we witness God in Christ, not perpetuating heart-break, but rather, taking it up. And suffering it, in Jesus’ flesh and in Jesus’ pain, and carrying it to Calvary to be crucified. It is where we witness the true identity of Jesus – not as bastard son or carpenter, but as the God that is strong in weakness. As the God that enters into the midst of our own rejections and our rejections of others, and says, “enough.”
-In Christ, God declares: No more passing along identities defined by the expectations, hopes, dreams and failures of your hopelessly fallen homes. Behold instead, your identity, first and foremost, as the family that I have chosen, often against your will, again and again. Who I have chosen, in love, once and for all, to be my home, no matter how much heart-break it costs me.